Imagine a skilled magician performing the cups and balls routine or a card trick. They have a keen ability to know where you are looking and to direct your attention away from what they don’t want you to notice. This is a learned skill about directing a person’s attention to where you want them to focus, instead of on the thing that would reveal the trick. Some people react to sexual assault as if the perpetrator is too stupid to understand that they’ve crossed a line, but I believe some predators are actually quite smart. Predators learn to direct attention in the same way as a magician. If you don’t think like a predator then it’s hard to understand how they operate. Let’s look at the Ghomeshi case through the eyes of a predator.
The first tool of predatory deception is a double life. Contrary to popular belief, predators are often sweet, charming, kind, and helpful, sometimes a little too helpful (Salter, 2003, p. 17). These normal and positive traits can make it hard to distinguish a predator from someone who is actually sweet, charming, kind, and helpful. However, the main difference between a predator and a kind person is that predators will have times where they dramatically shift in personality. Various women describe Ghomeshi like he was two different people: charming one minute and bizarre the next. Predators are usually able to establish a double life because most people find it difficult to understand that some people act one way in public and a completely different way in private (Salter, 2003, pp. 20-23, 36). Anna Salter (2003) writes, “offenders can recognize ideal settings for child molesters even if the rest of us can’t” (p.29). A skilled magician knows which tricks work best for each audience.
A double life makes it easy for a predator to build a relationship that feels safe, but is actually grooming the victim for something else. One woman writes, (emphasis added) “I now believe that Jian was grooming me for the same violence he inflicted on other women. I think he was pursuing and encouraging me because of the existing power imbalance, creating a level of emotional intensity as a preface to his “big reveal” so that I would either acquiesce or never tell. He trained me to feel sorry for him, to feel guilty about not giving enough of myself to him, to believe I was special to him…. Even today, as I’m writing this, I find I’m thinking about him, worrying: will he be disappointed in me for writing this? Should I hold back? Will he text me to tell me he wouldn’t have done this to me? But that is how his kind of manipulation works, and I refuse to protect him.” Grooming is designed to make the target feel guilty for doubting the intentions of an abuser, to make the victim feel as if the abuse was their own fault instead of an intentional decision by the abuser. Like a magician, abusers learn how to predict how someone will react by observing their personality and how they respond during the grooming phase.
While many believe that victim selection is impulsive, there is no evidence to support that in the majority of cases. Predators are smart enough to understand that choosing a target that is unlikely to be believed will mean that there is a lower chance of prosecution, even if the victim does talk (Salter, 2003, p. 32). Targeting goes hand-in-hand with grooming. If one potential target is not responsive to the grooming process then the predator can move on to the next, more compliant, target. Ruth Spencer, a woman who dated Ghomeshi for months without being abused, believes that he didn’t abuse her because they hadn’t dated “long enough.” However, length of time didn’t seem to be a factor for his abuse of other women. I think Jian saw something in Ruth that made him concerned that she’d tell someone if he hit her. Perhaps she had a strong support network, or just wasn’t compliant enough. Zoe Kazan tweeted about when she was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi. She describes feeling like she had “asked for” his unwanted and inappropriate attention, even though there’s no evidence to suggest that she was seeking his attention in any way. These encounters may hint at someone who was always assessing how others react to them, like a magician finding the most gullible member in a crowd and asking for their assistance.
After a target appears compliant or eager to please then the predator may feel confident in initiating abusive behaviour. Predators range in how much staging they use to hide their abuse. Salter (2003) describes a convicted predator that spent 6 months developing his cover story in order to rape his intended target. 6 months of coming over at odd hours of the day to help fix things around the house so that he could rape a woman and claim that he had been having an affair with her (pp. 42-43). Sometimes being overly helpful is a cover for something that a victim has no way of predicting. Like a magician who will practice a single move in order to make it appear seamless during a performance.
When unexpected abuse occurs, victims will often evaluate their own behaviour in an attempt to understand why something so unusual occurred. Predators also understand how to respond to trauma in a way that encourages their victims to “forget” about what happened (Herman, 1997, p. 8). If the predator appears apologetic, or as if the abuse was an irregular occurrence, the victim is more likely to focus on healing from the trauma than to seek legal counsel. From my work with victims of abuse, there seems to be an initial preference to deny that the abuse occurred in order to survive it. Kathryn Borel stated that Ghomeshi’s psychological abuse of her occurred every day in the workplace: “Throughout the time that I worked with [Jian Ghomeshi], he framed his actions with near daily verbal assaults and emotional manipulations. These inferences felt like threats, or declarations like I deserved to have happening to me what was happening to me. It became very difficult for me to trust what I was feeling.” Ms. Borel describes a case where Ghomeshi’s abuse became normal in her life and she became unable to distinguish between what was normal and abusive.
Magicians are practiced liars; they always have a line ready to deflect your attention if you get too close to observing what they’re doing. When someone claims to have observed how a trick is performed a magician may offer to break into discussion groups afterwards to remind the audience that the focus is on the trick not on the process. Abusers begin lying daily after their first assault (Salter, 2003, p. 40). Jian Ghomeshi has used every opportunity to deflect away from his behaviour. He initially claimed that his behaviour had been consensual and questioned the motives of his accusers. Even in his apology to Ms. Borel, he avoids directly stating what he did and ensures that his admission is broken up into different sentences in a way that disconnects the reader from what he actually did. Ghomeshi acknowledges his guilt, but claims that he was unaware of how inappropriate his behaviour was. Ed the Sock writes, “Any idiot knows dry-humping staff is a no-no, and Ghomeshi is a lot of things, but he isn't an idiot.” Looking at the evidence, what do you think: is Jian Ghomeshi a predator?
Most people like to assume that everyone else thinks about the world in the same way that they do. If someone is honest and transparent it is hard from them to understand the behaviour of someone who is dishonest and manipulative. Predators have no problem using our lack of knowledge to trick us. It’s only when we understand how a trick is performed that we can acknowledge what has been hidden from us and what we should anticipate.
Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence - from domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books.
Salter, A. (2003). Predators: Pedofiles, Rapists, & other Sex Offenders. New York: Basic books.