Views

Beware the blowback to the shifting landscape of sexual harassment: Paradkar

If this continues to be the face of a turning tide, a change for the better, an improvement for women, excuse me while I go rummaging for petticoats and corsets

U.S. President Donald Trump threw his support behind the Alabama senate candidacy of Roy Moore, who is accused by six women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s.

AP

U.S. President Donald Trump threw his support behind the Alabama senate candidacy of Roy Moore, who is accused by six women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s.

Sexual assault is a combustible topic these days, a situation long in coming, but ignited by the election of the ignoble Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency.

The Women’s March protest put everyone on notice: this wasn’t going to be business as usual, not after Trump had talked about grabbing women’s genitals, not after he threatened to jail his opponent, not after he disparaged her femalehood.

A year after that election, as we witness the outcome of that backlash in the form of daily allegations of sexual assault by men of great power, we’ve seen an outpouring of stories, the subsequent outrage, some of the action taken — here a film mogul ousted, there a media hotshot suspended. Here a sports doctor pleads guilty to assault, there an A-grade actor faces new charges. Here a corporate bigwig sacked, there a politician still not sacked.

Harvey Weinstein, Glenn Thrush, Larry Nassar, Kevin Spacey, Lockhart Steele, Roy Moore, Al Franken are just a few names among a host of others. They are all starting to blur, the facts of their alleged criminality dissolving into a haze of violations, of cupped hands, grasping fingers, slobbering mouths, thrusting tongues, grinning faces and grinding bodies.

They’ve come up with an inventive list of excuses — I’m gay! I was drunk! It was just a joke! I didn’t know she hated it! What next? I thought she was pushing me off because she wanted more!

Note the word “alleged” in conjunction with their offences. It’s a legal cover, only to be taken off if the act is proven in a court of law. It stays there otherwise, thumbing its nose at victims, with its built-in skepticism, the benefit of the doubt predicated on the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

That is an excellent, civilizing principle, but to impart justice in cases of sexual assault, the laws clearly need review and the system, reform.

Until then, the system pads the societal protection offered to men. A notable exception to its patriarchal bent is when the victim is a white woman and the accused a Black man, but that’s a different story.

In 2016, the lawyer Marie Henein skilfully exposed the deficiencies of the legal system in safeguarding women when she defended ex-radio host Jian Ghomeshi from multiple accusations of sexual violence.

Over in Halifax, the criminal justice system turned up on Wednesday, pock marks and all, lumbering toward a resolution after a judgment that shocked the country.

In March, Judge Gregory Lenehan found taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi not guilty of sexually assaulting a passenger intoxicated to the point of passing out in his taxi. “Clearly, a drunk can consent,” Lenehan said in his oral decision. That he wasn’t required to put it in writing is problematic.

There was no evidence of lack of consent, he said. In what world would it be safe to assume that a woman whom police found unconscious soaked in urine said yes to sex with a stranger?

“It’s so discouraging for me to stand here in 2017 and worry about the message that this decision sends to victims of sexual violence, and also to have to reiterate that a drunk ‘yes’ is a big ‘no,’ ” CBC reported Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard saying in March.

That Lenehan’s judgment scandalized us was evidence of a shifting culture, but in the time since that judgment until the appeal on Wednesday, societal views of assault have undergone an enormous change.

The question is, is this change real and permanent and actionable or is it a mollifying show of acquiescence before men retighten their grasp on power?

Already, a blowback is showing signs of emerging.

Thirty-six women, former staff of Saturday Night Live, came out in support of their former colleague and now senator Al Franken. “Not one of us ever experienced any inappropriate behaviour” from this “devoted and dedicated” family man.

Read: He didn’t do it to us. He didn’t do it.

Girls creator Lena Dunham and showrunner Jenni Konner first defended then apologized for defending their executive producer Murray Miller against allegations of rape. “Our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 per cent of assault cases that are misreported every year.”

Read: We know him. He didn’t do it.

In a particularly revolting incident, the U.S. President threw his support behind the Alabama senate candidacy of Roy Moore, the man accused by several women now of pursuing them when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s. Two of them accused him of assault or molestation.

“He denies it. He totally denies it. That’s all I can say. I can tell you one thing for sure, we don’t need a liberal democrat in that seat.”

Read: I don’t care if he did it.

The Washington Post released a list of 13 women who have come forward with stories of Trump touching them inappropriately, along with witnesses. “We did not include claims that were made only through Facebook posts or other social media, or in lawsuits that subsequently were withdrawn,” it said.

Yet, the Post also says 43 per cent of Republicans say they would “still consider voting” for a candidate who faced multiple sexual harassment allegations, so long as they agreed with them on the issues.

If this continues to be the face of a turning tide, a change for the better, an improvement for women, excuse me while I go rummaging for petticoats and corsets.

And pass the smelling salts while you’re at it.

More on Metronews.ca