Firstly, it's been a while since I posted. I can't say I really have a good reason, other than that I've been busy with all the usual work and life.
Secondly…well, a lot of ink has already been spilled about Julian Assange and the allegations of sexual assault. People have far better than I made the point that one can separate his wikileaks project and whatever stance one takes on them from the allegations of sexual assault.
What I'd like to briefly talk about is how the so-called majority man view this.
This case is not unlike some of the other sexual assault cases that the media has highlighted over the years. As I've written about in the past, one of the problems with discussing sexual assault with men is that the only major media depictions of sexual assault are when (let's use the term very generally) "celebrities" are accused of it. This leads to a lot of problems when discussing the issue with men. Bring up Kobe Bryant in that context, and a man will ask, "Doesn't that woman have something to gain by accusing him of sexual assault?"
It's a difficult question to deal with. On the one hand, our automatic (and quite correct) response is to give credence to any allegations made by a victim of sexual assault. However, at times, that instinct leads us to deny the possibility that a false allegation could ever be made. This leads to problems building credibility with men. Statistics show that false allegations for rape/sexual assault are not made with any greater frequency than for other crimes. There's a host of reasons why a woman would not make a false claim, from the lack of rape shield laws in many states, permitting attorneys in Court to probe their sexual past to the publicity (either on a local or national scale) and the difficulties that publicity brings.
When you have someone like a Kobe or a Roethlisberger, people with power or money, from a purely objective and rational perspective, one would think that the likelihood of a false allegation would be higher with them, because the women could stand to gain money. When you do this kind of education, I think you have to admit that: "Sure, the gains could be higher," but on the other hand, you also have to tell men, "But the costs are higher too," due to the increased publicity and scrutiny. (Of course, one cannot discuss either of those men without noting that the allegations seems to have been borne out, with Kobe Bryant pretty much admitting to facts that are rape, and with Roethlisberger's behavior being pretty much following the textbook Lisak-Miller definitions of the behavior of a serial rapist.)
You have to discuss these issues in all their nuances with men, or lose credibility.
As the media depicted Kobe Bryant or Ben Roethlisberger, we have now a man in the spotlight for sexual assault who is someone with power or money. Unfortunately, we see a lot of people on the left unable to separate the two issues: the fact that Assange has a certain power and there are people opposed to it, and the allegations that he committed sexual assault. And just like any other of these celebrities, perhaps these women have something more to gain by making an accusation against Assange than they would against a regular Joe, but also the costs are far higher. The facts alleged sound like sexual assault within my humble and not-expert reading of the relevant law, and it's unfortunate that many on the left have chosen to distort those facts in order to defend Assange based on his political activities.
But enough about Assange. What this incident unfortunately teaches men, is that sexual assault cases are like Assange's, or like Bryant's or Roethlisberger. These types of cases are, after all, the only ones we see on TV and in the media. However, it's simply not true. Their cases are so far removed from the norm that to say that 99.9% of cases are not like theirs would be understating the fact. Sexual assault cases do not involve grand politics on the world stage; they do not involve celebrities; they do not involve professional athletes. The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by "normal" people, without all these confounding issues of politics or money that seem to frequently confuse both the less-educated majority man who we would like to bring in to the movement, as well as much better educated progressive pundits who we would otherwise think we would be our allies on sexual assault.
Sexual Assault & the Law
A very unfortunate fact that ends up coloring many a man's perception of sexual assaults is how the legal system deals with sexual assaults. A man is most likely to hear about rape and sexual assault through the media, which frequently filters that through a lens of the law. If you ask a man about examples that came to mind, he'd probably mention Kobe Bryant, the Duke lacrosse case, Ben Roethlisberger, or maybe Julian Assange.
First, we have to face some things: our legal system is not designed to discover the truth behind every alleged crime. It is designed to take allegations of crimes that prosecutors believe they can prove in Court to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Secondly, we have to deal with the matter of jury nullification. Jury nullification is an act that occurs when a jury acquits a defendant of a crime for reason that are not sanctioned in the legislation that makes the act a crime, or when they believe that the law is simply incorrect as applied in this case. Classic examples of American jury nullification are frequently racial in nature: in the antebellum North, juries frequently refused to acquit under the Fugitive Slave Act, and in the post-Reconstruction South, juries would frequently acquit a white man of murdering an African-American.
In sexual assault and rape cases, frequently you see jury nullification when a jury acquits for something contrary to what the law would demand. For instance, the victim may be drunk and is raped, which is still criminal rape, but a jury might acquit, citing the alcohol usage. There is nothing in the law, which permits a jury to acquit for such a reason. Similarly, juries might acquit a rapist when the woman is in a situation in which she "should have known better" and the like.
Most sexual assault cases have fact patterns that are incredibly difficult to prove in Court, usually due to the fact that only two parties witnesses the crime: the perpetrator and the victim. Similarly, many cases also have circumstances that juries are likely to use for jury nullification: the inebriation of one or both of the participants, their past sexual histories with each other and others, and the general circumstances such as time and place.
So when it comes down to it, and we hear about a case of sexual assault in the popular media, there's a lot at play when it comes down to the legal stuff. To look at the Rothelisberger case where allegations were made by a student at Georgia College & State University, the victim, though not recanting her allegations, asked the District Attorney not to move forward with the case, citing the intrusion into her privacy. There's a lot of factors at play -- the DA then decides not to prosecute the case, stating that he did not believe he could prove the case beyond a reasonable (which is absolutely the wrong standard by which you move forward on a case at that stage, but that's a whole different issue). Now, the DA may have had a point: with a now-uncooperative victim/witness, the evidence may have been too scant to prove in front of a jury in this community.
But that doesn't mean that the sexual assault or rape didn't happen, and sadly, that's usually the take-home message when you just observe how these things are portrayed in the popular media. And that's a radically wrong message to be sending to men.
As I talked a bit about in my post on talking to men about sexual assaults, men's experience with rape is from the media, and the media frequently portrays a rape that doesn't go forward as somehow "exonerating" the perpetrator. I'll repeat as I said in that post, rape and sexual assault has no greater rate of false allegations than any other crime, and when you see allegations made against celebrities, that's a population that is not representative of the general population. For the overwhelming majority of men, a woman has nothing to gain financially and a whole lot of privacy to lose and emotional and physical trauma to go through to make an allegation of rape or sexual assault.