Last week, a Canadian judge found former TV and radio star Jian Ghomeshi not guilty on four counts of sexual assault against three different women he’d dated. The judge’s statement smacked of victim-blaming, a deep-seated mistrust of women who allege sexual assault, and a thorough ignorance of how abuse affects its victims—leading many to question his reasoning.
But close observers have already turned their attention to the prosecution’s second and last shot at a conviction: a separate trial set to begin on June 6, which will address a complaint made by a former co-worker about an incident that allegedly occurred when Ghomeshi was the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q radio show in the late aughts. Like the first trial, this one will be decided by a judge with no jury.
The case itself is very different, though, which gives Ghomeshi’s detractors hope for a different outcome. In this June trial, the judge will assess the complainant’s claim that Ghomeshi groped her, thrust himself against her, and sexually harassed her with comments like “I want to hate-fuck you.” When she notified supervisors and her union representative of his repeated abuse, she says, she was told that Ghomeshi, a popular public figure, “was the way he was” and she’d have to “figure out how to cope with that.”
Because the incidents allegedly happened in the workplace—and not the private homes and cars at the center of the alleged assaults in the last trial—there’s a greater chance of external validation. The complainant says there was at least one witness to an instance of Ghomeshi’s alleged abuse. She also spoke up to her colleagues and higher-ups at the time; the judge at Ghomeshi’s last trial voiced his suspicion of the fact that the complainants in that case waited years after the alleged incidents to accuse Ghomeshi of sex crimes.
The CBC didn’t take action against Ghomeshi at the time of the alleged victim’s complaint to her union rep, but it fired him and launched an independent internal investigation in October 2014. The resulting report, which states that Ghomeshi created an “intimidating, humiliating, hostile or offensive work environment,” will likely be a vital lynchpin of the prosecution’s case. In addition to finding that Ghomeshi “subjected a female employee to unwanted physical contact that was sexual in nature,” the authors of the report noted that he “flirted with a number of women present in the workplace, including on-air guests,” and “shared details about his own sex life … that witnesses found too personal, too graphic, and generally unsavory.” CBC executives, the report stated, protected Ghomeshi, a minor celebrity they wanted to please, from any repercussions.
Still, some attorneys told the CBC that Canadian prosecutor Michael Callaghan should reconsider going forward with this case in light of the outcome of the last one, in which the judge reproached the alleged victims for manipulating prosecutors, offering conflicting testimony, and omitting details of their contact with Ghomeshi. “[Prosecutors] were caught by surprise with a lot of information with respect to their witnesses, which I’m sure they don’t want to happen again,” criminal lawyer Russell Silverstein said. “The higher-ups at the Ministry of the Attorney General have quite a lot of egg on their faces through no fault of their own,” lawyer Ari Goldkind echoed. “So, I think the Crown will decide it’s not worth pursuing charges if police interview the complainant again and find any frailties in that case.”
This argument is antithetical to any legitimate notion of justice. One judge’s doubts about three sexual assault allegations should have no bearing on a separate case involving the same alleged perpetrator. At least 15 women have accused Ghomeshi of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, including nonconsensual physical violence during sex. Soon after the CBC fired Ghomeshi, Carl Wilson (Slate’s Toronto-based music critic) wrote that Ghomeshi’s predatory behavior was an open secret in Canadian media circles. Meanwhile, Ghomeshi and his defense team have tried to paint him as the center of a vast, malicious conspiracy in which one bitter ex-girlfriend convinced several other random players in Ghomeshi’s sexual history to lie to reporters, law enforcement, and the courts in order to ruin a radio star’s life. To buy into that conspiracy—a carbon copy of so many other crumbling defenses against alleged serial abusers—is to believe that women are inherently conniving, vengeful liars who regularly conspire to turn innocent men into jailbirds. If only our unconditional gender solidarity ran so deep.
It’s telling that legal observers are so reluctant to predict that Ghomeshi’s second trial will go the way of the prosecutors, in spite of the heaps of external support for the complainant’s allegations. She is, in many ways, the perfect sexual-harassment petitioner: Unlike the three women of the first trial, this complainant had no romantic or sexual contact with Ghomeshi outside the abuse. She has witnesses, a trail of timely complaints, and the corroboration of an independent probe on her side. Even with this clean-cut case that matches up to the least common denominator of what men in power believe abuse looks like, there’s still a mountain of doubt weighing the odds against her.