Tag

Christie Blatchford

Browsing

Guilty men fear the truth

Finally women are coming out on sexual assault, and shining a spotlight on men who use their positions of power to exploit women. But, as with all change, there are people who don’t like this new world. They scream that it isn’t fair, that men in positions of power should continue to be protected, and the women who accuse them should be scrutinized. They ignore the flaws in the democratic system that allow the media to shame women into silence.  Studies show that 80 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, in most cases it is because women don’t want to face the shame and humiliation society hurls at them. Protecting these women is the first step toward moving our society forward.

Last week. when two women came forward to charge Patrick Brown with sexual misconduct, reporter Christie Blatchford, master of spin, came out ranting that the two women should have faced the media “because fundamental to a democracy is… the right to face your accuser and make full answer in defence.”  She didn’t explain why she believes that facing the accuser and defending yourself has to be done on a public stage for the media. Nor did she admit that it is the media that so often distorts the truth.  Finally our society is starting to realize that this shaming makes innocent victims suffer in silence rather than come forward. Exposing the accuser to ridicule and shame, to the spin that media personalities want to weave around them isn’t democratic – it’s archaic.

Make no mistake, Patrick Brown will face his accusers and he’ll get a chance to defend himself if he wants that. Every accuser puts herself at risk of being sued. Blatchford ignores this and laments that Brown has already been tried in a court of public opinion – she forgets it is the same court that has tried and hung so many women who sought justice. Take for instance, Monica Lewinsky – when it finally came out that she was telling the truth, the media refused to admit their own responsibility over the damage they had caused to her reputation.  Nobody paid a penalty but her, and the friends and staff who protected President Clinton walked away unscathed.  The media personalities who were directly to blame for damaging her reputation never had to be accountable.  They didn’t care what they had done, and they didn’t apologize.

Democracy isn’t perfect. It’s a constantly changing idea, a moving target that social change tries to improve. It is flawed. It allows people to hold positions of power over others, and if this power is held by someone who abuses it, people get hurt. It isn’t just men in power who cause harm, there are women like Blatchford who have a pulpit but no sense of responsibility, and they use their words to damage others. What she does too often isn’t reporting, or journalism… it’s public shaming.

Today our society is trying to make up for the decades of shame and public humiliation forced on women who reported sexual assault. Blatchford claims she is worried that all men in positions of power will become easy targets. And I worry too. I worry that the gutter style media is the very noose that will hang innocent men. 

Democracy is founded on the desire for fairness –  and it is this desire for fairness that is guiding the social changes we are seeing today. The far right accuses women of claiming victimhood, but today women have gone far beyond being victims. Women are angry, they don’t forget – they want to even the playing field.  If men in leadership are to be safe from false accusations, it will be up to the media to become more accountable for our role in shaping public opinion.

The two women who reported Patrick Brown have inspired other women. But what I find inspiring about them is the very thing Blatchford can’t stand — they have shown  women a path to reporting sexual misconduct that doesn’t involve being publicly identified, humiliated and shamed. I believe these two women have opened the floodgates, and the sad fact is that there are few women over 40 who don’t have a story, or two, to tell of men who abused their position of power.

I remember a time in 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto and was on a show with the other top four candidates.  The show helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes in he asked me if I would have sex with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He advised me that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team,” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time.  Needless to say, I never got on his show again. His refusal to have me on his show simply because I wouldn’t have sex with him, made it harder to compete with the men I was running against who appeared on his show several times. 

And now, eight years later, I question if I should have spoken up. By keeping silent, have I allowed him to sexually prey on other women? If you are a woman and have experienced a talk show host who used a similar line on you, please reach out to me (sarah@sarahthomson.ca). Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

As the publisher of Women’s Post, I believe there should be a way for women to report sexual misconduct without having to face shame and humiliation, and without having to drag men through the court of public opinion.  The world is changing,  you can fight the change or you can embrace it and try to make the world just a little more balanced for all.

But be careful of the likes of Christie Blatchford — she is the kind of person who will invite you to a party at her house and act like your friend. But, years later, when everyone is accusing you of lying and kicking you, she’ll sneak in a few kicks just to fit in with the guys – and then later, when  the truth comes out, she’ll hope that you didn’t notice how many times she kicked you. I noticed.

 

 

Those who hurt us

When Mayor Ford sexually assaulted me he demonstrated the extent a powerful man and his colleagues will go in order to hide the truth and destroy someone’s credibility. Their ability to influence talk show hosts into using their microphones to twist and distort events with commentary designed specifically to destroy my credibility wasn’t just unethical but it validates the need for a stronger code of conduct in the broadcast industry.

The morning following my assault, one of my friends at Newstalk 1010 informed me that the Fords were trying to get their radio hosts and others in the media to denounce me. They used the same strategy that Jian Ghomeshi tried to use in his Facebook statement – they tried to define me as an unstable woman seeking attention. Ford’s people succeeded in coercing their media friends to question my motives, to attack my integrity and cast me as a woman not to be believed. Not only did this elevate the Mayor, it ensured other victims stayed silent. Everything from my hair, to my looks, and behavior was attacked. And while the average person got the impression that I wasn’t credible, others who knew a little more about the Mayor reached out to me. Some had seen Mayor Ford drunk, there were women who had endured his lewd behavior at parties – yet none of them were willing to speak out, driven to silence in part due to the shaming I was getting from a few unethical media personalities.

This is the problem with public shaming. It silences those who might speak out, who might come forward. And it stops women from speaking out about sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is in a position of power and influence. There are some who suggest that simply because a victim has turned to social media it makes them fair game for media attacks ­– it is time broadcasters follow a code of conduct that protects victims of assault from media lynching.

Michael Coren was one of the media personalities whose attack on me was particularly hurtful. It stung most because we had been colleagues for years at the Women’s Post. We met when a mutual friend suggested I hire him to write columns for the magazine, explaining that Coren had children, wasn’t working and needed financial help. We worked together for over a year, and often attended the same events. I edited many of his columns and although we shared different views we developed what I thought was a mutual respect — he knew me well enough to know that I wasn’t a person to make up stories. And yet instead of standing up for me when I came out publicly with Mayor Ford’s assault, he used his pulpit at Sun News Network to attack and degrade me – from my looks, to my hair and my actions, and the entire time pretended that he barely knew me. I’m not sure if the Fords intimidated him, or if he desperately wanted to impress them, but there is something very sad about a man who fails when confronted with a moral decision.

Jian Ghomeshi tried to define his story differently by shaming and blaming his victims. He didn’t have as much help doing this as Mayor Ford received in degrading me, but the truth in both instances eventually came out. The women who have come forward to call out Ghomeshi are very brave, each had to risk to their reputations. I was glad the media commentators who attacked me didn’t attack these women, but I worry that the only reason they didn’t lash out was because Mr. Ghomeshi wasn’t one of their Conservative colleagues.

“Ghomeshi-gate” has caused women across North America to tell their stories and it is through these stories that we as a society can learn and grow and change. Their courage is inspiring, and their stories need to be told.

So far in my life I have endured assaults by three men. One man threw me across a room in a fit of rage. Another thought that punching my face repeatedly might change my negative feelings towards him. I stayed home for a week hiding my swollen face, ashamed and scared to go to the police, or do anything that might cause him to enter my life again. The third happened when Mayor Ford groped me while high, drunk, or probably both.

Like so many victims my first feeling after Mayor Ford assaulted me was guilt. I told myself that I should never have posed beside Mayor Ford after his comments about wanting to have “fun” in Florida with me. When he lewdly called me a “dirty, dirty, girl” I should have realized he was in some drug-induced machismo high and left. But instead I stood there beside him smiling for the camera. I wished I had simply kneed him in the groin and been done with it, and like most assault victims, I blamed myself for not reacting. Today I understand that it was not my fault. Mayor Ford was intoxicated and his choice to grope me was a power play on someone in the crowd that he knew.

My guilt was followed by worry over how my actions might impact my family. With so many cameras flashing around Mayor Ford, someone may have captured a picture showing me stupidly smiling with his hand on my butt. Why did I smile? What if people thought I’d enjoyed it? The humiliation this could have caused my husband was horrifying. I love him more than anything in the world, he is an amazing man and father, gentle and quiet, and he prefers to stay far from the spotlight. Shaming him would have devastated me and there was no way I could risk the chance of some picture or video hitting the media that might have made it look like I was a willing participant. Like other victims of assault, I mistakenly worried about how the assault might hurt everyone else around me, instead of focusing on how it hurt me. In hindsight I should have gone to the police and let them deal with it.

Every person who has suffered abuse goes through the same turmoil of guilt, self-blame and confusion over how to handle the issue.

In the year that followed the groping most of the accusations I had made about Mayor Ford came to light, from his drug use, to his vulgar attitude toward women, as well as the lies his staff told to hide the truth about his condition that evening. To top it off, radio host Ryan Doyle had the decency to apologize for the things he had said about me.

A lot of time has passed, situations have changed significantly for all of us, and today, as I sit typing, Rob Ford struggles with cancer. Despite the horrible way he treated me, I find myself praying that he’ll beat his cancer. I feel compassion and it is this compassion, this ability to forgive, to accept and to move forward that makes us stronger.

When it comes to sexual assault our society must change the way we handle it. The media can lead in this area or they can refuse to change. Broadcasters like Newstalk 1010, Sun News Network, and others should follow a code of conduct that puts victim protection first. They must stop their commentators and hosts from lynching, blaming or making disparaging comments about victims of assault. Broadcasters must begin to see that they have a duty to protect victims, not judge them or publicly shame them – and without a code of conduct that broadcasters actually honor, victims of assault will forever be at risk of public shaming and choose silence over exposure.