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Sarah Polley explains why she’s ready to talk about Jian Ghomeshi


It was, Sarah Polley writes, an episode “I had managed to erase … from my own memory.”

The incident where, she writes, a man put his “unwanted hands around my neck” even though she told him that she “didn’t want him to do that again.”

That man, she says, was former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, who lost his job over allegations of sexual assault and harassment. In 2016 he was acquitted of four charges of sexual assault and one of choking to overcome resistance; another charge related to sexual harassment while on the job at CBC was withdrawn after he apologized in court and signed a peace bond.

Sarah Polley has written a book of essays, "Run Towards the Danger."

Polley, the actor, screenwriter and director known for her early role in “Road to Avonlea,” and most recently as the director of the movie “Alias Grace,” writes about the incident in her new book “Run Towards The Danger.” The book of six essays, which comes out on March 1, includes “the most dangerous stories of my life,” Polley writes. She began writing after a traumatic brain injury in 2016 left her with a concussion.

This particular essay, titled “The Woman Who Stayed Silent,” is one she had already started — and stopped — writing for years, she said in an interview with the Star last week in anticipation of the book’s release.

She didn’t reveal the story when the Ghomeshi scandal first broke in 2014 and when other women were coming out with their stories, after consultation with lawyers.

Polley is now 43 years old; she says the incident happened when she was 16 and Ghomeshi was “around 28.”

When asked why she told the story now, she told the Star, “Because I can handle it now, and I couldn’t have handled it before … I kind of know exactly how nasty it can become and how awful and how brutalizing, and that’s what the essay is about. It’s about why women stay silent. And women stay silent, because it’s really, really hard to speak about these things.”

In the book, Polley writes that she went on a date with Ghomeshi and they ended up back at his apartment. She recounts that he “ran his hands all over my clothed body … saying, “You’re in hell … there’s devil hands all over your body.”

The Star reached out to Ghomeshi for comment last week through his Roqe Media company, but did not receive any response. A request for response sent to the office of his lawyer, Marie Henein, had not been acknowledged before deadline.

Polley would recall the incident in a sort of party story over the years and would “give a slight cringe” as she “recreated” her reaction.

When recounting the party story, she says, she left the details out because “it didn’t occur to me to tell it. For me, it wasn’t part of the story. It was the dark cavern in which my funny story happened.”

She went back to her apartment, she writes, her brother and sister came over and she told them, among other details, that “Jian had hurt me.”

She exchanged emails with Ghomeshi over the years, was “nice and even ingratiating” to him for years after, she writes.

Still, when the Ghomeshi allegations broke and she was reminded of what she’d told her family at the time, she writes, she began to remember. Polley didn’t go public with her story at the time, she says, partly because “if I had come forward and said that Jian had hurt me, these interactions would have been used as evidence that he did not.”

They get to the heart of the onus of credibility. That is really, she said in our interview, what she was getting to with the heart of the essay.

“It’s about why women stay silent. And women stay silent, because it’s really, really hard to speak about these things. And most women stay silent; that’s the choice that most will make, we never hear from them. So I was really curious to sort of lay myself bare, cross examine myself, look at all of the messy parts … and use myself as a case study.

There is also, she says, a greater understanding of how memory works in protecting people from trauma.

“I think there’s more understanding now than there ever was that someone’s memory of exact details, or how and when they remember things around a traumatic event, doesn’t follow a neat tidy mould of what a perfect witness would describe on a stand.”

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