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Response to Ghomeshi trial silences women

By Melanie Woods, March 29, 2016 —

Being a woman sucks. There’s the whole making 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. There’s the social pressure to plaster coloured chemicals all over your face. And, of course, there’s also the vitriolic hate you subject yourself to when you voice your opinions on the Internet. 

Last week, former CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of multiple charges of sexual assault and one charge of choking involving three separate women. The ruling judge cited inconsistencies in witness accounts as reasons why he was unable to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that Ghomeshi was guilty. He also emphasized “the need to be vigilant in avoiding the dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful.”

Unsurprisingly, many people took issue with this.

In the hours following the verdict, an outpouring of support for victims of sexual assault came in the form of the #IBelieveSurvivors hashtag. Protesters took to the streets outside the courthouse. Activists organized marches in downtown Toronto and across the country. Online arguments are still raging even though the trial ended a week ago.

This is a polarizing issue. Ghomeshi was the public face of a massive organization and there are plenty of people who would have been angry if the trial had gone the other way.

However, many women who took to social media were met with toxic, gendered hate. Women who tweeted the #IBelieveSurvivors hashtag were met with hostile replies like “I don’t believe liars, because I have a brain” and “you are one delusional bitch” — and those are just some of the examples we can print.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, women are significantly more likely to be targeted and insulted online because of their gender. Slurs like “whore” and threats of rape are commonplace for any women on the Internet. But in the case of the Ghomeshi verdict, these kinds of responses are not only damaging to the women expressing their opinions, but also to the victims and potential victims of sexual assault everywhere.

Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults in Canada, only 33 are reported and only three lead to convictions. The scrutiny faced by these victims will discourage other women who are victims of sexual assault from coming forward and going through the rigorous process of reporting. Seventy-one per cent of women who reported sexual assault to the police described it as a “negative” experience.

The women in the Ghomeshi trial had everything they’d ever said and done critiqued and repeated and pried into for inconsistencies. To some this was seen as invasive, traumatic and unproductive. To others, it was a victory for the thoroughness of the justice system.

Both of those opinions are valid, and the Ghomeshi verdict should be scrutinized and discussed like any other prominent trial. That discourse is a part of why the system works in the first place.

But women should be able to civilly express discontent with a public news issue without being constantly harassed. This kind of abuse discourages women from speaking about their opinions and experiences, and makes it even harder for survivors of sexual assault to come forward in the first place.

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