On Mar. 24, a not guilty verdict has cleared Jian Ghomeshi, the former CBC talk show host, of four counts of sexual assaults and one count of choking. In the ruling, the judge ruefully criticized the three complainants as “deceptive and manipulative”, saying the complainants’ credibility was shattered by their continually shifting testimony.
The judge further stated that “each complainant was confronted with a volume of evidence that was contrary to their prior sworn statements and their evidence-in-chief,” he said. “Each complainant demonstrated, to some degree, a willingness to ignore their oath to tell the truth on more than one occasion. It is this aspect of their evidence that is most troubling to the court.”
Indeed, these women’s testimonies in court did have many flaws and inconsistencies in their accounts of events, and even some significant contradictions in their testimonies that may have seriously affected the women’s credibility.
The first witness claimed that she had not had any contact with Mr. Ghomeshi after he allegedly assaulted her in his home, but sent an email to Mr. Ghomeshi a year after, including picture of herself in bikini; The second witness, actress Lucy DeCoutere testified she had no desire for a romantic relationship with Ghomeshi after he assaulted her, while emails showed that she had maintained a flirtatious relationship with him. In a case where was no corroborating evidence, the credibility and reliability have become crucial.
Sexual assault cases are very difficult to prove and the court sets an extremely high bar when it comes to standard of proof for criminal sexual assault cases – they must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Setting such a high bar may lead to many cases, where the alleged assaults did occur, being dismissed by court. In Canada, about 460,000 sexual assaults take place every year. Out of every 1000 assaults, 33 are reported to the police, 12 result in charges, and six are prosecuted and three lead to conviction.
Given the difficulty of the case and the flaws in witness’s testimonies, it is impossible for any judge to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt. As such, the judge’s verdict to clear Ghomeshi of the charges is reasonable and unsurprising at all.
But equally unsurprisingly, sexual assault survivors may stay in contact with their abusers after the alleged assaults. According to legal expert, it is not unusual that a woman continues to have a friendly or even a romantic relationship with the person they claim to have sexually assaulted them. Moreover, they won’t be considered less credible under the law for continuing a relationship with an alleged abuser.
A stereotype could provide plausible explanation for the witnesses trying to hide the information from the court -- that they kept further contacts with Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults, according to legal experts. They may think that their allegations would have never been trusted had they told the court the truth.
“The women themselves bought into the stereotype that what they did after the alleged assaults reflected poorly on the truth of their allegations,” says a legal expert.
But despite all the discrepancies and contradictions in their testimony, the women were never contradicted that they were assaulted, and that they did not give consent -- two key elements in identifying sexual assault conducts. I believe that the witnesses are the assault survivors. However, they’ve just failed to convince the court.
“While my story may not have passed the high legal test for proof, it remains my position that the evidence of the substantive issues is truthful, ” said DeCoutere after the verdict.
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