Canadian TV news anchor Ashleigh Banfield says she felt compelled to publicly challenge the sexual assault accusations against comedian Aziz Ansari because the "injustice" risked harming the #metoo and Time's Up movements.
The Winnipeg native made headlines for Monday night's on-air open letter during her HLN show "Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield," in which she responded to an anonymous woman who has accused Ansari of "sexual assault" and subjecting her to "the worst night of (her) life."
The 23-year-old New York-based photographer told Babe.net that she met Ansari at an Emmy Awards after-party in the fall and they subsequently went out for dinner. She alleges Ansari rushed her from the restaurant back to his apartment and soon began kissing her, undressing and encouraging her to have sex.
The article says the woman "used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was." She is quoted as saying, "I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn't interested. I don't think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored."
Ansari did not deny "engaging in sexual activity" with the woman but said in a statement that he believed it was "completely consensual."
On Monday night, Banfield pulled no punches in calling the woman's allegations "reckless and hollow." She said the woman's allegations amounted to an unfortunate romantic encounter and not sexual assault.
"You had a bad date, your date got overly amorous. After protesting his moves, you did not get up and leave right away, you continued to engage in the sexual encounter. By your own clear description, this was not a rape, not a sexual assault," an impassioned Banfield said during her nearly five-minute-long rant.
"What you have done in my opinion is appalling, you have gone to the press with a story of a bad date and you have potentially destroyed this man's career over it.... You have chiselled away at a movement that I along with all of my sisters in the workplace have been dreaming of for decades."
Banfield said Wednesday she was nervous about delivering her letter and expected a significant backlash — but it never materialized.
"In this day and age whenever you take a public stand you need to put on your Kevlar the next day and take the potshots that come with it. I thought I would be crucified by a great number of people," Banfield said, adding she took the risk given her fears of the #metoo and Time's Up movements taking a step backwards.
"I've been slightly nervous in the last short while about it running amok, I have felt the tradewinds seem to be changing slightly and my fear was that this movement was going to take a hit.
"I thought it was important enough to be on the record right at that moment."
But she said she's not defending Ansari and the alleged behaviour that transpired at his apartment. She just doesn't think it should be called sexual assault.
The Babe.net article details the couple engaging in oral sex and describes Ansari's sexual advances and behaviour as "those of a horny, rough, entitled 18-year-old."
The woman says after being repeatedly pressured for sex she refused and Ansari responded: "How about we just chill, but this time with our clothes on?" She says it was after they got dressed and started watching an episode of 'Seinfeld' that "it really hit me that I was violated."
"If you're going to behave the way Aziz Ansari has been described as having behaved, then shame on you," Banfield said.
"I am not Aziz Ansari's defender — although I think some people think I am — I am a defender of the movement and I am a defender of appropriate justice where it's deserved.
"I don't think it rose to the level of a Hollywood blackball."