President Clinton has been known to minimize his sexual misconduct, as shown in an interview regarding the Monica Lewinsky case. Refer here for Clinton’s remarks (0:56-5:58). President Trump has been known to mock women for coming out and making allegations of sexual misconduct by him and others. Refer here for Trump’s remarks against Dr. Christine Ford in making allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
In our democracy, people are considered innocent until proven guilty. However, while that is certainly true and just, such presumed innocence does not negate people’s freedom in our democracy to make allegations and file charges. Both are appropriate and must be weighed ultimately in the court of law, which must never be equated with the court of public opinion.
For what it’s worth, though President Trump claimed Judge Kavanaugh’s life is “in tatters…shattered” based on the allegations, that is simply not true. Judge Kavanaugh now serves on the highest court in the land. And for those who think Dr. Ford was out to gain something from this ordeal, it is important to recognize she risked everything in terms of her professional and public life.
In addition, while certainly politics played a part in the Kavanaugh proceedings, as it always does in Washington, the same was true in the case involving President Clinton. Here it is worth pointing out that Judge Kavanaugh took a swipe at Trump’s opponents and the Clintons and their supporters in his testimony, scoring points with conservatives. It appeared to be a classic case of projection-deflection, a strategy that Trump and Clinton have employed to perfection.
Regardless of our views on Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s innocence or guilt, of which we ourselves really know nothing (perhaps only God knows), we must not minimize or mock cases and allegations of sexual misconduct. Minimization and mockery detract from the weightiness of misconduct and pursuit of truth in cases alleging misconduct. Moreover, those who minimize and mock only make it more difficult for women and men, including our loved ones, to come forward to the authorities with allegations of sexual misconduct.
Certainly, like “Peter Cried Wolf,” those who lie that they were sexually abused hurt those who tell the truth—people are less willing to believe them as a result. Some have gone so far as to discredit Ford because of other women’s allegations that were deemed false. Ford’s testimony was never discredited by the FBI, nor in a court of law. She was deemed credible, even if, in the end, Kavanaugh was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court. We must take each case on its own merits.
It is worth noting here that the statistics specify that women who have been abused do not come forward often, or often enough. According to one site, “Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 3 out of 4 go unreported” (The report references the findings of the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2016 ). Moreover, the same site claims that “perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals.”Going deeper, it is important to ask why most women don’t come forward to make allegations of sexual misconduct. According to a Psychology Today article, reasons why many women do not come forward (many of these reasons also relate to men not coming forward) include: a sense of “shame,” “denial/minimization,” “fear of the consequences,” “low self-esteem,” “feelings of hopelessness and helplessness,” “a history of being sexually violated,” “lack of information,” “disbelief, disassociated, or drugged.”
It is also important to point out that not only do women rarely come forward to make allegations, but also according to various studies, false reporting very rarely occurs:
Multiple studies show that false reporting is very uncommon, and some demonstrate it may be even less common than older research suggests. The following information is compiled in an article by Kim Lonsway (2010). The Home Office in the United Kingdom found that only 4% of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement are suspected or found to be false. Research conducted in the United States and Europe show similar rates, between 2% and 6%. Recent U.S. studies by Dr. David Lisak support a false reporting rate of 2%, similar to findings by the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A Brown University source similarly claims: “False reports of sexual assault are dramatically overestimated. Poorly constructed studies and a lack of understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault contribute to this problem. In rigorous research, rates of false reports are consistently very low, ranging from 2% to 10%. This is similar to rates of false reports for other crimes.”
In addition to the importance of addressing myths surrounding false reporting, it is key to get clear on definitions. The terminology “unfounded,” as in “unfounded” sexual assault cases, is not necessarily the same as “false” allegations:
“Unfounded” sexual assault cases are not always the same as false reports. An “unfounded” case can be one of two things: a false report, or a baseless report. A “baseless” report is presumed truthful, but does not have all of the factors to charge as a crime. A “false” report is one that should be proved to be untrue through concrete evidence, not simply because of doubt, suspicion, or uncertainty from law enforcement or anyone else (Refer here for the source of the quotation. Refer here as well for more information).
Given these various factors, we should not minimize cases of sexual misconduct. Nor should we mock women, or men for that matter, who come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. Of course, we should be concerned that everyone receives a fair and just hearing and trial. As already noted, people are innocent until proven guilty. That proves true for both sides, those accused and those who accuse. But minimizing and mocking do not have a place in a society that affirms the inherent dignity of all people. Besides, who knows? The day may come when your own loved ones may be victims of sexual misconduct and abuse. Who will listen to you then, if you minimize and mock others now?