Victim blaming?

Judge in Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault case casts doubt on credibility of plaintiffs

(Malcolm Taylor/Getty Images)

Jian Ghomeshi, the former Canadian radio celebrity charged with four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking, was found not guilty of all charges on Thursday. In his verdict pronouncement, Justice William Horkins of Toronto questioned the credibility of three women who testified that Ghomeshi had violently assaulted them during sexual encounters. The judge noted inconsistencies in the testimony of the complainants, saying, for example, that one woman engaged in a “shifting of facts from one telling of the incident to the next.” Coupled with a lack of evidence, the judge said, these inconsistencies made it “impossible” to render anything other than a not-guilty verdict:

“[T]he allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi are supported by nothing in addition to the complainant’s word … There is only the sworn evidence of each complainant, standing on its own, to be measured against a very exacting standard of proof. This highlights the importance of the assessment of the credibility and the reliability and the overall quality, of that evidence.”

Some commentators have asserted that in light of the contradictory testimony that was heard in the case, Judge Horkins’ verdict is entirely sound. But the judge went further than simply noting that the accusers’ testimony failed to hold up in court. He lambasted the women as “manipulative” and “deceptive” because their accounts of the assaults — which allegedly took place more than ten years ago — were inconsistent. He criticized Lucy DeCoutere, an actress and the only named complainant in this case, for participating in multiple interviews about the trial: “I have to consider whether … Ms. DeCoutere felt that she had invested so much in being a ‘heroine’ for the cause that this may have been additional motivation to suppress any information that, in her mind, might be interpreted negatively.”

Judge Horkins also questioned why one of the women had asked Ghomeshi to go out for drinks after he allegedly attacked her, saying that “these are not the words of someone endeavoring to keep her distance.” As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci points out, this reasoning contradicts findings by psychologists indicating that a woman’s relationship to her abusers can be complex, and that many victims do not cut ties with men who have harmed them.

The judge’s pronouncement has been heavily criticized, and his verdict has sparked outrage in Toronto and beyond. On Thursday, protesters gathered outside Toronto’s Old City Hall and thousands more have tweeted messages of support for Ghomeshi’s accusers.

Read more at the Toronto Star.

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