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Editorials Ghomeshi verdict shows we still don’t handle sexual assault cases properly

Protesters stand outside of a Toronto courthouse before an Ontario judge found former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi not guilty on four sexual assault charges and one count of choking.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

The outcome of Jian Ghomeshi's trial on four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking was always going to be controversial.

Had the judge found the disgraced former CBC radio host guilty on any of the counts, he would have had to overlook multiple inconsistencies and deliberate omissions on the part of his accusers that were exposed in the trial.

But by ruling that those inconsistencies and omissions made it impossible for him to eliminate reasonable doubt, and therefore acquittal was inevitable, the judge has reinforced the belief held by many women that their testimony has to meet too high a standard in order to be considered credible in a sexual assault trial.

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This is a serious problem. Women who are victims of sexual assault have too often been failed by the system, and many simply don't come forward. There have been recent steps taken to shield them from questions about their sexual history at trial, and to allow them to remain anonymous. But the issue that remains unaddressed is the fact they might try to hide behaviour after an assault that they worry is inconsistent with their allegations, and which might possibly be damaging to their case.

In fact, it is perfectly believable that a woman might reach out to a man who assaulted her after the fact, flirt with him, send him provocative messages, and even try to reassure him that there are no hard feelings by expressing affection for the hands that had allegedly battered her, as one Ghomeshi accuser did.

But these facts must never be exposed for the first time in the courtroom by a defence lawyer, as they were with Mr. Ghomeshi's accusers. This is devastating to a witness's credibility.

Prosecutors and police need to be trained to urge women to reveal every last detail of their relationship with a suspect before trial begins. They need to reassure women that it is okay to be confused and to delay coming forward; that it is consistent with the dynamics of human relationships to try to normalize and continue a relationship that went violently off the rails.

When women confess to sensitive complications such as these, the Crown and police must reassure them that charges will still be laid, and that their cases will be pursued to the fullest. Only then can women place their trust in the justice system.

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