The Post Millennial FOR VICTIMS OF FALSE ALLEGATIONS, THE INTERNET COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION IS ALWAYS IN SESSION


The Post Millennial - Wednesday December 27th, 2017

emilylindin

FOR VICTIMS OF FALSE ALLEGATIONS, THE INTERNET COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION IS ALWAYS IN SESSION

On Nov. 21, a young woman named Emily Lindin tweeted: “Here’s an unpopular opinion: I’m actually not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations.”

In further tweets, Lindin elaborated: “First, false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It’s a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population).”

Then: “And more importantly: The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth + the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man’s reputation.”

It’s worth unpacking these statements, because, although taken to task by a small number of offended responders, Lindin did not suffer the significant blowback that would have befallen anyone who, say, tweeted something like “many women exaggerate the negative impact on their lives of an inappropriate comment or gesture.”

(I am thinking here of the tremendous and unwarranted fuss made by Liberal MP Sherry Romanado over a double entendre joke made in her presence by Conservative James Bazen, for which he apologized multiple times without forgiveness.)

Lindin claims that she is voicing an “unpopular” opinion when she says she does not care about the devastating consequences men who are flasely accused of sex crimes suffer. Is that so? I don’t think it is. I think it must be a rather popular opinion, since one rarely ever sees the question raised in the public forum as a serious and systemic injustice.

Even if not actively popular, indifference to men’s suffering at the hands of women is demonstrably widespread, easily illustrated by the difficulties men have in accessing services for domestic violence or even gaining accreditation for campus clubs that cater to men’s specific interests. The one thing Lindin’s views are not is “unpopular.”

As to Lindin’s statement that false accusations very “rarely” happen, that too is untrue. They happen all the time, especially during custody battles. Even if you accept the most conservative figure of 8% of allegations being unfounded, that means a significant number of men are falsely accused.

Does in fact “the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man’s reputation”? That depends. If a woman is actually raped, of course the impact is incalculable. But if she is groped, or subjected to lewd comments and suggestions, or coerced into watching a man masturbate, the psychological aftermath may be harsh for her personally, but not nearly as materially consequential – going far beyond “reputation” – as for a man falsely accused of sexual assault.

If Lindin were to consider the details of what happens to a falsely accused man, she might change her mind; for “losing their jobs,” which she seems to think is the principal or only consequence in these situations, is often only the first of many other consequences, largely invisible, but devastating nevertheless.

Take, for example, the case of a Toronto man I will call “Stan.” In 2012, Stan and a business partner met a woman in a night club who accompanied them home with other party-goers and, quite drunk, had sex with both. She afterward told police she had passed out and was sure the sex was non-consensual.

The ensuing trial 18 months later, at which both were acquitted – with the judge commenting on the paucity of the evidence – cost $200,000 in legal fees. The complainant was not named and had no costs, as is the norm in these affairs. For her, life went on as normal, her anonymity guaranteeing the story will not follow her.

Not so for the defendants. The police had referred to them as “rapists” and even put out a press release indicating they had been charged with “gang sexual assault.” (This, by the way, would have been grounds for libel if a media reporter said this without evidence.)

Their business was negatively affected and some employees resigned, unwilling to maintain association with them. Before the trial, the police called up their female friends looking for incriminating evidence of a pattern of non-consensual sex to be used in court. All indications pointed to the police’s assumption that the men were guilty.

The trial ended, but the Internet Court of Public Opinion (ICPO) is always in session, and no man who is acquitted in a real court on a charge of sexual assault ever really has his name cleared in the ICPO.

Entering the U.S. became a hassle. Their NEXUS cards were revoked. And Stan found that, no matter how many thousands of dollars one may pay to have outdated or misleading information scubbed from websites, Google searches invariably find incriminating sites. 

The nightmare continued for Stan with a second accusation. Again, a hook-up at another party and again, consensual sex. The twist here is that, according to Stan, based on persuasive circumstantial evidence, the woman found inspiration for her accusation from the Internet story of the first accusation.

Nobody present at the party substantiated her story. She even tried to dissuade a witness for Stan from testifying by texting him that she would blackmail him, accusing him of being a drug dealer, if he testified. The witness reported this, which was a criminal act, but there were no repercussions to her. 

The second trial finished in January 2016, with another acquittal based on overwhelming evidence from several witnesses, including the woman’s own friends, that she had fabricated her story, yet with Stan paying another $100,000 to his defence lawyer. Once again, the unnamed complainant walked away with no expenses, no consequneces for perjury and no worries about damage to her reputation via the ICPO.

One could say that Stan should have been more sexually circumspect in his dealings with all women following the first disaster, and indeed, in an interview, when I said as much, he agreed: “I do accept responsibility for making poor decisions. 

I must admit that Stan’s continuing casual attitude to hook-up sex after the first imbroglio – a practice I view as foolish and morally sketchy, in any case – put a temporary damper on my sympathy for him. But it was for that reason that I struggled against my own prejudices.

For if there was some kind of social “crime” being committed in his reckless self-indulgence, the crime was bilateral, and yet he was the only one to be punished, and disproportionately so. As in the case of “freedom of speech” defendants, it is those who hold views that we find unsympathetic who are most in need of support.

I was also mindful of the fact that women who make the same kind of poor decisions – getting blind drunk at parties and hooking up with strange men with life-altering results – may never be criticized, for that would be “blaming the victim.”

The fact is that poor decisions are, sadly, part of being human. Where there is no victim from that decision, though, one should never be forced to pay as though there were one.

It is true that some perpetrators of sexual assault do escape justice for lack of evidence, which is unfortunate for their victims, but it is an established principle in enlightened societies that imprisoning an innocent person is worse than letting a guilty person go free. 

And when it comes to sex crimes, the innocent person wronged is virtually always a man. That the practice of allowing false accusers to walk away with no legal consequences continues says a great deal about our gendered perception of victimhood.

Stan reports feelings of “helplessness,” “sadness,” “anger,” and “constant stress and pain” at what has happened to him. Those words and feelings sound familiar. They are often the words chosen by survivors of sexual assault to describe the feelings that linger years after their trauma.

And yet, as Lindin’s tweets make clear, male suffering flies beneath the ICPO radar. Lindin views falsely charged men as collateral damage in the far more important war against a global patriarchy and sexual aggression against women.

Bearing false witness was considered such a heinous crime by our ancestors that it was included in the Ten Commandments. Until our society considers false allegations against men to be as morally reprehensible as non-consensual sex is for women, and proves it by punishing false accusers, we will be abiding by the Orwellian dictum, “All people are equal under the law, but some people are more equal than others.”