The news media has some soul-searching to do.
I came to that conclusion last week after watching CTV News take down Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown with its story about two unnamed women who claimed they had sexual interactions with Brown several years ago.
Brown, who has denied the allegations, resigned shortly after the story broke. He had to. There is a provincial election coming up in June and the story, as ridiculous as I think it is, could have dominated discussion during the campaign.
Yet there seems to have been no criminality involved, no harassment in the workplace, where one person takes advantage of the power he or she, usually a he, wields over another.
Both incidents were simply interactions between Brown and the women on separate occasions in his bedroom.
It is the kind of thing that will be happening all over the world as I write this and also as you are reading it, the only difference possibly being that the man was a teetotaller while the women had been drinking.
Yet CTV News, assuming a vigilante role, thought it was something we needed to know.
When Pierre Trudeau was justice minister before he became prime minister, he famously said “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
Surely that should hold true for the news media as well.
After all, it does not appear that the two women were out to sink Brown. According to CTV News’s senior political correspondent Glen McGregor, who was the first to report on the incidents, the women were initially hesitant to speak out.
McGregor told CP24 the women were not “shopping their stories around” to media outlets.
“They didn’t come to us,” he said. “We had to go to considerable lengths to reach them and convince them that they should tell their story and that they’d be protected. Then we had to do a lot of leg work to confirm details in their story, verify a lot of things that they had said.”
McGregor was quick to point out that none of the allegations against Brown have been proven in court.
He said neither of the women ever filed complaints with the police or employers and never took any civil action..
What do the allegations entail?:
CTV News reported that one girl, a high-school student in Barrie at the time of the incident, alleges that she met Brown, an MP representing Barrie at the time, at a local bar with a mutual friend. He invited them to his home and provided them with alcohol, though they were underage. During a tour of his home, he stopped in his bedroom with the one girl and then exposed himself and asked her to perform oral sex on him. She said she did briefly and then left.
The other woman, a former employee of. Brown’s, alleges that she was sexually assaulted in 2013 after a charity event in Barrie.
The woman said she met Brown on a flight in 2012. He later tracked her down via her Facebook profile and sent her his phone number, allegedly telling her to contact him if she needed to get past lineups into bars – she was also not of legal drinking age at the time.
In March 2013, the woman said Brown hired her to work in his constituency office. She alleged to CTV that after a hockey charity event that she helped organize, she attended a party with Brown and his friends. She was intoxicated and went to Brown’s home with some of his friends after the bar closed.
During the evening, she said Brown invited her to his bedroom with a friend to look at pictures. When the friend left the room, she and Brown were sitting on his bed. She said that without invitation, he forced her back and kissed her. She says she was unresponsive to his kisses. He then climbed on her and continued to kiss her. She told him to stop, saying she had a boyfriend. He did stop and then drove her to her parent’s home.
“I felt it was sexual. I could feel his erection on my legs when he was on top of me so I felt that it would have gone to sexual intercourse if I had not done anything,” the woman told the news agency. “I would characterize that as a sexual assault.”
Yet she did nothing about it.
The stories leave out what I consider to be a central point. Did Brown close the door of the bedroom in either incident? If he did, did either woman not think that he had something of a sexual nature in mind.
In the one case I guess it didn’t matter. She was prepared to go along with it anyway.
My problem with this whole affair is not that this happened but that the women are not named.
If charges of a sexual nature are laid in court, the identity of the victim is protected from publication. I have no problem with that. These people had the courage to come forward with their complaint in a public forum, where they will face cross-examination by the defence. Their identities cannot be publicized, but they will be available to anyone who wants to sit in at court..
But although some politicians have lauded the courage of the women in the case at hand, I don’t see it. Their identity remains cloaked in secrecy and will remain so. They have nothing to lose.
The only loser is Brown. He says he will defend himself in regard to the allegations. But how, other than saying the allegations are false and the events didn’t happen, can he? And anyway, the damage has been done.
I believe news organizations should take note of what CTV News did here and decide among themselves to only carry such stories if those making the allegations are prepared to attach their names to them.
In the allegations against Brown, I can’t understand CTV News not asking the women what they thought might happen when they found themselves alone with a man in his bedroom.
In regard to the young woman who performed oral sex on Brown at his request, that seems to be consensual. No doubt she was young, but since she seemingly was beyond the age of consent I don’t see a problem.
In regard to the one who felt his erection on her legs, Brown obviously brought things to a halt when she asked him to do so. The unwanted kissing was an assault, but would it be enough to pass the test in court of being criminal?
I think there is another test the women should have to pass.
Would either have told their stories if Brown had been an average Joe working at an average job, rather than being the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party with a good shot at being the next premier of the province?
Would CTV news have been interested in the stories if an ordinary person, rather than a high-ranking politician, had been the subject?
I think I would be safe in saying definitely not.
However, I would be remiss in not pointing out what I see as Brown’s biggest problem in the whole affair, his providing of alcohol to under-age females. This, at the least, shows a serious lapse in judgment in a man we could have conceivably selected to be premier of this province.