I came here to write about something else, but felt I’d rather join the choir of general outrage at the fact that Jian Ghomeshi was cleared yesterday on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking at Old City Hall Courthouse in Toronto. To say this is horrifying seems tepid and insufficient. This is horrifying.
Equally horrifying and absurd are the words of Ontario Court Judge William Horkins as he pronounced, with all the weight of all the centuries of a bureaucracy that has clearly lost all touch with all reality that, “Even if you believe the accused is probably guilty . . . it is not sufficient.”
We know Jian Ghomeshi is guilty. I use we freely here because it helps interpolate. We can see that there has been an egregious error, one that pronounces the apparatus of the law guilty; an apparatus we’ve built (though the we here is less inclusive?), and that has clearly stated it does not protect us.
Last month, Zoe Quinn stepped away from her trial against Eron Gjoni in the Gamergate case. Quinn, “who continually had been forced, on multiple occasions, to explain ‘Twitter’ and ‘doxing’ and ‘online mobs’ to judges and officers unfamiliar with any of those concepts,” deemed the court of law incapable of keeping her safe.
Last night, I sat in a small circle of women and we talked about what we could do. We’re not litigators, we’re not policy makers, and we have pretty little power on the ol’ measure-of-power scale. We acknowledged that probably Jian Ghomeshi will go on to be gainfully employed, probably the wider public has an entirely different take on this trial and will swallow the verdict of the law, and probably this trial has had a pretty narrow reach outside of Canada (at least so far).
What can we do?
There was talk of sending words and items of solidarity to the women who have gone forward against Ghomeshi, reiterating the fact that the words of Judge William Horkins are not the words of the public and for sure not the last words. These women—including Lucy DeCoutere who chose to step outside the publication ban on her name—heard Jian Ghomeshi pronounced “not guilty” yesterday in court. They can still take civil action against him, but this is an invasive process that may have little pay-off outside compensation, if that. It’s at the sacrifice of their sense of closure and safety that a wider discussion on assault has been opened—for example, how there is no perfect way to react to abuse, or that abuse and assault, especially when dealt by someone we know or love or admire, doesn’t manifest how we might imagine it to—and they should get effing medals.
We can write to said dickhead judge at the following address: The Ontario Judicial Council, P. O. Box 914, Adelaide Street Postal Station, 31 Adelaide St. East, Toronto ON, M5C 2K3.
But there is a problem here that evidently has deep roots. The symptoms of this problem are clear every time survivors do not feel safe putting forward cases of assault or every time these cases are put forward only to be told they are “not a big deal,” as was the experience of the woman in this Globe and Mail video who adds, after stating that her case was dropped without her knowledge, “I know why only six in every one hundred women report now.”
I know it may be dubious to bring these guys in here, but Stewart Brand quotes Marvin Minsky as saying to him once, “the heuristic for making discoveries is: start with a distinction that people make and argue that there are three ways rather than two . . . Information theory is interested in signal and noise. Maybe we should make a tri-stinction—signal, noise, and meaning.” In this direction, is there another way to deal with cases such as sexual assault that can circumvent the punishing binary of deciding-to-prosecute or deciding-not-to-prosecute?
In 2014, Emma Healey wrote “Stories Like Passwords” to bring her own experience of assault to the surface, and it’s an article that exposes the personal as much as it does the systemic issue of power that is always so trickily particular and amorphous around these cases—an issue that applies one hundred percent to Jian Ghomeshi and his insane popularity as former host of Q, not to mention the power of his lawyer Marie Henein. Through writing and word-of-mouth, Healey took the outing of a harmful situation into her own hands, and a wider community of writers took note. Fellow POD member Eileen Holowka and I have talked about making a game that could embody a “third way” as Minsky suggests—we don’t yet know exactly how, but Eileen’s game City Witch already explores this concept and the power and password of stories.
In her book The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna L. Tsing writes,
What if, as I’m suggesting, precarity is the condition of our time—or, to put it another way, what if our time is ripe for sensing precarity? . . . Precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves. Unable to rely on a stable structure of community, we are thrown into shifting assemblages, which remake us as well as our others. We can’t rely on the status quo; everything is in flux, including our ability to survive. Thinking through precarity changes social analysis (20).
I like this, I like the stress on vulnerability and precarity, I like how Tsing’s piece is part of the readings for Mark Sussman’s research-creation course this semester, but as Jess Marcotte pointed out in class discussion, feeling one’s own precarity is a daily reality for many that is exhausting.
What if, instead of precarity, we used the word risk? What if risk is the condition of being vulnerable to others? What if our time is ripe for sensing risk? To feel risk is to feel galvanized toward action rather than exhausted by the precarity of that action. Fellow POD member Hilary Bergen said to me after class, that applies to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict. We should all feel that we’re in danger.
Feeling that danger, and still feeling the precarity of the situation, what, really, can we do?
The trending show of solidarity at the moment is #Ibelievesurvivors and I believe survivors.
As an immediate action, I plan for now on trying to stay with the anger, to stay with the sense of risk and danger and listen.
(Visual by Jenny Holzer)