The One with Ghomeshi, Trauma, and the Truth

As of this morning, Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of all charges.

The judge (Horkins) in this ruling told the witnesses that navigating this proceeding is “really quite simple”.

All he asks is that they “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

The truth.

What happens when the truth isn’t that simple?

 When trauma is involved, the truth— the reality of an experience, the story—is not clean cut. With trauma, the truth is never so simple.


A little psychoeducation, if you’ll bear with me:

Trauma memories do not have clear beginnings, middles, and ends.

This is not widely understood, and it needs to be.

When we experience trauma, our bodies and brains undergo an involuntary instinctual response that interrupts normal neuropsychological functioning.

Put simply, our brains often can’t physiologically encode traumatic memories in a linear or coherent fashion.

Our memories of trauma end up being without narrative organization and may be stored in a nonverbal realm of the brain.

Which makes it inherently problematic in cases like this where the outcome relies on the witnesses’ ability to recount the assault or trauma.

The judge is asking for something that our brains cannot physiologically accomplish under the weight of trauma. 

DeCoutere, one of the women who had pressed charges, was criticized this morning by Horkins for telling police that “nothing stuck in her memory” the night of the alleged assault, which was over a decade ago.

The judge also notes that there were inconsistencies in DeCoutere’s sequence of events relating to the alleged assault.

“The twists and turns of the complainants’ evidence in this trial illustrates the need to be vigilant” in order not fall into the assumption “that sexual assault complainants are always truthful,” the judge said.

To simple recount a traumatic memory— to organize it in a narrative form that will be comprehensible and acceptable to jury or a judge—is not as simple as the law expects it to be.

Trauma is an inherently fragmented memory experience.

And this leads us to the problem of this case’s proceedings:

Each charge against Ghomeshi is based entirely on the verbal evidence and credibility of the witnesses.  

Horkins stated that he made his decision based on he “inconsistencies” of the witnesses’ testimonies, that one of the witnesses “clear[ly] breached her oath to tell the truth”, and that the witness displayed a “degree of carelessness with the truth that diminishes the general reliability of the witness”.

Horkins acquitted Ghomeshi because the witnesses were not “especially precise” in the details of the assaults.  He criticized them of “willfully [holding] back the truth”.

But memory of a traumatic experience—and the sequence of events—is not easily presented by trauma victims due to the instinctual trauma response.

Ghomeshi’s trial rested solely on the witnesses’ testimonies, and their ability to recount the assault in a way that was clear and consistent.

And they didn’t.

So Ghomeshi goes free, for now.


All quotes are from Laura Fraser’s live coverage on the ruling from earlier today. Her posts can be found here


PHOEBE LAU is a Masters of Art Therapy candidate based in Montréal, Québec. She is an omega-level plant lady who also writes about her wildly varied experience in an interracial relationship at Hair of Oil, Hair of Water.

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