One of the pillars of the United States is the Fifth Amendment right that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;”. Accusation alone, or the inferring of an action committed, is not justification enough to levy a punishment against an individual. A fair examination of the situation and related evidence supporting the claims against the individual(s) involved is the backbone of an advanced, humane society. The ideal of the due process of law isn’t perfect. There are many, many flaws with our legal system in the U.S., but we have to keep trying to improve our system and give the accused a fair trial.
There are certain situations that fall into a gray area, no matter the outcome of a fair trial. For instance, due process cannot control the court of public opinion. Accusations levied at an individual, such as sexual assault or rape, can be thrown out as false, but the public may have already associated the action with the accused. The connection is rarely broken as the weight of the accused crime is so heavy and despised that some may feel that the individual must have some quality that would have prompted the accusations in the first place. These feelings aren’t managed or controlled by reason or evidence, they are just emotion driven associations that are very difficult to change.
The recent avalanche of sexual assault victims coming forward raises a very difficult question: How do we honor the victims while ensuring the accusations brought forward are legitimate? Sexual assault is a crime with serious consequences to the victim. They are made to feel uncomfortable at the very least and at worst they carry mental and/or physical scars with them for the rest of their lives. Once reported, we must treat the victim as if they are telling the truth. Doubting or dismissing the claim of a sexual assault victim is not acceptable and is what helped breed the culture of assault that is being exposed today.
I feel it is important to stress that the majority of such claims are valid, with false reports falling in at about 2%. Even with no physical evidence, such as video or photograph, behavior can be corroborated with other victims or witnesses that demonstrates a pattern. A possible driving force behind the low false report rate is the attention and negative association that can be applied to the accuser, especially if the offender is someone in power. It is hard enough to gather the courage to step forward when the accusations are legitimate.
But there is still the elephant in the room. People can be dishonest. I understand the falsification rate is low and I know that it is wrong to think that people will abuse the system by accusing innocent people of sexual assault, but I can’t escape the thought. Sexual assault accusations can absolutely destroy someone’s reputation. In the current climate, businesses are very quick to distance themselves from anyone that they believe might hurt their brand or create a public relations nightmare. There is a part of me that sees this borderline knee-jerk reaction being abused on some level.
Yes it’s rare, but it does happen. There are also those who believe that innocent men should be punished for simply being men. I’ve made my stance clear regarding rapists and the like before and I don’t believe that someone who imposes themselves on another and rips the light from their eyes through any kind of assault should be allowed any courtesy.
As long as they are proven guilty!
I don’t know how this will go over. I’m sure some of you will heartily disagree or call me a rape apologist or some other ridiculous misinterpretation of what I’ve just said. I understand. This is a very difficult, sensitive subject. I only want you to consider the other side. Consider what we can do to try and flush out the few who may wish to exploit the current situation. A life ruined is still a life ruined; whether by sexual assault or a false accusation. We need to talk about this. We need to get it out there that while we help and care for the victims of tragedy, we keep our eyes open for the exploitative ones. For the ones who think innocent sacrifice may further their cause in one way or another.
Preserving our legal system means making the uncomfortable review of sensitive claims. I feel lawyers, police, and counselors understand the nature of what needs to be done, but do the rest of us? Am I completely off base for writing, or even thinking, all of this? Where do we go from here as our society undergoes such a dramatic shift of exposing otherwise revered men as assailants? I don’t know. I wish I did, but I don’t have the slightest idea of where this will lead. I know what my cynicism tells me, but I’m along for the ride just as everyone else is. I just hope the abuse ends sooner rather than later.