Rape, privilege, and the presumption of innocence

The amount of nonsense written about rape and lesser sexual assaults is really quite astounding. I suppose I should be grateful for anything that makes “conservatives” sympathetic to the rights of the accused. I would be, too, if I thought it might generalize past privileged men accused of that specific crime (and of course right-wing pols and corporate grifters). But if  the high rate of false convictions among those sent to Death Row worries the right-wing pundit class, they’ve been keeping that information private.

The two latest exhibits are George Will’s weird ruminations about campus sexual-assault codes (and his subsequent defiance of the First Rule of Holes) and Peter Lloyd’s ill-named “Thinking Man” column in the Telegraph (aka Torygraph) about the travails of the current president of the Oxford Union. That young man will not face prosecution after two female Oxford students, both 19, accused him of rape in one case and attempted rape in the other.  Apparently the reported incidents involved two separate occasions; the stories don’t make it clear whether the two accusers knew each other, or of each other’s allegations.

Will and Lloyd employ identical brands of (il)logic. They (un)reason approximately as follows:

A report of rape (or other sexual assault) is merely an allegation; in the criminal law, the accused is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, and proof must be beyond reasonable doubt (also known as “proof to a moral certainty”); therefore when the police or the prosecutors do not press charges, or the charges are dismissed, or the accused is acquitted at trial, that proves that the allegation was false; since the accused is innocent according to the law, he must not have done what his accuser alleged he did. That means that she is a liar and he is a victim.

Therefore, any inconvenience the accused suffers in the way of damaged reputation or non-criminal punishment (e.g., university discipline) constitutes injustice, and any administrative system that hands out sanctions on less than a guilty-beyond-reasonable-doubt standard violates basic principles of fairness. Lloyd demands that in cases of sexual assault the accused, as well as the accuser, be granted anonymity. Will then goes on to add that conflating obnoxious but lesser forms of misbehavior such as unwanted touching (a crime) and obscene remarks (not a crime) with rape confuses things, which is true, as he then demonstrates. Will and Lloyd finish up with poetic screeds about the horrible oppression of privileged men.

In a sane world, one would just leave this nonsense alone as obvious self-refutation. But since in the actual world it seems to have some persuasive power, here goes: Continue reading “Rape, privilege, and the presumption of innocence”