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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.