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.