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The biggest losers in the Ghomeshi debacle

It's all over but the verdict – and the shouting. To many people's outrage, Jian Ghomeshi – perhaps the most widely loathed man in Canada – is unlikely to be convicted for alleged crimes that happened in another decade. There is almost no corroborating evidence, and all the witnesses were, to put it kindly, shaky.

It's not too soon to say that almost everybody lost. His reputation is beyond repair. All three complainants were cut to ribbons for varying degrees of misleading and incomplete testimony. The details they forgot to mention include that notorious e-mail from Lucy DeCoutere, hours after the alleged assault, in which she expressed the desire to "fuck your brains out."

The Crown looks, at best, hapless, and appears to have failed miserably in preparing the witnesses for the rigours of trial. The police look terrible for failing to conduct a proper investigation and failing to uncover important evidence that proved devastating to the witnesses. The same can be said of their lawyers. The only winner is the razor-sharp defence lawyer Marie Henein, she of the clacking stilettos. She did her job.

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But the biggest losers were not in court. They are the many victims of sexual assault who now, because of this fiasco, will be more reluctant than ever to come forward.

The problems with the case started at the very beginning. The charges against Mr. Ghomeshi were brought in an atmosphere of intense media-induced frenzy. As dozens of women came forward to accuse him in the media, he became the archetype of the predatory male. Sympathy for the alleged victims was overwhelming, and the public demanded action. In the fall of 2014, Bill Blair, Toronto's then-police chief, responded to the pressure by urging victims to come forward and contact the police.

Ms. DeCoutere was one who did. Why didn't she go to police at the time of the alleged assault? Because – as she told the CBC in 2014 – she didn't think she had a case. It was just her word against his. She wasn't physically injured. "I knew enough to know there would be so many holes in the story it would be like, we got nothing for you, honey."

The case was so full of holes that some people are now wondering how it was ever brought to trial. But if police hadn't charged Mr. Ghomeshi, the outcry would have been deafening.

An astonishing number of people calling for Mr. Ghomeshi's head don't seem to grasp the fundamental principles of our legal system. They seem baffled by the concept of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They don't seem to understand the difference between belief and proof. They are outraged that the defendant was not obliged to appear in the witness box, and that complainants are subject to scrutiny. Some people do grasp these things, but think there should be different rules for sex-assault cases. If so, I'd like to know what they should be.

It must also be said that the victim lobby has done itself no favours. Its tone has been both strident and absolute. The notion that we should believe the victims – no matter what – not only is unhelpful, but has been thoroughly discredited by a series of widely publicized cases (e.g., Rolling Stone, in which the victim made it all up). In fact, the public is more sophisticated than the victim lobby seems to think. People have a great deal of sympathy for sexual-assault victims. But they don't think that means an automatic free pass.

The victim lobby also lacks a sense of proportion. Like it or not, there's a difference between slapping, hair-pulling and brief incidents of choking (the accusations here) and rape at knifepoint. Bill Cosby is suspected of sexually violating dozens of women after he drugged them. None of this is excusable. But some of it is worse.

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Nor is "trauma" a satisfying blanket explanation for every victim's behaviour. People understand perfectly well why some women placate their abusers. But "trauma" does not necessarily explain why someone who barely knows the guy at all would write lovesick letters, or send bikini photographs, after he slapped her around on a first date. There may be other reasons. Besides, at least one of the complainants in this case wasn't traumatized at all. She told him to get lost (after giving him a hand job).

We need to have a more honest conversation about why some women – women who, dare I say it, ought to know better – behave the way they do. This is not meant as an excuse for male behaviour. But plenty of women are attracted to men who are mad, bad and dangerous to know, as well as to men who seem quite nice at first but turn out to be predatory jerks. Most of us have encountered men such as these. Most of us have learned to run the other way. Sorry, but if a guy slaps you around on your first date, maybe you shouldn't go on a second one.

People are not allowed to say such things these days, for fear they'll be accused of "whacking the victim." But that is simply what we tell our daughters: Watch out for yourself. There's enough trouble in this world without inviting more.

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About the Author

Margaret Wente is one of Canada's leading columnists. As a writer for The Globe and Mail, she provokes heated debate with her views on health care, education, and social issues. She is a winner of the National Newspaper Award for column-writing.Ms. Wente has had a diverse career in Canadian journalism as both a writer and an editor. More

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