3 years ago this week, in the wake of the Rolling Stone / UVA debacle, The Washington Post published what has since become one of my favorite articles for its clarity and resonance. “No matter what Jackie said, we should generally believe rape claims” concisely makes a strong case that the consequences of believing a false accuser are infinitely less than the consequences of not believing a true victim. And it did it not in an atmosphere of a trending #metoo, but in an age where all the air had been let out of the victim movement by Jackie’s falsehoods.
Briefly, the article argues that “The cost of disbelieving women, on the other hand, is far steeper. It signals that that women don’t matter and that they are disposable — not only to frat boys and Bill Cosby, but to us. And they face a special set of problems in having their say.”
While people pine for due process, the problem is that the vanishing nature of physical evidence and the psychological trauma involved means there is not a level playing ground. Withholding judgment benefits the rapist. Now I’m not, and the article was not, arguing that rapists should be put in jail without a proper trial. But in the years since 2014, we’ve seen that testimonies that are given respect and support lead to more testimonies. The evidence becomes the preponderance of reports, and these brave victims would not come forward if the first ones were dismissed as “baseless.” Meanwhile, the mere handful of false allegations through the years also work themselves out BY LISTENING TO THE ACCUSER. Give her room and space and support, and if her story is inaccurate, he or she will give you all the information you need to see that.
When journalists do their job, it’s not as easy as people think to make spurious claims. Lets take the trope of the Victorian outdoor market, where a plucky street urchin steals an apple from a Dickensian shopkeeper. The shopkeeper cries out “stop that boy!” The crowd reacts to apprehend the child, because its clear that false accusations of theft do the shopkeepers little good and because, as long as there is no cruelty or injury, it is allowable to momentarily hold a suspect. But when it comes to rape, it is as if the crowd is saying “without evidence a priori, it’s unfair to even listen to your cries.” In that world, no thief is ever caught.
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