Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Who is on Trial?

Well, the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial has begun and every news outlet in Canada and many abroad are covering this sensational case. At home we have talked about what will unfold because it is really the three women who will be on trial. Already the testimony of the first woman is being picked apart, to undermine the veracity of her story. Ghomeshi won't be required to testify at all during the trial.

This really stinks, and it is one of the reasons women won't come forward when they have been assaulted. Ruth, my wife, would accompany women to court when she was a counsellor at a women's shelter. They were terrified to be in court with their abuser and devastated when their accounts were pulled to shreds.

Twice through the years I have been called upon to chair the United Church's version of a tribunal or trial for a minister accused of sexual impropriety. The first involved a teen girl who claimed inappropriate talk and suggestions by a minister during a drive home. Lawyers represented the accused and the panel examining the evidence. Another lawyer was on the panel and all three were United Church members from different local congregations. I came to realize that the three had talked before we went through the evidence and witnesses and that they had already concluded that there wasn't enough to discipline the minister. The teen was terrified and God knows what she concluded about the church as a result.

In the other instance a minister was accused of inappropriate relationships with a number of women, yet none of those women was willing to step forward. The concerns were from colleagues, people of considerable integrity. In the end, minimal discipline was meted out. Both situations were frustrating for me, but moral outrage is not the same as legally supportable evidence. The desire was to "do right" for the alleged victims, but this can be complicated.

Obviously we hope that justice does prevail in the Ghomeshi case, and he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We can pray that the outcome doesn't convince women that there is no legal recourse after abuse, or that seeking justice simply isn't worth it because of the public humiliation.



roger said...

There is no doubt that it will be a traumatic experience for the complainants - being cross-examined and made to feel like a liar will be very unpleasant to say the least.

On the other hand, Parliament years ago passed laws to curtail the scrutinizing of victims' sexual history, and judges are quicker to put a halt on "bullying" or "abusing" complainants on the stand by the defence lawyer. Many defence lawyers realize that doing so is not to their advantage either.

I'm not saying the system is perfect by any stretch. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for these courageous women to come forward. If Ghomeshi is guilty, I hope the appropriate sentence is given to him. But he does deserve a fair trial.

Laurie said...

I hope justice will prevail in this. But it is also important to remember it works both ways. I had a friend whose life was torn apart by false accusations by 3 people. In the end over many years and lost job, lost family he is getting his life back together in another part of the country. People are easy to jump in and judge others.

David Mundy said...

I have had the other side as well in ministry, where parishioners --always men-- were falsely accused. The father of a good friend was falsely accused by one of three daughters. None of the rest of the kids supported the allegations and eventually they were dismissed. Still, ee was never the same. It is interesting that in this situation there isn't a denial of physically abusive behaviour. This is about whether it was consensual. I struggle with the notion that physical abuse can ever be consensual. Thanks for the comments.