It’s been a little over a week since the news about Ghomeshi went viral. Since the news first hit, nine women have come forward anonymously to the media and three have already reported their case to the police.
Since Ghomeshi was a familiar presence in most Canadian homes, many Canadians felt personally betrayed by his actions. When my husband, John, tried to identify his own interest in the case, he explained it like this,
“When you hear someone’s voice so often, you start to feel like you know who they are. So when you discover the truth about terrible things they have done, it’s shocking to realize that you never really knew them at all.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve have heard about the terrible things familiar faces (or in this case, voices) have done. The difference is, in the past, we have tried to forget the monsters hidden in the public men and women we admire.
We remember The Cosby Show, rather than the 13 women who have accused Bill Cosby of rape.
We try to enjoy watching Annie Hall, rather than think about the 1992 sexual assault investigation when the state attorney had probably cause to press charges against Woody Allen, but chose not to “due to the fragility of the child victim”.
Given the way we have ignored the transgressions of famous men in the past, it is almost a relief to see Ghomeshi demonized by almost everyone who has ever come in contact with him. It has opened up an incredibly important dialogue on the reasons why many people don’t report sexual assault and has forced us to start taking victims seriously. Finally, we are looking beyond what we want the truth to be and trying to discover what the truth really is.
Yet, for any of us who have known our own “monsters”, demonizing men like Ghomeshi is just a little too simple. It also allows us to ignore some of the root issues.
In her video addressing why many sex offenders claim they are innocent, Dr. Nina Burrows addresses how our cultural disassociation with certain evil acts discourages sex offenders from acknowledging the depth of their problem.
No one wants to believe that they are evil. We all justify actions that we know to be unhealthy or wrong. We rationalize having one more donut. We find a way to blame the cop who pulled us over. That’s the same thing many sex offenders do, only their actions have much more damaging consequences.
When we demonize those who commits the most disgusting kinds of acts we make admitting guilt that much more terrifying. Additionally, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone struggling with a similar problem to seek help before they hurt the people around them. In a culture where we believe only a monster would commit certain acts, we set ourselves up to be blinded by the “good” in these so called monsters. Then we are shocked, again and again, when a “nice” person does something terrible.
In the post I wrote on Ghomeshi last week I ended by mentioning the statement Owen Pallet made on Facebook. Throughout his short post, Pallet kept repeating two seemingly contradictory facts: “Jian Ghomeshi is my friend” and “Jian Ghomeshi beats women.”
These two statements seem contradictory to us because we do not want to believe that people we like, people we can associate with, people we can see ourselves in, could possibly do the kind of things we believe only a monster would do.
But there is a reason why many wives do not immediately leave their abusive husbands. Or why so many individuals do not report an assault. Or why, sometimes, victims allow their abusers to remain a part of their lives.
It’s because no matter how terrible a person’s acts may be, they are still human.
They can be funny. They can be sweet. They can be intelligent. They can be likeable. Often, they are someone the victim loved. None of these traits make what they have done any less terrible, but it does make it more difficult to view them as entirely one-dimensional.
I don’t know if forgiveness is possible, and I am 100% against forgetting because it only sets us up for future failures. At the same time I don’t want to be part of a culture where we only punish in the aftermath, creating an environment where there is no room for prevention.
What I want to know is this, what should we do with our monsters?