Lying is a part of being a human. We lie all the time for different reasons. We lie to each other and to ourselves. Does that mean it’s ok to lie? In certain situations lying can be beneficial and in others it can lead to destruction. Knowing that humans have the ability and motive to lie, does that mean we shouldn’t trust each other?
Recently, Jian Ghomeshi, former radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was put on trial for four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking for which he was acquitted because it was found that the accusers were lying. The judge believed that the complainants were being “deceptive and manipulative” with their evidence and therefore could no longer be a trusted source of the truth. The court no longer had sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of the complainants and thus was left with a reasonable doubt. That closed the trial on Jian Ghomeshi and at the same time transformed these women from victims into perpetrators, and into liars. However, what if these women really did feel that they were victims of sexual assault? Will this trial change the way we see sexual assault victims?
The Centre for Women and Trans People at Ryerson hosted a crafternoon in support of survivors of sexual assault on the same day that the Ghomeshi trial ended. This event was to show that regardless of this trial we should believe survivors of sexual assault. This is also why the Centre has a survivor support line (416-260-0100) and offers services and supplies for safe sex and a safe space for women and trans people.
Sexual Assault can be a difficult issue in court because it can sometimes rely on “he said, she said” evidence, this is why victims often feel they will not be believed, they feel like they don’t have proof. This is also why there are few sexual assault convictions, without witnesses or physical evidence a court can have difficulty convicting. This is also why it is important to tell survivors you believe them and to support them because if no one says anything nothing can be done to stop it and more people will be victimized. The Department of Justice notes that sexual assault is among the crimes that are the least likely to be reported and in 1999 found that 78% of sexual assault cases were not reported to police in Canada. Additionally, sexual assault incidents are generally reported well after the fact and this can be due to various reasons. The 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization found that incidents were not reported by victims because: they were dealt with in another way, deemed not important enough, or that they did not want to involve the police. Some victims believe that the police cannot or will not help them when they have been sexually assaulted and others fear revenge from their assailant.
Another serious issue that comes out of sexual assault is that victims often do not seek out help or support. Fear and shame are built into sexual assault and the victims want privacy as a result. This is detrimental to their health and to the health of society because again if the police or anyone doesn’t know, then we can’t do anything about it. This is another reason to give support and to believe someone when they confide in you. It is very difficult to relive the memories and to share them and to have someone brush them off or not believe you is devastating. There is another part to this however, the victim usually knows their offender. In 2000, 80% of sexual assault cases were committed by someone who was known to the victim. Almost 30% of the offenders were family members of their victims and 10% were friends. This makes the situation even worse for the victim because the relationship they hold with the accused may hold them back from reporting the crime. It also puts them at risk for a repeat assault and damages their mental health as they must to continue to live their life with the offender and in silence.
I have written a lot about supporting survivors in this column and so I would like to give some ways to do that. If someone tells you that they have experienced sexual violence the best thing to do is listen, hear what they are saying and give them the space to say it. You want them to feel that they are not alone and that you believe them, we all have the right to be and feel safe. Do not push for information because it is their story to tell and they will give what they want to and they may not even remember all of it. Shock and fear can cause our memories to be repressed and for them to lose order making it difficult for someone to recall. Also, offer support services. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres has a list of different kinds of support services in Ontario that are available to everyone. Additionally, it is important to understand that we all have common beliefs about sexual violence some of which are myths. Doing research on sexual violence can be useful regardless of whether you know someone who was assaulted or not. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres is a useful resource for this kind of research and has a list of common sexual violence myths.
Sexual violence is horrific. It has been a part of human culture for some time and unfortunately will probably continue to be, just like lying. However, when it comes to lying and sexual violence do we really know what the truth is? If there are no witnesses and no physical evidence how do we know who is telling the truth and what it really is? Someone can say something happened but what if they lied? Lying about sexual assault is not common in Canada, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. These kinds of questions and statements are why victims of sexual assault do not speak out, they fear that they will not be believed. Our justice system works by keeping people innocent until proven guilty, but when you are the victim of sexual assault you are also treated like the guilty party and can unjustly be turned from victim into liar.