Let's Talk about Sexual Assault: Survivor Stories and the Law in the Jian Ghomeshi Media Discourse

Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 54(4)

Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 40/2017

64 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2017 Last revised: 6 Sep 2018

See all articles by Dana Phillips

Dana Phillips

York University, Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: June 16, 2017

Abstract

The recent allegations against former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi catalyzed an exceptional moment of public discourse on sexual assault in Canada. Following public revelations from several women who described being attacked by Ghomeshi, many others came forward with accounts of sexual violence in their own lives. Affirming feminist critiques of sexual assault law reform, many survivors drew on their experiences to expose the criminal justice system’s ongoing flaws in processing sexual assault cases. While some held out hope for the criminal law’s role in addressing sexual violence, most rejected its individualizing and retributive aspects. Instead, survivors emphasized the need for their experiences to be meaningfully acknowledged, and the primary importance of speaking out publicly about sexual violence in order to debunk common stereotypes and effect cultural change. Following a grassroots feminist impetus, they framed their stories as resisting legal and social norms through a turn to direct personal experience.

Yet the experiential accounts of sexual violence publicized in the wake of Ghomeshi also drew from criminal law discourse in a number of ways. Not only did survivors use legally grounded concepts to define their experiences, they also re-theorized past experiences in ways that bear noticeable parallels to recent shifts in the law of sexual assault, especially around consent. Thus, I argue, their accounts should be read as both resisting and reflecting legal scripts.

Keywords: Sexual Assault, Ghomeshi, Criminal Law, Feminist Legal Theory, Discourse

JEL Classification: B540, K00, K100, K140, Z130

Suggested Citation

Phillips, Dana, Let's Talk about Sexual Assault: Survivor Stories and the Law in the Jian Ghomeshi Media Discourse (June 16, 2017). Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 54(4); Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 40/2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2988037

Dana Phillips (Contact Author)

York University, Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

North York, Ontario
Canada

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