The entire nation became further engulfed in the #MeToo movement after Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. The conversations that ensued were overwhelmingly toxic and left us further divided. My conversations with several friends, however, allowed me to see that there exists, beneath our partisanship, a common ground that requires we pause and re-examine the meaning of a just society. My case is that we should be serious about sexual ethics, respecting those who have been wronged, and that we must examine how a just society processes allegations.
The common ground between liberals and conservatives is that rape and sexual assault are wrong. We want to live in a society where the guilty are punished. The similarities seemingly end there.
In the case of sexual assault, modern liberals view the issue in terms of a power dynamic where privileged men have been able to escape justice, while women have had to suffer in silence. Statistics, for example, point to the fact that only about 40 percent of rapes are ever reported and that there are clear psychological reasons why victims cry out years later.
Many conservatives worry, however, whether or not an innocent man (or woman) is being wrongly accused of a crime and if their reputation is unjustly tarnished. Liberals will reply that the evidence is clear that false rape accusations are in the minority, that claiming survivors are liars is victim-blaming, and that mentioning the accused’s reputation is simply protecting privilege.
Liberals are right, as far I can tell, on the statistical point that false rape accusations are extremely low — between about 2 to 10 percent of all reported cases. However, the fact that some rape charges are false, whatever the number, contradicts the claim that the accuser never lies. The power dynamic theory of social justice makes it hard to differentiate between claiming “some accusers lie” and the erroneous claim “all accusers are liars”, because it cannot consider nuances in its grander narrative.
Though we know people lie, we also know that accusers can tell the truth about their attackers. From the outset, then, we are justified in at least saying there is a 50-50 chance the accused is innocent or guilty, which means even if 2 to 10 percent of all reported cases of rape are false, each individual case does not begin with the accused being 98 to 90 percent guilty. Each case is unique, which is why there can even exist a 2 to 10 percent statistic of false accusations.
Furthermore, the reason why sexual assault is horrible is because someone innocent was forced to experience something they did not deserve. No one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted or raped. If liberals are to fight the power dynamic that has benefited men at the expense of women, they should be protecting the most sacrosanct element under fire — the innocence and inviolability of human persons.
We know that no one deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted, and we know that no one deserves to be falsely accused of a crime they did not commit. Both of these principles share their foundation in protecting the innocence of innocent persons. Notice, however, that we need sufficient knowledge to determine whether the accused’s innocence is worthy of being maintained or lost. Until we establish this knowledge, we have no right to treat the other person as guilty.
Though some will argue we do not need to "treat" anyone a certain way, since we are not in a court of law, I think this retort misses my argument entirely. We reserve the right in our private perception to determine whether we believe someone is guilty or not, while our treatment upon them as a society and whether we disqualify them from institutions on that particular accusation requires the principles I've articulated.
Indeed, because innocence is precious, we establish high standards before saying someone deserves losing it. “Innocent until proven guilty” still acknowledges that the innocence of the person is being explored (denoted by the condition until) and that innocence is precious, which is why any imposition against it must be proven.
Therefore, we cannot be accused of not believing survivors if we don’t have the sufficient knowledge to establish the guilt of the accused.
However, what happens when the survivor is right, but the evidence is absent? First, we need to acknowledge that only the accused and the accuser can know those facts with the level of certainty such a charge requires. Second, we cannot abandon our high standards of evidence, even if a guilty person is ultimately unscathed. The reason why is because abandoning good evidence sets a dangerous precedent where accusers are given extreme power, and could lead to more unjust accusations than had the principle of evidence been present. In imperfect systems, we cannot expect perfection. We can only demand the most perfection possible within our epistemic, moral, and practical limitations.
Everyone has a right to justice, both the accuser and accused. As a society, we need to be there for both parties so that they can both have the fairest say possible. I support women speaking out against their accusers, of having a conscious polity that calls out injustice and stops violations of bodily integrity. That some sexual assaults go without witnesses or corroboration should inspire activists to teach us to look out for one another and live out a common ethic of respect and decency.
When President Trump said that men across America are scared, simply rebutting him with statistics misunderstands that fear. People are frightened due to the culture that has begun disregarding “innocent until proven guilty," making it appear that if they go to court, the odds will be pitted against them from the beginning. It’s not that they believe the accusers are lying, but that they want the same fair justice all persons are entitled to. In the pursuit of social justice, then, let us not forget the justice to which we are all entitled.
Suan Sonna is a freshman in college and is double majoring in philosophy and political science.