Nov 262014
 

jian ghomeshi assault charge press releaseToday, former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi is out on $100,000 bail after surrendering himself to Toronto Police this morning. He is charged with four counts of sexual assault[1] and one count of “overcome resistance – choking.”[2] According to his lawyer, Marie Henein, Ghomeshi will plead “not-guilty,” and is due to appear in court on January 8th.

If, somehow, you’ve missed the news coverage, Ghomeshi was fired by the CBC after three women filed reports accusing him of sexual assault. In an attempt to get a statement out in advance of the CBC, Ghomeshi took to Facebook to deny the allegations and frame his firing as discrimination against BDSM instead of what it really was — an issue of non-consent. While BDSM makes the story more sensational, his engagement in such activities isn’t what got him fired — it was his choice to violate the consent of the women who reported him.

Since the accusations first surfaced in October, I’ve read lots of responses published on established, commercial websites and on smaller, independent blogs. Most of them rubbed me the wrong way, in part because so many writers glossed over the issue of Ghomeshi’s sexual assault of (at least) three women and used the media’s interest and attention as an opportunity to “defend” BDSM. So many of the articles were more concerned with whether Ghomeshi might give BDSM a bad name, ruin kink’s image, or increase discrimination against kinky people than they were with the alleged sexual assaults, or with sexual assault in general.

While it’s understandable that people would want to defend themselves and their consensual practice of BDSM, in my mind, it was too soon, too defensive, and often, off topic. It seemed like folks were taking advantage of the situation, using the allegations and media coverage as an opportunity to defend the innocence of BDSM and the propriety of their own sexual expression. (To be clear, I’m not saying people have no right, nor that people shouldn’t use the opportunity — I’m just saying it rubs me the wrong way.)

While I have a few specific criticisms (some of which I may write about another time), my chief complaint is that most of the responses focus on defending BDSM instead of condemning sexual assault. While arguably, Ghomeshi brought BDSM into the equation when he claimed consent and framed his firing an an infringement on his freedom of sexual expression, that’s not what the issue, nor the allegations, were about. Ghomeshi wasn’t accused of, nor fired for, BDSM involvement.[3] He was accused of, (and fired for) violating women’s consent. Even so, most responses to the story use consent violations as merely context — as an introductory hook — for larger defenses of BDSM.

In “Let’s Not Allow the Jian Ghomeshi Scandal to Give BDSM a Bad Name,” Sarah Ratchford writes

“People who partake in BDSM have been feeling particularly pissed off about Ghomeshi’s Facebook post in light of what are very serious allegations, because if they’re true, what Jian engaged in is assault and not BDSM. Jian will have used his supposed love of rough sex to distract us from the women who came forward, and in the process, kinky folk will be dragged through the mud with him.”

Shouldn’t people be more “pissed off” that women were sexually assaulted than about whether or not those sexual assaults make BDSM look bad? Ratchford, and many others, seem more concerned about possible discrimination against good kinky people than about bad kinky people sexually assaulting others — assault that takes place within and outside of BDSM communities, that is perpetrated by and against kinky people and vanilla folks

The rest of the article goes on to discuss the importance of consent in BDSM, and to me, this sort of defense sounds eerily like “not all kinksters.” It’s the same sort of non-argument that, when phrased as “not all men,” met with justified backlash during the social media outrage following Elliot Rodger’s shooting rampage at UC Santa Barbara back in May.

To be clear, there are areas of overlap and clear distinctions between institutionalized misogyny and abuse in BDSM that make any comparison inherently flawed. I’m not suggesting one is “just like” the other; I’m saying I see similarities in the responses.

After a single paragraph summarizing accusations against Ghomeshi (quoting Amanda Marcotte’s excellent Slate piece, which gets it right), Jillian Keenan at Slate asks and answers, “Can You Really Be Fired for Being Kinky? Absolutely.”

“Even if you don’t believe Ghomeshi is a victim here, it’s worth recognizing that he articulated one of the biggest fears in the BDSM community: the possibility of being exposed and fired for our consensual (but stigmatized) sexual practices is a very real concern for many kinky people.”

If we ignore Keenan’s piss-poor framing (does anyone really believe Ghomeshi is the victim?), the article appears to respond with “but… bad things happen to kinky people!” or, “what about the menz kinky people?” Yes, stigma is real, and it’s unfair, and it was unfairly used (by Ghomeshi), but this sort of discussion shifts the focus away from sexual assault and victims. Should there be a discussion about discrimination against kinky people? Sure, but perhaps using Ghomeshi as a framing device isn’t a great idea.

In “Dear Jian Ghomeshi: Keep Your Abuse Out of My Kink,” Margaret Corvid critiques Ghomeshi’s Facebook defense, but her underlying concern isn’t consent (which applies to all sorts of sexual expression), but what negative press will do to BDSM culture and practitioners:

“Kinksters have spent years patiently explaining the difference between kink and abuse to the media. It’s not just an abstract point. Abuse or BDSM can look the same if you only consider the shrieking, writhing person being restrained, beaten and shagged silly. It has taken a monumental effort by kink activists to convince media to observe the careful, patient negotiation that happens before that moment, in a consensual kinky scene [. . .] With his defense, Ghomeshi could wipe out the many years of patience and hard work by kinksters.”

Is Ghomeshi a bad guy for undermining the “monumental efforts” of kink activists to educate the media? Sure I guess so Who cares? Ghomeshi is a bad guy for raping and assaulting at least nine women (only three have filed formal complaints). Flinging criticism at Ghomeshi for undermining BDSM’s image is a bit like criticizing Elliot Rogers for making men look bad. Did Ghomeshi/Rogers make BDSM/men look bad? Sure… but isn’t the more important issue that Ghomeshi raped a bunch of women/Rogers killed a bunch of women?

And while kink activists work to educate others that BDSM =/= abuse is a good thing, I have to wonder why there aren’t more activists working toward actually ending abuse? (or at least, more reporting on the work of those activists to end abuse). If we got rid of abuse, there would be no need to separate it from kink — there would be no need for “white knighting” on behalf of our own sexual expressions to prove how consensual, ethical, and upstanding we are.

For what it’s worth, Amanda Marcotte got it right in “The Jian Ghomeshi Accusations Are Not About BDSM. They Are About Consent.”

There is, of course, a lot of lingering prejudice against people who enjoy consensual BDSM. But that shouldn’t distract from the only issue that matters here, which is whether or not there was consent. The difference between BDSM with consent and BDSM without it is simply the difference between consensual sex and rape. Ghomeshi’s protestations about being kinky only serve to confuse the issue, but it’s actually quite simple: If the interactions were consensual, then Ghomeshi shouldn’t have lost his job. But if the women didn’t want it—whether “it” is sexual intercourse or whether “it” is a punch to the face—then it’s violent assault and needs to be treated that way.

In the wake of the UC Santa Barbara massacre, we were quick to correct (and condemn, as the case may be) responses of “not all men,” and “what about men’s problems?” and white knighting in order to keep the focus on what was more important — violence against women. While it’s true that “not all men” are misogynists, and it’s true that men have problems, and it’s true that lots of men get it right, articulating those things in the wake of horrendous violence against women isn’t the right time, nor the proper context.

The same goes for Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assaults and the recent media attention. No, “not all kinky people,” and yes kinky people have problems, and yes you may be doing it right, but perhaps now isn’t the right time or the proper context in which to have those discussions. Right now, all of those things should be a footnote in the condemnation of sexual violence — not the other way around. Sexual assault shouldn’t be ancillary to, nor a way into, defenses of BDSM. Not now, and maybe not ever.


1. According to the “Information Guide for Victims of Sexual Assault” from the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit, sexual assault is defined as any type of unwanted sexual contact – from touching to intercourse.
2. According to section 246 of the criminal code, “overcome resistance” is (a) attempts, by any means, to choke, suffocate or strangle another person, or by any means calculated to choke, suffocate or strangle, attempts to render another person insensible, unconscious or incapable of resistance, or (b) administers or causes to be administered to any person, or attempts to administer to any person, or causes or attempts to cause any person to take a stupefying or overpowering drug, matter or thing, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life.
3. Of course, Canadian laws governing bodily harm and consent are unclear. The law states that a person cannot consent to having bodily harm inflicted on them, though interpretation of that law varies widely and in different contexts such as consensual, planned street fighting, BDSM, etc. However, the Ghomeshi firing isn’t about unclear legal interpretations — this isn’t an issue where both partners gave consent, an issue of miscommunication, or taking things “a little too far” — we’re talking about a serial abuser/rapist.

  12 Responses to “Jian Ghomeshi and a critique of BDSM defenses”

  1. The attempt by Jian Ghomeshi, to use BDSM as a defense against sexual assault charges is completely fallacious. It’s like throwing someone off a ten story building and then claim you were “teaching them to fly”.

    This is NOT about BDSM. It is, as explained by Amanda Marcotte, all about consent. Everyone I know, who has been even peripherally involved with BDSM, has heard the mantra “safe, sane, and consensual” and I can’t see how his alleged defense is anything more than a smoke screen to confuse the issue.

    No means no, and the very fact that the Toronto police are actively investigating multiple sexual assault allegations, tells me that his is a common criminal, masquerading as a kinkster.

    • It’s like throwing someone off a ten story building and then claim you were “teaching them to fly”.

      So… you’re saying I shouldn’t do that? Ok. I guess so. I often threatened J by telling him I’d like to throw him down a set of stairs… but I never did it, of course. :)

      I can’t see how his alleged defense is anything more than a smoke screen to confuse the issue.

      I can’t either, especially in light of so many different women coming forward. I’m all about waiting for the trial to prove him criminally guilty, but in the court of public opinion, I’m happy he’s being proved guilty.

  2. He posted bail. The litany of charges aside, this is a media personality among media personnel. Questions like, “Can a pretext be used to fire an employee?” and “Can consent be retroactively withheld?”, may be of some significance to a jury. Whether or not he has recourse for these allegations is vitally important and a likely reason he’s aligned himself with BDSM culture; the context is everything. Especially if consent for activities was negotiated and established at the time of scene, maintained throughout, then claimed revoked after said scene completion. That’s how entrapment works. Betrayal of trust also, though that isn’t legally binding in this situation.

    Claiming that someone stripped and whipped you outside of the context of SSC or RACK is mean-spirited at the least, and moreover, tantamount to slander. Unless consensual BDSM is poorly understood where and when the accusation happened. Then the accuser is the victim. There aren’t neutral proceedings in that case.

    If BDSM activity was negotiated prior…if not it’s a straightforward violation of consent. Which is compelling when claimed. If a legitimate accusation is accompanied by libel, he’ll be prosecuted for the wrong reasons…

    • Questions like, “Can a pretext be used to fire an employee?” and “Can consent be retroactively withheld?”, may be of some significance to a jury.

      The question of his firing should be of no significance to the jury since he’s on trial for sexual assault. As for consent, I believe you mean “Can consent be retroactively withdrawn?” Of course we won’t know until the details of emerge during the trial, but from the statements others have made (see Reva Seth, Carla Ciccone, Lucy DeCoutere, and nine women in all), it doesn’t sound like there’s even a question of “withdrawn consent,” because consent was never granted in the first place.

      Especially if consent for activities was negotiated and established at the time of scene, maintained throughout, then claimed revoked after said scene completion. That’s how entrapment works. [. . .] Claiming that someone stripped and whipped you outside of the context of SSC or RACK is mean-spirited at the least, and moreover, tantamount to slander. Unless consensual BDSM is poorly understood where and when the accusation happened. Then the accuser is the victim. There aren’t neutral proceedings in that case.

      Like I said, this isn’t a situation where 9 women conspired against him. Read the links and the accounts of the women in their own words.

      I can almost understand it when it’s a “he said” vs. “she said” situation and people don’t give women the benefit of the doubt, but this is a “he said” vs. “she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, and she said.” AND we have the accounts of the women in their own words, AND there are similarities in the details (the teddy bear, and others).

      I have no patience for any line of discussion that gives gives a shit about libel or prosecution for the wrong reasons in the face of so much damning evidence. I care that he’s prosecuted for sexually assaulting those women. Full stop.

  3. Firstly, Ghomeshi’s BDSM defence is unconscionable and not a million miles away from the rapist’s “she was asking for it”.

    Secondly, it’s decidedly tacky when defenders of BDSM rights jump on an issue like this and use it as an opportunity to snivel through a megaphone. They should focus on solidarity with women, and not with some nebulous ‘community’ whose concerns, though justified, are in danger of hi-jacking the narrative.

    It behoves us all to realise that if, according to ‘The Lancet’, one in three women worldwide have experienced non-consensual physical violence at the hands of a partner, we had better start listening to them.

    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/nov/21/one-in-three-women-physical-sexual-violence-partner-lancet

    • They should focus on solidarity with women, and not with some nebulous ‘community’ whose concerns, though justified, are in danger of hi-jacking the narrative.

      YES to this! I’m not a big fan of the whole “community” idea anyway. I write a blog and interact with other kinky people that way, but I’m not a member of the “BDSM community,” no more than men are members of the “male community.”

      (Sidenote: I suspect “BDSM community” may be a linguistic solution to the awkward problem of “people who practice BDSM” — that is clunky, but a “community” has connotations and implications I don’t endorse)

  4. Well said. I think you are right on.

  5. Thanks for drawing out the line as brightly and clearly as possible. Amazing how often they are smudged, obscured, written over, written off, and/or buried in gibberish. (Seems to have some parallels in the recent discussion around rape at universities?)

    On a side note, happy Thanksgiving to you!

  6. I think is is spot-on and couldn’t agree more. I had a recent experience with someone who fancied himself a Dom but I think he was just a bully. Far from the same thing.

  7. Thank you for writing this, DD. When I read Ghomeshi’s “BDSM defense,” I thought two things immediately, 1) he’s got BDSM all wrong and 2) those women didn’t give consent. So in a way, I get why all those journalists jumped to point out the faulty logic, but am also in agreement with you that they’re missing the bigger, more important point which is that those women were assaulted, full stop. They never gave consent to enter a BDSM relationship.

  8. Testing, testing. I posted a comment days and days ago, but it’s not showing up :( The internet hates me, I’m positive.

    Anyway, what I said was that I agreed with you completely, however, I appreciated the overall defense of BDSM. It was just really stupid timing and not at all the point.

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