The scandal surrounding the account in Rolling Stone of an alleged rape on the University of Virginia campus serves as a reminder that, while we must protect victims of rape and punish perpetrators, we must also carefully safeguard due process and the principle of innocent until proven guilty. The two are not mutually exclusive.
We often hear that we should “believe victims.” There are two problems with this. First, it assumes there is a victim when there may not be a victim at all. Second, believing the alleged victim requires you to believe that there is a guilty perpetrator. It is logically impossible to have one without the other. One can respect and care for an alleged victim, and seek to have justice done, without automatically believing her.
What actually happened to the alleged victim in the Rolling Stone story? It is extremely unlikely that her account of the alleged rape – that she was thrown through a glass table and then gang-raped on the broken glass, only to have her “friends” discourage her from reporting the crime – is completely true. She may have been sexually assaulted and then exaggerated the details. She may have made the whole thing up.
But a story like this does not help anyone – not rape victims, not victims’ advocates, not the justice system, not men falsely accused of rape, and certainly not a magazine that has seen its credibility obliterated by journalism so shoddy and unethical that even someone with no journalistic training knows it is wrong.
The fact of the matter is that false allegations do happen, and the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Instead of covering up rape and failing to protect victims, colleges and universities are now running roughshod over due process in order to appease politically correct feminists. Neither extreme is helpful or proper. Balancing the rights of the accused and respect for the accusers will always be difficult, but it is critical to keep that balance.
Finally, as I said on Twitter back in October, college men can greatly reduce or eliminate their chances of being falsely accused of rape by not having drunken one-night-stands. Showing respect for women first and foremost will protect not only the men, but will honor the women as well. We should be teaching this to our young men.
- False allegations of rape — October 22, 2007
- False reports of rape do happen — November 1, 2007
- False allegations of rape — September 26, 2008
- The liar should be named and shamed — December 9, 2010
- Sexual assault, due process and protecting students — February 28, 2014
- Fighting rape on college campuses — May 16, 2014
- Sexual assault, due process and civil liberties — September 5, 2014
- More thoughts on campus rape and due process — September 15, 2014
- Due process and sexual assault, revisited — September 22, 2014