Here are four prominent men who have been accused of sexual assault: former vice president Al Gore, filmmaker Roman Polanski, and football players Ben Roethlisberger and Lawrence Taylor. The accusations against each of them are so very different. But they share one commonality: each has received the benefit of the doubt — in some cases, a lot of doubt — that their accuser is a liar.
In cases of rape, the accused is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. It is a terrible thing to be falsely accused of rape. We know that, and therefore most of us say something to the effect of, “I hope he didn’t do it, but I really don’t know. I’ll reserve judgment.” We give them the benefit of the doubt that what they say is true.
So can’t people reserve non-judgment for the accuser? Why can’t we give her the benefit of the doubt that what she says is true, too?
In the court of public opinion, there’s nothing even close to fairness for a woman who says she’s been sexually assaulted — and that becomes clear when you read some of the truly atrocious comments being made about Gore’s accuser: “Check if the woman is in need of a lot of cash.” “He doesn’t have to fight some 54-year-old masseuse to get laid.” “Another media whore looking for face time on some sleazy tabloid show.” And on and on and on.
You’re allowed to have your personal opinion. You’re allowed to believe Al Gore (or Ben Roethlisberger for that matter) is a saint who can do no wrong. You’re allowed to believe rich male celebrities are sometimes — or even always — targeted by women looking to shake them down for money. But do any of those who defend Gore by tarnishing his accuser’s image, verbally or online, think for a second of what message they’re sending to victims as a whole?
People are suspicious of Molly Hagerty, Gore’s accuser, because she did not call police immediately after the incident and it has been several years since she has pursued the subject. People are suspicious of Lawrence Taylor’s accuser because she was a teen prostitute. People were suspicious of Ben Roethlisberger’s accusers (that’s plural) because they were drinking and taking pictures with him and, like, OMG, he’s this totally hot football player. Well, I have news for you. Not all victims of a crime like rape are what we think a victim should be, or “good” victims: some victims were drinking or doing drugs, some victims have had sex with a lot of people, some victims don’t cry or get upset, and some victims wait before going to police or don’t talk to police immediately for whatever reason. None of that matters one bit.
What does matter is the victim did not give consent. Comments accusing potential sexual assault victims of being sluts or liars completely confuse that that is what rape is about: power and violence and someone not taking someone’s “no” or “stop” for an answer. Why would any woman or girl tell the police/her college/her parents she’s been raped or touched inappropriately if she knows she’ll be accused of lying?
“… there’s a long, disgusting history of powerful men committing and getting away with sex crimes against women. The “defenses” voiced by many liberals are grossly misogynist. It’s responses like these that, you know, cause women to not report rape in the first place. … I would hesitate to assume that Gore is innocent based solely on the fact that you admire his public service. In American society, the presumption of innocence is far too often confused with the presumption that a victim of sexual assault is a crazy lying slut.
It’s hard when someone we think is a nice guy has maybe done a very bad thing; it’s a bummer to have to admit to ourselves that brilliant, talented, important people could ruin everything they have worked for and tarnish the reputation of everything they’ve accomplished. It seems that the hardest area to admit our bias towards a famous person we admire is when he has been accused of sexual impropriety. But when you doubt a woman who says she’s a victim — of Al Gore or Joe Schmo at the college party— you send a message to all other women that they may not be believed either.