Valentine’s Day reminder: Consent comes FIRST

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and the Jian Ghomeshi trial wrapping up (after what seems to have been an absolutely disastrous time for the prosecution), I thought now was a good time for a friendly reminder:

In any sexual encounter, consent is mandatory, and crucially, CONSENT COMES FIRST. It is not something that is implied after.

This means that, say, if a famous Canadian TV/radio personality punches or slaps a woman in the face and then chokes her, without her express consent to this activity as part of their relationship, then it doesn’t matter if she went to a BBQ or a park with him later. It doesn’t matter if she sent him e-mails, or wrote him a love letter, or kissed him goodnight. If she did not give her consent to the violent act(s) he committed on her person PRIOR to the violence occurring, then the famous Canadian TV/radio personality who punched/slapped/choked her has committed assault.

o-sexual-assault-canada-570_0Because that’s how consent works. It’s about making sure that everyone involved in a physical interaction WANTS this contact to occur. Consent is not something you negotiate after the fact, and unfortunately, by focusing on what Ghomeshi’s accusers did and said AFTER he allegedly* assaulted them, the line of questioning pursued by his defense lawyer Marie Henein is setting (or rather, continuing) a horrible precedent and sending a dangerous message to would-be predators: it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Except you don’t actually need to ask for forgiveness either, if you (or your lawyer) can successfully discredit and invalidate the experiences of the other person.

Based on the way this trial has played out so far, in the Canadian legal system, it’s apparently fine to force violent and/or sexual acts on another person without their consent, so long as you can manipulate, coerce, convince, or at least CONFUSE them enough after the fact that their behaviour and communication with you (for example, in e-mails, which Ghomeshi was very careful to keep all these years) may imply that consent was given. Even if you don’t have any evidence that your accuser actually consented to being touched/hit/raped/choked BEFORE you did these things, their behaviour afterwards will provide enough “reasonable doubt” that you will probably get off scot-free, without you even having to take the stand yourself (your complainants, sadly, won’t be so lucky and they will be required to endure days of verbal harassment at the hands of your lawyer while their actions, reputations, and lives are picked apart by the court and the media).

So Ghomeshi’s complainants maintained contact with him after the alleged* assaults. Why is this surprising? Why does this invalidate their claims that he never received permission to touch them the way he did? Is it so outrageous to think that a woman would be so shocked about being hit in the face or choked by a well-loved, intelligent, and ostensibly feminist Canadian celebrity that she would try to convince herself it hadn’t happened, or try to smooth things over by doing whatever she could to “fix” the relationship? Is it any surprise that in a culture that constantly reinforces the idea that women are responsible for maintaining peace in relationships and responsible for the violent actions of others that the complainants may at first have wondered if THEY had caused the problem? In a culture where “negging” (insulting a woman in order to undermine her confidence and make her more likely to sleep with you) is a common tactic used by pick-up artists, are we really surprised that its natural extension (i.e. moving from insults to actual assaults) can produce the same result–a hurt woman who feels the need to redeem herself in the eye of her attacker?

Instead of asking ourselves why Ghomeshi’s complainants didn’t comport themselves like the “perfect victims” after the fact, what we should be asking is this: is it still possible to want to behave politely, even lovingly, to a person who has seriously wronged you?

If you have ever stayed with (or gone back to) a person who has physically, sexually, or emotionally abused you, you know the answer is yes. If you have ever hooked up with a guy after he “negged” you, you know the answer is yes. If you have continued to believe your lying child even though you have blatant proof of their dishonesty, you know the answer is yes. If you have ever given even MORE money to a scam artist contractor because you’ve given them so much already and they’ve promised they’ll actually finish the job this time, you know the answer is yes.

Does YOUR behaviour mean that the abuser wasn’t abusive, that the negger wasn’t insulting, that your child didn’t lie, or that the scam artist didn’t steal money from you? Of course not! So why can’t Lucy DeCoutere’s overtly friendly behaviour towards Ghomeshi AND the idea that he assaulted her co-exist?

Once we’ve stopped obsessing over questions about everything that happened afterwards, we can move on to the only question that should really matter: did Ghomeshi have his complainants’ permission to violently strike and/or choke them before he placed his hands on their bodies? If the answer is no, he is guilty of assault, whether he is convicted or not.


*I use the word “alleged” because at the time of writing, Jian Ghomeshi has not been convicted of assault (and it is likely he will not be). That said, personally, I believe the three women who have accused him in court and I believe the other women, both anonymous and named, who have spoken out about Ghomeshi’s violent behaviour in the media.