The Impossible Obligations of Sexual Harassment Allegations – Part 1

I’ll never forget when I first heard the accusations. A man I had always respected, who symbolized traditional Christian values, had been accused of sexual misconduct. I didn’t believe it. This must be a setup or a shakedown. There’s no way that man would do what these women said he did. I refused to believe it. It was impossible.

But then more and more women kept coming out of the woodwork. What started as a trickle turned into a flood as more women emerged, all telling similar stories. I was crushed. I don’t remember when it happened, but eventually I gave in. There was no way all of them were lying at the same time.

At this point, I should probably tell you that I’m not talking about Roy Moore. I’m talking about Bill Cosby. I was an early skeptic on the Cosby allegations, but eventually I had to re-examine my conclusions. Did I really want to say that 50 women are all lying?

I’ve noticed that there seem to be a fair number of people like me, who didn’t believe Cosby was guilty at first, but eventually had to surrender to the overwhelming force of literally 50 accusers. This brings me to the first obligation we have when there is a credible accusation of sexual misconduct:

1. You can’t act like nothing happened. You can’t do exactly what you would have done if he’d never been accused.
This is a crucial point, and it’s an obligation that seems to be violated all over the place. I think reasonable people can disagree on how much action is necessary before a full investigation has taken place, but the answer can’t be “basically nothing.” We can and should presume innocence, but we also can’t refuse to take any action because they haven’t been convicted in court. Think about it this way: if your wife says that the waiter groped her on her way to the bathroom, are you going to wait for a full criminal investigation? Or would you expect the restaurant to do something right away?

2. You can’t assume that the accused is guilty.
This is the other obligation that people are violating with impunity. It sounds nice to just reflexively “believe” women who make accusations, but this is obvious and transparent injustice. The people who promote this standard obviously have never been falsely accused of anything.

3. You have to recognize when a play is being run.
Any time a politician is accused of major misconduct in the weeks or months before an election, you have to assume that a play is being run. This didn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s almost certainly politically-motivated. For a good example, consider how Democrats stole the Alaska Senate seat. Here’s the New York Times:

Mr. Stevens, Republican of Alaska, was charged during the Bush administration with failing to report that an oil services firm had remodeled his house. He was convicted just before the 2008 election and lost his seat — briefly giving Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which enabled them to pass the health care law.

The case, however, started to fall apart after it emerged that prosecutors had failed to turn over information, like conflicting statements by witnesses, that might have helped Mr. Stevens at his trial. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., then new to the job, asked the judge to throw out the conviction, and both the court and the department began investigations. Mr. Stevens died in a 2010 plane crash.

Those charges didn’t arise from an even-handed investigation that just happened to coincide with a pivotal election. This was dirty politics, all the way down. A play was being run, and Republicans fell for it.

4. You can’t assume that every play is the same.
It’s obviously true that sometimes dirty politics involves entirely false charges being fabricated from top to bottom. Ted Stevens was a victim of that play, as was Herman Cain. But we can’t conclude that this is the only way to play dirty politics. Sometimes, a play is run by discovering devastating information that is true, but keeping it hidden until the moment when it’s too late to replace the candidate on the ballot. While it’s common sense to be skeptical about any explosive claims that come out within weeks of an election, we have to go back to #1. Doing nothing is not an acceptable response.

5. Sexual Assault victims have to stop being political pawns.
All of these conversations become much more simple if women who are victimized simply establish a clear standard: the media organization has to publish more than six months before the election, or they have to wait until after the election to publish the story. Hear what I’m saying: if any woman has been sexually assaulted by a candidate or sitting member of Congress, now is the time to go public. These allegations should be aired now, not after the primaries have already happened.

Sometimes women who have really been victimized are used as political pawns so that one side (almost always the Democrats, since they control the media) can gain a political advantage. The Roy Moore case is the prime example. If these women have been victimized, then these crimes are 40 years old, but don’t get published until 7 weeks before the election?

6. You have to be sympathetic to a sexual assault victim’s situation.
Even as I say that sexual assault victims must not allow themselves to be used as political pawns, we need to understand why they do allow it. Let’s assume for a moment that all of Roy Moore’s accusers are telling the truth. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why they would suddenly go public with their story: because every other sexual assault victim in America is going public, and they’re all doing it right now. It has never been easier to go public. If Roy Moore’s accusers are telling the truth, they can’t be blamed for allowing the Washington Post to use them in a cynical ploy to steal a Senate seat for their party. It really is now or never.

7. You have to have a realistic standard of evidence.
One of the most common arguments I’ve seen in relation to the Roy Moore case is that none of the accusers can be believed because the Bible demands two or three witnesses to establish guilt. This is simply, factually incorrect. Here’s Deuteronomy:

“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.”

I’ve been accused of all manner of sin and wickedness for suggesting that Moore might be guilty, even though there are not two or three witnesses for these alleged crimes, but we all need to understand that the Bible does not require two or three witnesses for these sorts of crimes, and it is correct to not do so. If you have a strict standard of two or three witnesses for every crime, then criminals can offend with impunity, as long as they get the victim alone. Those who attack me for not demanding two witnesses would create an environment of devastating predation.

On the other hand, this is a two-edged sword. At the same time that we want to avoid giving predators essentially free reign, we also want to avoid a situation where innocent men are being ruined by false accusations. The “just believe women” folks would create an environment where dirty politics is easier than ever. Given that most men don’t follow the Pence Rule, there are a staggering number of women who can credibly place themselves in the same room as a man, and in a situation where he could have assaulted/harassed/groped her without anyone else seeing. After that, it’s a simple matter of concocting a believable story and sticking to it. The point here is that these things are not very difficult to do.

In the next part, we’ll discuss some solutions, now that I’ve framed the problem.

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