Fifty shades of no

The downfall of a Canadian radio host is the sexual assault case you need to know about

Jian Ghomeshi appeared in court in Toronto on January 8, 2015. Mark Blinch/REUTERS

On Tuesday, proceedings resumed in the pre-trial hearings of Jian Ghomeshi, the popular Canadian radio host who is facing seven counts of (allegedly violent) sexual assault, and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. If you are not from Canada, or if you happened to miss the brief international media fervor over Ghomeshi that bubbled up this past October, you might be asking yourself, “Jian who?” So here is a primer on the public dismantling of a much-loved radio personality.

Who is Jian Ghomeshi?

Ghomeshi’s first claim to pseudo-fame was his stint in Moxy Früvous, a politically satirical folk band (only in Canada, amiright?). More recently, he was the poster boy of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), the country’s public TV and radio broadcaster. Ghomeshi hosted a hugely successful radio show called Q, which was an urbane—but still lively—exploration of the arts that became the go-to media stopover of celebrities passing through Canada.

Ghomeshi, with his foppish hair and mellifluous voice, achieved a kind of stardom that rarely exists for radio personalities in the 21st century. He was a great interviewer (Barbara Walters once complimented him on his chops), and Canadians adored the guy. Ghomeshi’s show was also gaining traction outside of Canada; at its peak popularity, Q was being syndicated to 180 stations in the United States.

And then it all came crumbling down.

Why was Jian Ghomeshi fired from the CBC (according to Jian Ghomeshi)?

On October 26, Ghomeshi posted a lengthy message to his Facebook page, claiming that he had been dismissed from the CBC “because of the risk of [his] private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.”

In 2012, Ghomeshi went on to explain, he began a relationship with a woman in her 20s. He claimed that they enjoyed “adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission.” Ghomeshi insisted that the sex was always consensual, and that any assertions to the contrary are an attempt by his now ex-girlfriend and a disgruntled journalist to tear apart his public image.

“Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks,” Ghomeshi wrote. “They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life. But that is my private life. That is my personal life. And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.”

Why was Jian Ghomeshi fired from the CBC (according to the Canadian media)?

Also on October 26, The Toronto Star published an article detailing allegations from three women who said they were violently assaulted by Ghomeshi during sexual encounters. The women, all of whom refused to speak on record, claimed Ghomeshi struck them with his fist and palm, bit them, choked them to the brink of unconsciousness, covered their noses and mouths so they could not breathe, and verbally abused them. A producer at Q also told The Star that after she yawned during a meeting, Ghomeshi approached her from behind, cupped her bottom, and whispered that he wanted to “hate-fuck” her to wake her up.

The women all claimed that the violence was not consensual. One of Ghomeshi’s alleged victims told The Star that Ghomeshi had said during the lead-up to a date that he would be “aggressive.” “I thought this meant he would want to pull my hair and have rough sex,” the source said. “He reassured me that I wouldn’t be forced. (Later) he attacked me. Choked me. Hit me like I didn’t know men hit women. I submitted.”

The Star reported that the CBC fired Ghomeshi because they had learned of the allegations against him and wanted to “get out ahead of the story.” Later, the paper wrote that the CBC decided to fire Ghomeshi after he showed them “graphic” videos that he thought would prove his innocence, but which actually convinced his employers that Ghomeshi had “caused physical injury to a woman.”

Why is Jian Ghomeshi on trial?

By October 30th, nine women had come forward with allegations against Ghomeshi.

The next day, Toronto police announced that they were launching an investigation into the accusations. Ghomeshi was ultimately charged with seven counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking, against a total of six women. He was arrested on November 26 and is currently out on bail, awaiting trial.

Why should we care about this case?

Aside from the obvious—all sexual assault cases deserve our concern and attention—Ghomeshi’s trial will undoubtedly dredge up important conversations about consent and BDSM.  The radio host claims he is being prosecuted for sexual proclivities that lie outside the norm. It is certainly true that some women enjoy the infliction of pain during sex. And when both partners are consenting, rough sex is OK. “Weird” sex is OK. Trying to obscure sexual violence under the cloak of BDSM? Categorically not OK.

Also interesting is an independent report on the CBC’s handling of Ghomeshi’s “problematic behavior” in the workplace. While the report failed to find evidence that CBC management knew about sexual harassment allegations against its radio star, the report did find that Ghomeshi humiliated and belittled his colleagues, hit on female employees, shared uncomfortably personal information, and gave “creepy” massages to people in the office. By failing to investigate allegations against Ghomeshi, the report said, the CBC “condoned” his behavior.

“Condoned.” It’s a strong word, and an appropriate one, because abuse can be a collaborative process. Allowing its radio star to go unchecked by the disciplinary forces of the workplace makes the CBC at least in part responsible for Ghomeshi’s alleged violations in the office.  Soon, the Canadian courts will decide whether or not Ghomeshi committed even worse offenses in the privacy of his bedroom.

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