Gleaner column of November 8, 2017
While the world reels from the fallout of women finding their voices about being raped and sexually harassed over the years, in Jamaica some men would have us believe the problem is a different one. The problem here (it would seem from numerous views expressed in the media) is the preponderance of women who have lied about being raped.
It’s curious; whereas women who have actually been raped, here and elsewhere, say that the hardest thing is getting anyone to believe them, in Jamaica, it would seem, women who falsely accuse men of raping them are instantly believed (oh! Jamaica is exceptional also in having no violence against women in case you didn’t know). The phenomenon is crying out to be researched as it would suggest that Jamaica is bucking global trends by accepting prima facie evidence in rape cases.
“How does an innocent man defend against a sexual harassment claim made many years after the alleged harassment?” The tweet appeared mild, innocuous almost, but I felt rather than saw a little red flag waving at me from the margins of my mind. Coming from a prominent talk show host and attorney whom we’ll call CW it echoed the reactions of several callers i had heard on radio shows ever since powerful, influential men in the US, the UK, and elsewhere were brought to book by women they had harassed sexually, in some cases several years ago.
“But why is the discussion about innocent men? Why is that the reaction? Why isn’t the discussion about guilty men?” Diana McCaulay’s response to the CW’s tweet seemed extremely pertinent to me as did her following tweets: “What I want to know is why is this the question? Why is the question not how to stop men behaving this way? Men are afraid of being falsely accused by women. Women are afraid of being actually attacked by men. These are not equivalent fears.”
Why is it that whenever women try and talk about being victimized men seem to want to insist on their victimhood instead? Isn’t it a bit like the planters demanding compensation when slavery was abolished?
In other words instead of commiserating with the poor human beings they had enslaved, all the planters could think about was the ruin now staring them in the face. What’s more they were easily able to convince the powers that be that they were the injured parties, not the other way around. Everyone knows about the millions of pounds slaveowners received in compensation for the abolition of slavery. That’s what happens when you live in a system skewed towards maintaining the power and privilege of a particular segment of society.
So it was with the plantocracy then and so it is with the patriarchy now. Ultimately this is about power, as is rape. The takedown of so many powerful men all over the world seems to be sending shivers down the spine of men here and everywhere. There is no other way to interpret the rhetorical shell game being played by men whose learning ought to lead to less blinkered responses from them.
I agree with Diana McCaulay., When rape/assault/harassment of women and girls by men comes up, why is the response the possibility of a false accusation?. I agree too with Rachel Mordecai: These dangers aren’t statistically equivalent so why such anguish over something that is much less likely to happen than rape? And where is the anguish over the global culture of rape in which we find ourselves?
Catherine Burr, a professional investigator of sexual harassment claims in the US wrote an article on so-called false allegations in 2011. She had several insights to offer which CW and others should ponder:
— “It is simplistic and unhelpful to frame allegations as “true” or “false”. If the allegation has merit it will be substantiated by the evidence. If it does not, it will not be substantiated. In a few instances, a determination of “unable to substantiate” may apply, if the investigation has not been able to find evidence persuasive either way, often the result of a lack of any evidence (direct or similar fact) which might shed light on the matter.”
— care must be taken says Burr, not to define lying as a false allegation. “While popular discourse may equate false allegations with lies, not all lies are false allegations. For example, let us say a complainant (an administrative staff member) does not disclose the fact that he engaged in kissing and sexual behaviour with the alleged harasser (a professor) or that such behaviour was consensual in the early days of their intimate relationship. However, this “lie” (lack of full disclosure) does not necessarily mean his allegations of subsequent sexual harassment by the faculty member are false”.
— and finally, points out Burr, not proven (not substantiated) does not necessarily mean a false allegation, it simply means there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court or disciplinary process in question. If A kills B, but there is no evidence to prove this, it doesn’t mean that A is innocent or didn’t kill B.
So now can we discuss the real problem? Those with power using their superior positions, whether in academia, the entertainment industry or politics, to rape those subordinate to them. THAT is the real issue.