It isn’t often that I get to say “I told you so,” but I did last Thursday when Canadian broadcaster/musician Jian Ghomeshi was found “not guilty” on all the sexual assault charges he was facing.
I didn’t follow the trial closely (I have better things to do with my life), but I had paid enough attention to consider the verdict a foregone conclusion. I should point out though that “not guilty” is a legal term. It does not equate with innocence, though in popular opinion that is sometimes the case.
I decided not to comment on the trial while it was in progress, but I do want to make some observations now. (The same thing applies to the trial of Canadian Senator Mike Duffy, who will soon have a verdict on the 31 charges he is facing. For the record, I expect a “not guilty verdict there also.) But it’s not really the trial or verdict in the Ghomeshi case that I really want to talk about.
I accept that Ghomeshi probably thought he did thinks nothing wrong in his relationships with the women (and perhaps with others who didn’t come forward to police). And I also believe his accusers to be sincere in their belief that they did not consent to what happened to them. The judge had to apply the law and the concept of “reasonable doubt.” Many people are appalled and say that justice was not done. The judge thought dealt with the facts and the law, and rendered the only verdict possible. That does not mean that no assaults took place, just that the criminal law standard was not met.
As the case was progressing, as witnesses were testifying, I was saddened by what I read. As I see it, the whole thing is a result of changes in social attitudes towards sex (and perhaps marriage). I wondered how many of the negative sexual assault situations people find themselves in, male and female alike, would have been avoided if the sexual revolution of the 1960s hadn’t happened.
So many sexual assault complaints revolve around the issue of consent. And I am not trying to absolve men (or women who assault) of their responsibility. Consent is ongoing and can be withdrawn, no questions asked. I have no problem with that. But it seems to me that a lot of people, male and female, are more than a little confused about what constitutes consent. The result is trauma, criminal charges, and ruined reputations. There are no winners in a sexual assault trial, no matter what the outcome.
All of which has me pining for the days when social mores and sexual mores were more restrictive. That’s probably not a wildly popular thing to say. In the past the Ghomeshi trial and acquittal would probably not have happened. With sex reserved for the confines of marriage there would have been no issue of consent to debate. Neither the accused nor the accusers would put themselves in that situation – they weren’t married to each other.
Naïve on my part? Perhaps. Or maybe idealistic. Yes, I know there are social drawbacks to such a society (in some people’s eyes), but there is a certain comfort in black and white and knowing where you stand.
Such a return to past standards isn’t going to happen. Once Pandora’s Box has been opened that’s it. And I am not going to waste too much of your time wondering “what if.”
But it is an intriguing concept.