The sexual assault trial against disgraced Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi began on Monday. Two women have testified against him thus far; both have been aggressively cross-examined by Ghomeshi’s defense attorney about why they continued to communicate with him after the alleged assaults took place.
Ghomeshi faces four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking, with three women expected to testify against him in all. The tactics the defense will be relying on have become clear pretty quickly: Defense lawyer Marie Henein questioned the first witness, who is remaining anonymous, about why she emailed Ghomeshi a photo of herself in a bikini a year after she says he hit her and pulled her hair. She asked the second witness, actress and former Air Force captain Lucy DeCoutere, why she sent Ghomeshi flowers after a weekend in which she says he choked and slapped her.
DeCoutere was asked about several apparently flirtatious interactions she had with Ghomeshi; she testified that she wanted to regain some level of control over a frightening situation. From The Star:
Henein asked why DeCoutere would try to be friends with a man who allegedly assaulted her.
“Yeah people do that. It’s a weird thing. But it’s real,” DeCoutere said.
DeCoutere has testified that the 48-year-old CBC Radio host started choking and slapping her in the face without warning while they were kissing at his home in the summer of 2003.
Henein produced an email in court Friday that DeCoutere sent Ghomeshi on July 5, 2003, a day after the alleged assault. It read: “You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to f—- your brain out. Tonight.”
DeCoutere said that does not mean she liked being choked.
“He choked me without consent because he never asked for it. He slapped me without consent because he never asked for it,” DeCoutere said.
In another email sent on July 17, 2003, 13 days after the alleged assault, DeCoutere wrote to Ghomeshi: “I think you are magic and would love to see you.”
DeCoutere was also cross-examined about an incident in which, months after she says the attack took place, Ghomeshi hopped onstage while she was singing karaoke to join her in a duet of “Baby One More Time.” DeCoutere said the song choice was “intensely ironic.”
The first witness, meanwhile, who says Ghomeshi violently attacked her 13 years ago, testified that she used a bikini photo a year later as “bait” to try to get Ghomeshi to contact her, so she could demand an explanation for the assault.
Both women testified that while they felt frightened and upset by the attacks, they were unclear about whether what had been done to them was a crime. The first woman said that on a first date with Ghomeshi, he violently pulled her hair; on a subsequent date, he pulled her hair, yanked her to her knees, and punched her in the head, she said, then “threw me out like trash.” But she didn’t think anyone would listen to her and didn’t go to the police. DeCoutere, too, said she remained silent because she blamed herself, and because, as she put it, “I wanted to protect him.” From the National Post, a portion of her testimony:
“I didn’t know what to say, and it’s very seldom I don’t have an answer for something … I though about it and internalized it. And it never left me. It coloured every encounter I had with him after… I felt sorry for him because he thought this was an appropriate thing to do… I didn’t tell anyone about it because I wanted to protect him… I was blaming myself for putting myself in a dangerous situation — which shouldn’t have been dangerous.”
These aren’t uncommon reactions for people who have suffered violence at the hands of sexual or romantic partners (and attacking a sexual assault victim’s credibility is a defense tactic as common as it is ugly). Heinen’s approach, though, is fueling a debate in Canada about best practices for defense attorneys. And separately, it’s creating a debate about how the media covers these allegations; several news outlets filed a legal challenge asking for access to the first witness’s bikini photo, which has been sealed. Among those outlets is the Star, which first published the details of the allegations against Ghomeshi in the fall of 2014.
To make the trial even more bizarre, a 19-year-old man was arrested Friday morning outside the courthouse after screaming at and threatening reporters with an electric saw. A reporter tackled the man after seeing the weapon and held him until police arrived.
Image via Getty.