Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Objectivity at Columbia

I have a myriad of thoughts rattling around my skull right now because I think I may have been lied to, and they're all troubling. 

What prompted me to fall into this mood? It was reading this article on The Daily Beast which interviewed the man accused of raping a Columbia University student. This student's story has made national headlines while her accuser stayed silent. 

I'm a passive observer of the news these days and I didn't think much of this story beyond that I was happy to hear about it. I say that in the context of how rampant sexual assault is and how often the perpetrators of these crimes are able to remain free, so a woman's case gaining national attention to the point where passive observers of the news were hearing about it was a good thing. This means that, finally, public consciousness is amassing about sexual assault crimes - hopefully that consciousness rises up far enough to reduce and eliminate these crimes. 

But that article at The Daily Beast shines a lot of doubt into the case against the student who was accused of rape. Does it fully exonerate him? No, but that's not the point. The point is objectivity. 

Those who defend the Columbia Student who claims she was raped have made arguments against the author for being from the political right (and she is), they have said the story isn't sensitive to personal relations between a rape victim and the man who raped her, and they will say that publications that publish stories which purportedly "attack rape victims" are assholes. They will say a number of other things, and they might say some of them to and about me after I'm finished writing this and I hit "Publish." 

But the article on The Daily Beast was objective. The evidence was presented fairly. The most damning piece of evidence presented by the accused are the friendly and flirtatious Facebook messages he exchanged with the accuser days, weeks, and months after the day she accused him of raping her. 

If I was accused of rape by a woman months after she claims it happened but I can produce conservations with her a couple weeks after the rape supposedly happened where she's asking to hang out with me, then I would think something strange is happening. That's exactly one thing that's revealed in these conversations. 

Like I said: Does the article, presenting evidence, mean the accused is innocent? No, but it does inject a heavy amount of doubt into the accuser's case. Most rational people who want to look at this story objectively will come away thinking that; and I defy anyone to argue against me on this point. 

Does this diminish the seriousness of sexual assault, how pervasive these crimes are in our society, how often the perpetrators of this crimes get away with their actions, and how sexual assault needs to be stopped? No. 

Does this change how scary I think it is that nearly every woman I've been intimate with has at least one story about how they were sexually assaulted? No. 

Do I think they are lying? No - but even if half if them were lying, then 50% of woman being sexually assaulted is a gigantic issue. Unfortunately, I believe amount of women who have been sexually assault is much, much higher than 50%. 

But I don't like being lied to. 

Due to the how pervasive the crime of sexual assault is, I try to treat this issue with the utmost respect, care, and sensitivity. If I feel doubt against a woman's accusations, my first reaction is to remind myself how these crimes need to be taken seriously; how hard they are to prove in the first place; how I will never, ever understand the mindset of fear this creates because of the slim chances of this crime happening to me. And I keep my mouth shut. 

But I have to speak up this time because, if we are going to continue bringing awareness and justice to sexual assault and its victims, stories like this one about the two Columbia University students will not help our cause. In fact, it could do a lot to hurt our cause because people will take rape accusations less seriously if they look like a fake accusation. 

When we refuse to perform an objective review of the case first, but someone else does after we've made the case a national issue, then we look bad. There's no other way to put it. 

Avoiding this scenario means caring about objectivity. We ignore such at our peril. 

[I've been guest-blogging here before Twitter was a thing, but since that's how we communicate today, I'm @13monsters if you want to talk.]


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