Think Anew, Act Anew

observations and opinion

I love your hands: the Trial of Jian Ghomeshi

i love your hands

In the hours, days and months that follow the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, it’s unlikely that any four words will resonate so memorably as these: “I love your hands.” Coming from the victim to the accused, one day after the alleged assault, these words will be wrapped round the neck of the witness, as tightly as if she were being choked.

To quote courtroom maven and ace reporter Christie Blatchford, the lady’s testimony is “bewildering.” People will ask (are asking) how could the victim of an assault say that to the man she says attacked her? It will be said by the defense, and its defenders, that these four words make a lie of the testimony against the accused assailant.

Maybe.

As a lawyer and sometimes defender of the accused, I can tell you that as of this writing (February 6, 2016) the accused Mr. Ghomeshi is legally innocent – presumed so, at least – and cannot be judged a criminal by anyone unless and until due process of law reaches that verdict. What the trier of fact in the case will have to determine, is whether those four words – buried in a mountain of a million facts – create, or contribute to a “reasonable doubt” that Mr. Ghomeshi committed a crime.

I love your hands.

Almost no-one on earth is in that courtroom. All of our reports are second hand at best. The trial itself is a “report” – a reproduction, perfect or imperfect, of past events. Like a play in endless rehearsal, with at least two scripts and no director, a trial continuously recreates. What the law does is turn memory into meaning: I remember how the man treated me, I remember his actions and words. The memory might be perfect but the meaning of it legally – that is not remembered but invented – ascribed – by the law and its practitioners.

When Jian Ghomeshi was first publicly accused of being violent towards women, he seemed to admit it. You may remember that his explanation was that this was the kind of sex he liked, and the ladies liked it too. You’re just not cool enough to understand, he seemed to say. And I think for many of us, we paused and pondered: is that right? is this behaviour something that a woman would volunteer for, get aroused by, enjoy?

Maybe.

Maybe, but more than a few women came forward, in the days to follow, and said that they had experienced this “treatment” and that they didn’t enjoy it. Didn’t get aroused by it. Didn’t volunteer for it. They were injured by it, terrorized by it, humiliated by it. Some of their wounds were temporary (on the outside, like the bruises and the abrasions) and some wounds were more lasting (the slashing of their self-respect, of confidence in their own judgment) and some were external even to their bodies and minds (their job security or prospects).

Those of us who did not live in the skin of those women, cannot know what they felt or feared or knew or came to doubt. We can only imagine, drawing parallels from our own experience, searching for empathy or insight. Scrutinizing their words and actions. Being at times, “bewildered”.

Maybe.

Many women tell the same story, or a version of it: a story of charm, blazing wit and power. The curious elixir so many women find intoxicating.  A story of being drawn in, excited and thrilled at being wanted. A story that turned, slowly or more often suddenly, into a story of debasement and of insult. A story of injury. A story of enduring hurt. A story of not running away.

Things are bewildering. Once, when I was a boy, a drunk woman beat me with the wooden heel of her shoe. I didn’t punch back, though I might have. I didn’t run away, though I could have. I crumpled, kneeling on the floor, my arms above my head, as the heel of the shoe smashed on me, again and again. I said “stop! stop!” and waited for it to be over.

If I were cross examined today – why didn’t you fight? why didn’t you run? I would have no answer that you would understand. The truth is, when it happened and even after, I wasn’t afraid. That’s not what I felt.

The only thing I remember feeling or thinking, was that I wished she would stop. Not because it hurt (although it did). I wished she would stop, because when she woke up in the morning, she would remember – and she would feel ashamed. And I didn’t want her to think of herself that way, as a woman who beat a boy with a shoe.

So I yelled, “Stop! Stop!” And at some point, she did stop. Her arm dropped down, the shoe hanging from her fingers in front of my eyes. And I got up off the floor, and went to my room. And in the morning she woke up. And if she remembered, she never said. And neither did I.

The lady in my story isn’t charged with anything, other than being someone who was lost in her own pain and alcohol. There is no other proof: it’s my word against hers and she isn’t here to deny it. I never said a word about it then – it would have been too humiliating – too humiliating for her, and for me. It feels bad to tell on her, even now.

But I still see those hands, I see the wooden heel of that gold strappy shoe, right in front of my eyes, all these years later. Was I the victim of an assault? I suppose. Was she a criminal? That’s not for me to judge. What she was, was a woman who beat a boy with a shoe. I knew it then, even if she didn’t. And I know it still.

Even if you don’t believe me.

I know what you’re thinking: an adult woman is not a child. That’s absolutely true. The circumstances are not the same. They are very different. But that difference is only helpful in trying not to understand, what it means to be on the bad end of a beating.

The law will call a thing something, no matter what it was to those involved. Call something a crime and it’s a crime, but don’t call it that, and it is still what it was. It is still the thing that happened to the people who lived it. The memory and the meaning inside us are not altered, by what others see or believe. No chorus of doubters, no crowd of strangers in faraway rooms, no lawyers or reporters – not even a judge in a courtroom – can change what happened, or what it did to someone, or what it means.

Four fingers, a palm and thumb make up a hand, it is true. But they also make a fist. Call it what you want. When you feel it, you know what it is.

I love your hands.

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24 comments on “I love your hands: the Trial of Jian Ghomeshi

  1. Bill Calvert
    February 6, 2016

    Brilliant piece David.

    Like

    • dkl
      February 6, 2016

      Thanks Bill. Quite the occasion when both Calvert brothers like the same thing!

      Like

  2. Karl
    February 6, 2016

    Fact Check.

    The “I love your hands” quote is the last line from a hand-written letter, penned 5 days after the alleged assault. It was posted from Halifax, where Ms. DeCoutere lived at the time, about 1800 km from Mr. Ghomesi who was in Toronto.

    I’m not sure exactly where the line is between mollifying the abuser and genuine affection, but from his armchair, 5 days and 1800km is way past it.

    Like

    • daisymorant
      February 7, 2016

      Don’t think you would say this if you were a young, inexperienced woman awed by a “famous” person. A shrink could elaborate the mechanisms for you. ANd no matter what else was said – the fact remains that he choked her and his lawyer did not attack her veracity on that point. The rest is smoke trying to obscure the judge’s vision of the assault. A red herring. Besides: he keeps trophies, memorabilia, from well over a decade ago.

      Like

      • dkl
        February 7, 2016

        Did you actually read what I wrote?

        Like

      • daisymorant
        February 7, 2016

        dkl of course I read yr column, the comment was directed at Karl

        Like

      • dkl
        February 7, 2016

        Yeah I see that now. Sorry

        Like

  3. Paula
    February 6, 2016

    Very good piece, David.

    Like

  4. Boots (@andyingy)
    February 6, 2016

    chills! xoxo

    Like

  5. daisymorant
    February 7, 2016

    dkl I think the lawyer is all about making it about the lawyer.

    Like

    • dkl
      February 7, 2016

      As a lawyer, all I can tell you is in my experience, it’s almost never about the lawyer.

      Like

      • daisymorant
        February 7, 2016

        Well, this lawyer strikes me as the sort of lawyer who does have her career front and centre; I can’t say it with certainty as I don’t know her but, having read several profiles about her, I conclude that she is quite able to divorce her feelings about her client from the rest of her thoughts.

        She probably does not permit herself to entertain any sympathy for any victim, even if she senses, even if she comes to know that the victim is telling the truth. I would think that, should she be a chess player, she would be always at least three steps ahead.

        And I think that – once the bad taste is out of one’s head – it is possible for many to admire the ferocity that drives her to defend her client. Particularly other lawyers.
        Tho I have to tell you that I wouldn’t be one of her admirers. The sort of lawyer I value is the sort who was Associate Chief Justice of Ontario about a decade ago, now sitting in Ottawa, who never felt the urge to separate his humanity from the drive to defend his client.

        Like

      • dkl
        February 7, 2016

        I don’t call it ferocity or inhumanity. It’s just professionally doing one’s best, within the rules, to acquit a man who is legally innocent until proven guilty

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Krista
    February 7, 2016

    Beautifully said. And it is most certainly not about the lawyer. She is doing an outstanding job, as she always does. The issue is complex and I think your post captures the complexity.

    Like

  7. Ken
    February 8, 2016

    Your story was going fairly well, until the story of the beating of the little boy. From the way you tell it, it appears that the person doing the beating was your mother. The dynamics therefore are completely different. You weren’t there by choice – because you were awed by the person, attracted to the person for his/her wit, charm and – never forget this – celebrity. No, you were there because children are generally with their parents, no questions asked. You couldn’t just walk away and never see her again.
    A woman who goes on dates with someone she is sexually attracted to – and after the (supposed) bad treatment still comes back for other dates, or for other professional interactions (while perhaps thinking of one’s career) , cannot be put on the same footing. The child’s reactions are ambiguous perhaps because the child has NO real choices and is completely dependant on the mother, and must therefore find ways to either accept or at least pardon the beatings. Many children who were beaten when young end up having good relationships with their parents later on in life, once teh dynamic has changed.
    The ambiguity in this woman’s testimony comes from the fact that she DID have choices – and chose to go back again.And then waited how many months or years before deciding to press charges? Was the decision to press charges really because of the assault, or perhaps because of the “woman scorned syndrome” – the guy was no longer showing interest (some women even came on to him a year later in emails suggesting new dates) or perhaps because he was no longer useful for her eventual career? (I am not saying this is the case, but simply pointing out that we have no knowledge of her real motives. If she had gone to the police within minutes of the assault, with the bruises still on her neck, it would be much less ambiguous than waiting a long time and even dating him again. Going immediately puts the onus of proof on him; going after such a long time waiting puts the onus on her.

    Like

    • dkl
      February 8, 2016

      The point of sharing the story, as I say in it, is not to suggest the child and woman’s experiences are the same. They’re absolutely not. Rather the effort in the piece is to illustrate that one’s subjective experience of an event is independent of how the law characterizes it. The personal “reality” of it stands alone. What has struck me about the intense response to the story is that people (women, mainly) say the child’s feelings during the assault, are familiar to them. Thanks for your interesting comments.

      Like

  8. Karen Molson
    February 8, 2016

    Finest piece of journalism I’ve come across in a long time.

    Like

    • dkl
      February 8, 2016

      Ms Molson: You know, I’m never going to forget what you just wrote to me. Coming from someone who works with words (and birds too, I see) yours is very high praise. Probably undeserved.
      Thank you.

      Like

  9. daisymorant
    April 2, 2016

    I just want to add a comment. No “attitude” is intended.

    Ghomeshi is pretty much toast, depite the legal proof having fallen short in court. A few people will mull over the fact that he has kept all of his emails, from who knows how long ago.And he may have a relatively tough time getting dates now – or perhaps not.

    Who knows what goes on in people’s minds? that’s part of the vexatious problem in the testimony. That the women returned for more? We tend to think “they asked for it” “they knew what to expect”. People do strange things.

    Too much time has passed, there was no physical evidence, memory is faulty and poorly understood and there has been too much television drama revolving around crime and punishment. Forty-five minutes of entertainment do not resemble what actually occurs in court. Nor does most of it relate to our justice system, which has differences from the American one, I’m sure.

    In the end it is about the lawyer and – having finally heard her articulate and thoughtful responses to the CBC interview – oddly enough, the lawyer comes out as the best of the lot. Meanwhile, I would really like to know whether society will rethink the approach to this type of investigation and ensuing trial, whether we will deem it necessary to do so.

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2016 by in Canada, The Rights of Women, Violence against Women.
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