The dangers of how sexual assault is conceptualized

An onslaught of sexual assault allegations against famous men have recently come to light. It seems as though the Harvey Weinstein revelations burst the dam.

Victims are slowly feeling like the environment is safe enough for them to expose their assaulters. This systematic shift is one for which we should be grateful.

For too long, a number of the most powerful men in our society, including many that have for years been revered, have lived in utter impunity. Thus, the reckoning, while certainly welcome, has arrived much later than it should have.

Since Oct. 5, when the first New York Times report was printed about Harvey Weinstein, a common trope has been touted, and generally accepted with little question by the competent public (this excludes our President, Roy Moore, Breitbart News, or anyone else who still supports Roy Moore).

Namely, the mantra goes that we ought to always believe accusers. Generally, I accept this approach. Take Weinstein’s accusers, for example: young, female actresses. In the film industry, especially if you are a young actress, it takes a lot of guts to make such strong allegations against the most powerful man in Hollywood.

A false accusation could be career-suicide. These women had little to gain and everything to lose by outing Weinstein. Certainly, we can believe their story, especially after considering the bevy of demonstrable evidence they bring to the table. Furthermore, statistical evidence remains on the side of the accusers. Numerous studies coming out of the U.S. and Europe routinely find that of all sexual assault reported, only two to six percent of the accusations are false. These statistics fall in line with all other types of crime.

Nevertheless, by simply stating, “always believe the accuser” without any other nuance, we are entering into dangerous territory.

When we talk about sexual assault accusations, we are talking about stories, that, when public, are often career ending, even if they are never “proven” with demonstrable evidence.

Again, let me reiterate, I am always inclined to believe the victims of sexual assault. However, we need to be vigilant about ensuring that the movement does not become the new, liberal equivalent of McCarthyism.

These cases are by and large being held in the court of public opinion. There are three major reasons for this. The first one is due to the fact that the crimes have been shielded until they are outside of the legal statute limitations. Victims have no legal recourse at this point.

Secondly, it is due to the nature of the crimes, which fall in legal grey areas. Perhaps, while the story may be disgusting and unethical, the actions of these perpetrators are not technically illegal (think Louis C.K. or Glenn Thrush).

A third component that leads to these cases being settled by the public is due to the fact that many times it is too painful for victims to go through the process of rehashing their cases in a courtroom.

Using the media provides a more convenient, and perhaps satisfying alternative.

Because the public decides the fate of these cases, certain members of the left are grasping a new mindset. That is the idea that it is acceptable to unscrupulously decimate the careers of men linked to sexual assault with little or no evidence. This is not mere projection.

Consider the comments of Emily Lindin, author of Unslut, founder of the Unslut Project, and columnist for Teen Vogue.

In a series of tweets, she wrote, “Here’s an unpopular opinion: I’m not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations,” and “Sorry if some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.”

This is a dangerous attitude that, if accepted, would certainly lead to McCarthyism.

Unsurprisingly, Lindin’s misinformed tweets were immediately maligned by members of both the left and the right on Twitter. However, it would be naïve to suggest that she is alone in holding these sentiments.

This past week, right wing troll James O’Keefe’s organization, Project Veritas, hired an actress to make false rape accusations to the Washington Post about Roy Moore in an attempt to discredit their other reporting about the Republican Senatorial Candidate.

Due to the diligent work and high ethical standards of the Washington Post, they were able to soundly debunk the false claims before ever reporting them, and in the process, they embarrassed O’Keefe and his organization.

This story brings me hope that we are not about to face a second onslaught of McCarthyism.

However, with attitudes like Lindin’s infiltrating other publications hungry for scoops and less blinded to ethical standards, we cannot let our guard down. We owe that much to the numerous victims of sexual assault.