Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to be reflexively dismissive of a woman who says she was raped, in a flow chart

With the allegations of Bill Cosby being a serial rapist propelled into public consciousness due in no small part to a devastating Hannibal Buress bit that went viral recently, it's fascinating -- in a horrible way -- to see how reflexively some people dismiss women who say that they've been raped.

Obviously, we should take women who say that they've been raped seriously. Rape is underreported, false accusations are rare, and given the skepticism and abuse that's often thrown at women who do come forward, how we react to any particular allegation affects whether women in the future feel safe reporting rape. The way we treat a rape victim in the present redounds to countless more rape victims in the future, and it's important to create a future where rape victims aren't afraid or ashamed to stand up for themselves and seek justice.

Similarly, we should take those who are accused of rape seriously when they say they didn't commit the crime. Although false accusations are rare, they're not unheard of, and if a man is the (statistically unfortunate) victim of a lie, it can destroy his life -- a cloud of suspicion can follow him, even if there's an official exoneration. Though it's not at all comparable to being a victim of rape, being a victim of a false accusation of rape is still terrible and its own sort of tragedy.

Saying "take the accusers and the accused seriously," of course, is nice and pat and somewhat unrealistic. Everybody has their own experiences and gut instincts, and jurors in the court of public opinion aren't bound by any legal standard on which to base a verdict. ("Presumed innocent until proven guilty" doesn't apply out of a courtroom, after all.)

So when some people recoil at the idea of a beloved figure like Bill Cosby being a rapist, it's not exactly surprising. (Look at a supposedly progressive MSNBC host named Joy Reid and her guest discuss the allegations -- not with concern for the alleged victims or the problem of rape, but by fretting over how Cosby's legacy is on the line and how he can manage the crisis, because, you know, journalism.) What's decidedly not okay is when the recoiling takes the form of automatic, knee-jerk dismissals.

Women who come forward with rape allegations are often put in a no-win situation, where every action or inaction is "proof" that they're lying or crazy or greedy or attention-hungry. Nobody is saying we have to automatically believe every rape accusation with complete certitude irrespective of the evidence and circumstances, but we shouldn't automatically disbelieve every one, either.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

“The women, all educated and employed...”

Jian Ghomeshi, a popular Canadian radio host on the CBC, was fired following allegations of sexual violence from three different women and one instance of sexual harassment of a coworker (he allegedly told her that he wants to “hate fuck” her).

Ghomeshi, in turn, posted a lengthy Facebook post denying the accusations as “false allegations pursued by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a freelance writer” and suggests that the CBC fired him simply because they were uncomfortable with him enjoying BDSM in his private life. He’s suing the CBC for $55 million.

Not knowing anything about Ghomeshi or his work, I don’t really have much to say about whether he’s right or wrong (although—speaking purely from a PR perspective—he seriously did himself no favors with that lame, self-martyring Facebook post, which almost sounds like he’s humblebragging about how crazy his sex life is). But I did want to point out this line in the Toronto Star’s story, published on Oct. 26, emphasis mine:

The Star’s interviews of the women were lengthy. The women, all educated and employed, said Ghomeshi’s actions shocked them.

Many people have pointed out how unsettling it is that the Toronto Star decided that the education and employment status of the women is germane to the discussion of possible sexual violence committed against them.

It’s easy to understand why the reporters decided to include it (and why their editor decided to keep it in): it was a way to preemptively answer questions about the women’s credibility. By mentioning that they’re educated and employed, it signals that these women have less reason to lie—they have careers that they presumably wouldn’t jeopardize with dishonesty. And because they have educations, their careers are likely ones that pay reasonably well, so these women probably aren’t necessarily planning to profit off their allegations. “All educated and employed” was the Star’s way of saying, in essence, “It’s not what you’re thinking—take them seriously!”

If that is indeed the reasoning, it’s still incredibly depressing that the Star reporters figured enough of their readers would instinctively cast mental aspersions on the women that they felt compelled to head that off. It’s even more depressing to think that the reporters were right; I don’t doubt that there were some readers who were skeptical, came to that line, and subsequently gave the women’s stories a little more credence. And needless to say, the unspoken corollary—if these women weren’t educated or weren’t employed, then maybe it’d be okay to shrug them off—is pretty repugnant.

I don’t mean to bag on the Star reporters too much here; this sort of thing happens, in one form or another, all the time. A girl or a woman is the victim of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, and as a way of bolstering her credibility, we’re told why we should afford her, unlike some other victims, the benefit of the doubt:

  • She’s educated and employed.
  • She comes from a good family.
  • She doesn’t sleep around.
  • She didn’t wear slutty clothes.
  • She wasn’t drunk or high.
  • She never made these sorts of accusations before.
  • She doesn’t have any sort of troubled past or mental health issues.

If we keep codifying which women deserve the benefit of the doubt, what we’re really doing is helping potential rapists put together a profile of an ideal victim—that is, a victim who will have the hardest time getting people to take her seriously, or, more bluntly, a victim whom the rapist will have the greatest chance of getting away with raping. The notion of a woman being targeted specifically because she’s poor, uneducated, and unemployed, or specifically because she likes having sex, wearing sexy clothes, and drinking, or specifically because she’s been raped in her past or because she has a history of mental health issues is both horrifying and horrifying plausible.