Charisma ≠ innocence

Don’t jump to Ghomeshi’s defence just because you like his show

When the CBC announced that they had ended their relationship with radio host Jian Ghomeshi, the Internet exploded, with fans of Ghomeshi tweeting their collective outrage.

Musician and author Amanda Palmer was one of the first celebrities to vocally defend Ghomeshi—though she later had a change of heart—and the structure of her defence is chillingly representative of most arguments in Ghomeshi’s favour. She initially refused to acknowledge the allegations against him, stating that “what happens behind closed doors is never knowable,” and instead focused on him as a person, describing him as a “ninja interview MASTER,” seemingly suggesting that his skill and charisma as an interviewer make him unlikely to be guilty of sexual abuse.

This seems like a pretty strange way to interpret these events, but a quick glance at the comment section of any one of the many articles written about the “Ghomeshi Scandal” reveal that this view is only too common.

Let’s look at what happened: Ghomeshi, after it became clear that the allegations against him were going to go public, took to Facebook and posted an eloquent account of the events from his point of view.
He explains that he and his partner were engaging in consensual acts of BDSM and that they “joked about [their] relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year.” In this way, Ghomeshi subtly reframes the entire situation to suggest that he is somehow being attacked for his “tastes in the bedroom,” as they “may not be palatable to some folks.”

Ghomeshi also makes a point of discrediting the woman who brought forward accusations of sexual abuse against him. He portrays her testimony as a childish attack by an angry ex-girlfriend. His entire statement essentially dismisses the woman as an unreliable or less credible source than himself, exploiting the same dynamic of power that fuels sexual abuse. Ghomeshi offers no evidence to support his interpretation of the events. He simply presents himself as inherently trustworthy while reducing the accusations of this woman to an angry ex-girlfriend’s insubstantial “campaign of vengeance.”

So far, at least nine women have come forward with accounts accusing Ghomeshi of sexual abuse. In an interview with the Toronto Star, actor Lucy DeCoutere (Lucy from Trailer Park Boys) recounted an incident in 2003, in which Ghomeshi choked her to the point where she could not breathe, explaining: “He did not ask if I was into it. It was never a question. It was shocking to me.”

Other women have presented similar reports of unwanted sexual aggression, making it difficult to view Ghomeshi as anything but a serial sexual predator.

The roles of “man exploiting his position of power to commit sexual abuse” and “thoughtful and charming radio personality” are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for a person to be both.

The idea that a sexual predator is bound to be some kind of trenchcoated outcast creeping up behind you in a dark alley is both naive and dismissive of the wider range of sexual abuse that can be committed against a person.

The fact that you like the way Jian Ghomeshi conducts interviews does not mean you should jump to his defence when he is accused of doing something bad. The fact that he seems like a nice and intelligent guy does not discredit the stories of these women. They deserve to be listened to.