When the popular CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi revealed his sex scandal in a Facebook post on Sunday, it embroiled the media in yet another online controversy that may or may not involve sexual assault, depending on whom you ask. Ghomeshi is, in the words of The Guardian, a "broadcasting hero" in Canada, hosting daily arts and cultural radio programs, including the show Q, which made him a household name. His status is what made the revelation that the CBC allegedly fired him because of his self-described "mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey" relationships all the more shocking. But his fame, too, may be helping him fend off newfound sexual abuse allegations, according to some Canadian critics.
Ghomeshi's saga began on Friday, when the CBC announced he was taking a leave of absence for "personal" reasons. Some speculated that this was about his father, who passed away in early October. But on Sunday, the CBC followed up with a brief statement, saying Ghomeshi wasn't just on leave — he was fired:
The CBC is saddened to announce its relationship with Jian Ghomeshi has come to an end. This decision was not made without serious deliberation and careful consideration. Jian has made an immense contribution to the CBC and we wish him well.Intrigued? So was half of Canada. That's probably why Ghomeshi decided to be preemptive and post a lengthy letter to his fans on his Facebook page, detailing his private sex life, which included "rough sex" that he says was always consensual:
I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners.
About two years ago I started seeing a woman in her late 20s. Our relationship was affectionate, casual and passionate. We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator. We joked about our relations being like a mild form of "Fifty Shades of Grey" or a story from Lynn Coady's Giller-Prize winning book last year. ... I have never discussed my private life before. Sexual preferences are a human right.
So, Ghomeshi was fired just for "rough" BDSM sex? Nope, the story goes much deeper than that.
Sexual assault and harassment allegations were reportedly brewing well before Ghomeshi's termination from the CBC. Ghomeshi insists that these allegations of sexual violence, which range from biting and hitting women to choking them to the point that they couldn't breathe, are part of a smear campaign led by a "jilted ex-lover" and a "freelance writer," both of whom remain unnamed.
As Ghomeshi mentions in his Facebook post, a "major Canadian media publication" was working on a story about the allegations, but the story never went to print. "One assumes they recognized these attempts to recast my sexual behaviour were fabrications," Ghomeshi writes on Facebook.
Here's the plot twist: It turns out Ghomeshi was right about there being an article that was left unpublished — until now. That "major Canadian media publication" was The Toronto Star, which decided to publish the story on Ghomeshi's alleged abusive sexual relationships because of his Facebook post. On Sunday, The Star editor Michael Cooke defended the paper's decision, calling it in the "public interest to detail those allegations":
The reason The Star did not publish a story at that time was because there was no proof the women’s allegations of non-consensual abusive sex were true or false. They were so explosive that to print them would have been irresponsible, and would have fallen far short of the Star’s standards of accuracy and fairness. ... [W]e now believe it is in the public interest to detail those allegations, which appear to have led directly to his sudden firing from the CBC.
The Star writer Kevin Donovan began working on the story in May. According to the paper, he interviewed four women who claim they were either sexually or physically abused or sexually harassed by Ghomeshi. All four of the women are much younger than the 47-year-old broadcast star; Donovan writes that they're "about 20 years his junior."
The women said the physical violence took place "during sexual encounters or in the lead-up to sexual encounters," according to Donovan. None of the women went on the record for the story, nor did they file police reports. Ghomeshi also told The Star he wouldn't comment on the sexual abuse allegations.
The fact that Ghomeshi is not shy about his BDSM relationships is leading some in the media to defend him. Although he didn't go into too much detail on his Facebook, the former radio host reiterated that his sexual relations may be a bit "strange" to others:
Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. 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.
For Ghomeshi and others who are involved in BDSM, submission, role-playing, and the like, it all comes down to consent: Some physical violence might take place, but not without both partners' consent. Ghomeshi contends everything was consensual, and that he provided CBC executives last week with information proving his case. However, The Star alleges that Ghomeshi didn't use safe words during these encounters.
Some media pundits are also questioning the lack of police reports or formal complaints against him, which they claim strengthen Ghomeshi's position that this is just "salacious gossip." Writing in The National Post, Christie Blatchford attacked The Star and, really, the media on a whole for believing in anonymous accusers and creating an Internet mob that loves to tear down powerful men.
"What we have here is another sordid modern tale of bullying," Blatchford writes. "And another man vilified by anonymous accusers. McCarthyism, anyone?"
So, essentially: Only believe victims who have a formal police report or a court case. Blatchford, of course, received some blowback, including a lengthy Facebook statement from conservative Canadian politician Dean Del Mastro. "The absence of a formal complaint against him ... is not evidence that abuse has not occurred," Del Mastro writes.
Both Del Mastro and Blatchford have solid points: It would be unfair to speculate, at this time, whether Ghomeshi is guilty or innocent, but that doesn't mean sexual assault victims must report their crimes to receive validation. After all, it's been acknowledged time and again that sexual assault and rape are severely under-reported crimes, and victims of abuse — especially when the abuser is in the public eye — have their own reasons for not coming forward.
Ghomeshi is filing a lawsuit against the CBC to get his job back, claiming $55 million in damages — but what we really need is an investigation into the accusations to find out what really happened so no matter who the actual victim is here, justice gets served.
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