“Hey, were you raped?” one text message from an acquaintance read.
What? Who writes that? She thought, dumbfounded.
The Winnipeg woman eventually pieced together what happened while she was serving tables all night.
On that Sunday afternoon, Jian Ghomeshi – the host of CBC Radio’s popular program, Q, and the woman’s former fling – posted a lengthy Facebook rant, defending himself against as-yet-unknown allegations and explaining why he believed he was dismissed from the CBC.
“I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer,” Ghomeshi wrote.
About six hours later, the Toronto Star published an article online wherein four women accused Ghomeshi of assaulting them. The women, who were quoted anonymously, accused him of beating, choking, punching and biting them without consent. They hadn’t reported the incidents to police.
One of the women, a former CBC employee, told the Star she endured verbal abuse and inappropriate touching from Ghomeshi while at work on Q.
By week’s end, nine women had come forward with stories about Ghomeshi assaulting them, trusting both the Star and the CBC with recounting their run-ins. As of Sunday, three of the women also reported their allegations to Toronto police.
The writer attempted to reach Ghomeshi for comment on this story, but he did not respond. On Oct. 30, Ghomeshi posted on Facebook, “I don’t intend to discuss this matter any further with the media.”
All but two of the nine women – actress Lucy DeCoutere and author Reva Seth – alleging abuse from Ghomeshi, remain anonymous and understandably so.
They say they are afraid for their safety, for their careers, for the prospect of their names being dragged through the proverbial sludge of the Internet for decades. They don’t want to be remembered for being hurt by a powerful man for the rest of their lives.
Nor does the Winnipeg woman, in her late twenties, who said she slept with Ghomeshi on and off for about a year and a half.
Contrary to the other women, this one said she didn’t mind getting choked and slapped by Ghomeshi. Any aggression in their encounters was mutually agreed upon, she said. The woman has been a fan of BDSM since she was 19.
BDSM stands for bondage discipline (BD), dominance and submission (DS) and sadism and masochism (SM). The BDSM lifestyle is characterized by rough sex.
“Everything that happened between us was something that we both wanted,” she said.
The last time they had sex was in March of this year when Ghomeshi was in town for the Juno Awards, she said.
She has saved pictures with Ghomeshi, as well as emails and text messages sent back and forth. Her friends also corroborate details and verify the pair indeed dated.
The Winnipeg woman – we’ll call her X – asked to remain anonymous for the same reasons as the other women who have come forward about Ghomeshi.
“The truth is there’s totally reasons why these women are staying private because people will say horrible things. That’s how the Internet world works is people say horrible things,” X said.
She wants to protect her identity and go on living as normal a life as possible. Still, many friends, family members and mere acquaintances who knew she slept with Ghomeshi have already “blown up [her] phone,” with worried messages.
X has reassured everyone she is fine, including her parents. She called them immediately once she realized allegations about Ghomeshi were surfacing. “I feel like they know, based on me calling them on the same day that came out, that I’m super happy,” she said.
How they met
X said she met Ghomeshi in Winnipeg in October 2012. Ghomeshi was on a book tour promoting his autobiography, 1982, and made a stop at McNally Robinson for a signing.
X said she was already a fan of Ghomeshi’s and was very attracted to him.
She said they made “sex eyes” at one another while she waited in line to have her book signed. They chatted and he asked for her number.
“I didn’t answer because I was so nervous. My friend elbowed me and was like, ‘204…,'” she remembered, laughing.
Ghomeshi left early the next day and so they didn’t get a chance to meet again. But they began texting incessantly – 10 to 15 times per day, according to X. They talked on the phone a few times per week and on Skype as well.
X described the first two to three months of their interactions as “intense.” Afterwards, their communications faded in and out. When Ghomeshi was in Winnipeg, they would meet up for sex and dinner dates.
X admits her family was never particularly fond of seeing her with someone exactly 20 years her senior.
“People did kind of scrunch their faces up about the age, but I do like old guys. I think I’ve dated three guys in their 40s, so it’s not new to me,” X said.
“My mom was mostly extremely horrified because she recognized that I went to the book signing and when I got his number, she was like, ‘ew, creepy, disgusting,'” she said.
“My dad was pretty interested. I think he just turned that part of his brain off completely so that he never had to think about the sex part of it. I think that’s just a dad policy for the most part,” she joked.
In the bedroom
X said she and Ghomeshi talked a lot about BDSM before engaging in sexual activities.
“See, I always think everyone’s into BDSM, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you be? What do you do? You stare into eyeballs? That’s boring.”
X said she and Ghomeshi were both into kink and so they experimented with slapping and choking in the bedroom.
“Because [we were] long distance, we had a big rapport via text, Skype and telephone calls. We didn’t actually have everything specifically planned, but almost,” she said.
“He had said so many times, ‘I want to do this, this and this to you’, and I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.'”
Only once did X feel uncomfortable during role-play with Ghomeshi. She remembered making a face, but not saying anything. Ghomeshi stopped having sex with her to ask what was wrong.
“He was like, ‘if you aren’t comfortable – I saw it this time, but I won’t know. You need to tell me,'” she said.
X said Ghomeshi never got overly aggressive, except for once in a text message.
“There was never anything outside of sex play. If it was violent, it was in the setting it was meant to be in,” she said.
“There was one time he used a word and I can’t remember what it was – something like ‘destroy’ or ‘brutalize.’ There was some word that felt really violent to me in a way I didn’t enjoy and I told him that immediately. He said he wouldn’t use that word again.”
Ghomeshi claimed in his Facebook post to use safe words with his sexual partners. X said they did not use safe words during their encounters.
“We didn’t actually have safe words because I wasn’t comfortable with not being able to say ‘no’ and ‘stop,'” she said.
“Because we didn’t spend that much time with each other in the physical, I wanted to be able to say ‘no’ and ‘stop’ and that meant ‘no’ and ‘stop.'”
After sex, X described Ghomeshi as being caring.
“We always gave each other a bunch of massages and cuddles. It would be super sex and intense, but then it would also be so extreme in the romance feelings side from him, too,” she said.
“It went from intense like, ‘you’re my slut’ to, ‘oh my God, you’re the most precious flower I’ve ever been around’. It was extreme.”
X said Ghomeshi told her he had “‘never had such intense feelings about anyone in my life.'”
“I was like, ‘you’re a liar’,” she said. “I think after getting to know him, I’m sure that’s how he felt in the moment. That’s his thing – intense BDSM to intense loving, caring baby time.”
But at the same time, X said she realizes her experiences with Ghomeshi might not have been the same as other women’s. Though she can’t relate to others’ allegations of assault, she also can’t rule out these incidents may have happened to other people.
“We don’t know if it’s true or not. We don’t know and we can’t know and we won’t know,” she said. “The thing is, I support sexual rights a lot. But I also think abusers are horrible people and you shouldn’t say BDSM and abuse are the same.”
“I think it sucks to feel hurt and I’m sure they feel hurt,” she said of the nine women alleging assault from Ghomeshi.
“Because I know him and because of my experience I really don’t think [the allegations are] true. But that’s just my opinion.”
A pattern of violence?
Since X and Ghomeshi were apart for most of their consensual relationship, they spent months discussing their sexual preferences before acting on them. Ghomeshi’s other partners may not have been afforded the same luxury from the sounds of their allegations so far.
Lucy DeCoutere told the Toronto Star Ghomeshi “choked her to the point she could not breathe and then slapped her hard three times on the side of her head,” at his home in 2003.
“He did not ask if I was into it. It was never a question. It was shocking to me,” said DeCoutere.
Reva Seth wrote about her experiences with Ghomeshi in 2002 for a blog published by the Huffington Post last week. She described an abusive incident that also happened at Ghomeshi’s home in Toronto.
Seth wrote that,”Jian had his hands around my throat,” during a sexual encounter that was aggressive and violent. “When it was over, I got up and it was clear I was really angry. My sexual interactions until then had always been consensual, enjoyable and fun,” Seth wrote.
No charges have yet been laid against Ghomeshi. Police began an investigation into the alleged instances of assault late last week.
Still, Ghomeshi has already been thoroughly tried in the court of public opinion.
Winnipeg criminal lawyer, Scott Newman, estimates his case – if one is to be made – could take two to three years, if not more, in the court system.
“The Jian Ghomeshi case has two separate, distinct issues. One is whether or not someone can consent to this kind of consensual sexual activity. And the second one is whether or not there was actual consent in his case,” said Newman, who has worked on sexual assault cases for seven years.
“He says this was all consensual and the complainants seem to be saying none of this was consensual. So if the complainants are believed that this was not consensual and he was straight out assaulting them, there’s no defense,” Newman said.
Ghomeshi is also waging a legal battle against his former employer, the CBC. He’s suing the public broadcaster for $55 million for alleged “defamation and breach of trust,” according to the Star.
CBC rebuked Ghomeshi’s lawsuit and said in a statement, “it is, in our view, without merit and an abuse of the court’s process,” the Star reported.
The Star revealed – through anonymous CBC sources – Ghomeshi showed “graphic evidence,” including video footage to his former bosses to prove his innocence against allegations of abuse.
“CBC viewed scenarios where Jian Ghomeshi asks, for example, a woman to do something and she does it,” a CBC source told the Star.
“The source said Ghomeshi was trying to show ‘how bruising could happen and it could still be consensual,'” the Star wrote.
In a memo released Friday, the CBC said, “After viewing this graphic evidence we determined that Jian’s conduct was a fundamental breach of CBC’s standard of acceptable conduct for any employee.”
“[He] was likely to bring the reputation of his fellow employees and CBC into disrepute and could not be defended by the CBC,” the memo states.
Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC on Oct. 26. According to his lawyers, he plans to file a grievance to try and get his job back.
Newman said the public’s concerns about a power imbalance between Ghomeshi and the women he allegedly hurt are part of what is fuelling the Canadian media frenzy surrounding the ex-Moxy Früvous member.
He said he understands why the women taking issue with Ghomeshi would want to remain anonymous during a storm of vitriol.
“There seem to be concerns about having a reputation tarnished, about having people say nasty things about you or your name being bandied about on Internet forums,” Newman said. “I don’t think there are too many people who want to forever be known as the person who made a sexual assault allegation.”
Newman noted in cases involving sexual assault, the interested public is less likely to judge an accused with the court’s mantra of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
With Ghomeshi, he realizes, an international jury has pretty well come to its verdict.
“We don’t want people to be falsely imprisoned or falsely convicted of crimes,” said Newman. “But it seems almost as if sometimes there’s a different standard when it comes to sexual assault cases. That the presumption of innocence applies in every other crime except for this one because it’s such a hot button issue, it’s such a visceral crime.”
“We have to be concerned in every case that, at least with respect to the courts system, that we try and keep a logical, rational, even-keeled approach to the rights of the accused,” he said.
“O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder. Lizzie Borden was acquitted of killing her parents. But people still say, ‘Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks,’ even though she was acquitted. So that’s a different standard of proof in a criminal proceeding to the court of public opinion.”
Many are questioning the definitions of consent used by Ghomeshi, who maintained in his Facebook post his sexual relations were consensual.
So, what is the legal definition of consent?
“Consent is when, at its most basic, someone is allowing you to do something… So in terms of a sexual act, you’re asking permission to do something and the other person says yes,” explains Newman. “Safe words or explicit consent is always the safest way to make sure that you know a person is agreeing to what you’re doing.”
The Supreme Court of Canada rules a person can’t consent to sexual acts while unconscious, nor can they consent to bodily harm. A person can consent to being physically hurt, but not physically harmed to the point of bruising or unconsciousness, said Newman.
When consent is being debated in a he-said, she-said battle, as in Ghomeshi’s case, Newman said physical evidence – messages, photographs, videos – can be useful to corroborate stories, but aren’t completely necessary.
“There has to be evidence, but evidence can be testimonial. Evidence can be someone coming to court and telling their story. They get cross-examined and at the end of the day, either a judge or jury has to say, ‘do I believe this person?'” Newman said.
The lawyer said what happens in regards to Ghomeshi’s case might have ripple effects for other sexual assault victims tempted to come forward.
“I think if there were to be a conviction at the end of the day, it might embolden more people to come forward. If there’s an acquittal, I think it would make someone less likely to come forward,” said Newman.
While X rarely said “no” to Ghomeshi during their relationship, she isn’t sure she’d agree to testify in his defense in court.
She would definitely sign an affidavit, she said, but is wary of the court process.
“It’s the cross examination that scares me. I don’t want some scary person being scary to me,” she said. “I’d have to talk to someone about it thoroughly to tell [me] how to prepare or not for someone to call me a horrible slut in front of a billion people.”
X said she understands why the women who complained about Ghomeshi went to news outlets and not police, though she wouldn’t have made the same decision.
“It’s scary going to the media. Personally, I don’t understand the logic of going to the media and not going to the police,” she said. “It’s true that lots of people say BDSM cases are [different because] ‘oh you consented to it one time,’ and you don’t know until you try at least.”
“The truth is, I’ve had sexual abuse before and I talked to the police about it,” X said. “You don’t know until you talk to them whether or not they’re going to help you or not.”
BDSM and consent
While consent has been a major factor in discussions about Ghomeshi’s alleged behaviour, talks on BDSM have also cropped up. Is this lifestyle safe? Or common?
Winnipeg sexologist and sex therapist, Dr. Reece Malone, has studied BDSM as a private practitioner and in the local non-profit sector of human sexuality organizations for nearly 11 years.
Before the E.L. James bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey hit bookshelves in 2011 openly brandishing BDSM, the sexual lifestyle had its own distinct subculture, said Malone.
“Fifty Shades of Grey started bringing BDSM out of the closet in terms of sexual practices, but other people have practiced BDSM without even knowing that they have,” Malone said. “In what we would call normative ranges of sexual play, one person might be more dominant and another person is submissive.”
Contrary to popular belief, Malone said the submissive person should be mostly in charge in healthy BDSM situations.
“The power at the end of the day really falls within the submissive, or the person who’s receiving it,” he said. “There are check-ins throughout the scene. There is the check from the top to make sure that the bottom has every opportunity to rescind or to alter or to share whether what’s going on is a go or to hold up.”
“Those who are lifestyle BDSM-ers, those who are well informed, who are well trained, who are practiced, who are mentored, understand exquisitely that consent can be rescinded at any time,” Malone said.
“So just because a person has maybe a verbal contract or a written contract within their role play, it doesn’t mean that it gives the person who’s the dominant carte blanche [to do] whatever they feel like,” he said.
While safe words and actions are very important to BDSM, aftercare is also a vital step for BDSM partners, a step which seems to have been overlooked in Ghomeshi’s case, the sexologist said.
“The aftercare is when the dominant talks down the submissive to ensure that the submissive is in a grounded headspace. As endorphins go through the body, you feel a rush of euphoria and so it’s the responsibility of the dominant to make sure that the bottom is safe, that they are okay and that what happened was consensual,” Malone said.
The definition of the C-word – consent – needs to be taught in schools alongside reproductive sex education, said Malone.
“Consent needs to be accompanied by healthy sexual messages with the knowledge that people are sexual beings. There is sex ed that’s often framed around reproduction and maybe around [saying] no,” he said.
“But there really isn’t any context in terms of how to say no, when to say no and that it’s ok to say no – that one shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty to say no.”