Yesterday night I came face to face with my own bias, left with a deep sense of regret and shame. I consider myself an ardent supporter of women’s rights and being a survivor of sexual violence myself, one would think that I would have rushed to believe Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged victims to have been sexually assaulted. I didn’t. In fact, I doubted their credibility. And for this, I am ashamed.
When I read Jian Ghomeshi’s Facebook post, I sided with him, believing that this twenty something year old woman was in fact, as he described, “a jilted ex-girlfriend”. It is no secret that Jian is a powerful, wealthy, Canadian celebrity and I imagined a scorned ex-lover with an agenda to destroy his reputation. I pictured her as a beautiful model or a socialite, maybe someone who didn’t get her way and was now spewing defamatory material to get back at him. Maybe she wanted a relationship. Maybe she wanted money. When other women anonymously reported similar sexual attacks by Ghomeshi, I dismissed their claims, largely because they were anonymous and their anonymity somehow made their statements less credible – at least in my mind.
Then we heard from Canadian Actress Lucy DeCoutere, who came forward with details of her alleged assault by Jian Ghomeshi. I started to become more skeptical of my own presumptions. Yesterday I read the piece by Author and Lawyer Reva Seth, who gave insight into what a sexual encounter with Jian was like, describing that “…it was like he became a different person…He was super angry, almost frenzied and disassociated.”
I remember turning to my housemate and saying, “It’s not looking good for Jian. I think he might be guilty”.
He inquired, “Why do you think that now?”
I responded, “Because this lawyer who was clearly more powerful than him back in the day has no reason to lie. And what about that actress? She clearly doesn’t need fame or money. She already has those things. She doesn’t really have a reason to lie.”
And then it struck me. I chose to believe an actress and a lawyer but not the anonymous women who claimed to have been brutalized by Jian Ghomeshi. Why? Simply because the actress and the lawyer came from professions that are associated with fame, money and power. Their occupations, marital status, and lack of anonymity gave them more credence. I had an unsettling feeling that I was part of the problem.
We all have biases and these biases shape our world-view and the manner in which we absorb and analyze information. I learned yesterday that I am more likely to believe women who wield more power by virtue of their income or profession. I am more likely to believe a woman who comes out and without anonymity says that she experienced sexual violence. The fact that in my 28 years I have never declared that I was sexually abused by a teacher as a child – that I myself, have remained silent and anonymous never crossed my mind when I constructed Jian’s anonymous victims as women with an agenda and no credibility.
As a lawyer, I believe in due process. I believe in the power of the law. I believe that in Canadian society we do right by presuming a person is innocent until proven guilty. Jian Ghomeshi should have his day in court – he is entitled to that. But I am guilty for letting my bias be so strong that I chose to look the other way when the first allegations came out. I am guilty for not being more critical. And for that, I am sorry.