Belief in guilt isn’t conviction

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It started with Harvey Weinstein. If you haven’t been following the news in the past few months, Weinstein has been a Hollywood producer and power broker for decades. Allegations began appearing in the media in October that he had sexually harassed and/or abused numerous actresses over the course of his career.

As more and more women made allegations and journalists began investigating, it became clear that not only had this been going on for many years, but it was widely known in the industry. But for some reason, until now, nobody ever did anything about it. There was even a report to NYC police that apparently was swept under the rug.

Since that time, dozens of male actors and politicians have also been accused of similar acts by one or more women. It is as if the floodgates have been opened and victims finally have a voice that didn’t exist previously.

Since the days of Bill Clinton’s candidacy, there has been a politicized version of whether or not a woman should be believed. Clinton’s multiple accusers were predictably supported by Republicans and literally trashed by Democrats. Eventually, they went away – either through settled lawsuits or the microphones that were no longer in front of them en masse.

But even those allegations have resurfaced and both sides of the political aisle have joined the chorus of “a woman should be believed.” As it should be.

But as I watch the outpouring of various accusations, some from decades ago, I’m also torn. On the one hand, I’m glad these victims are now empowered to finally speak out against these powerful men who could have made or broken their careers and reputations and who took advantage of their own power.

Many of these victims probably saw what happened to Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, and Juanita Brodderick. One of the most notorious responses from a Clinton defender was, “Drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” Outrageous.

On the other hand, there appears to be confusion between accusation and conviction. Judge Roy Moore, candidate in Alabama for the U.S. Senate, has been accused by several individuals. Based solely on those allegations, political rivals have called for him to get out of the race. Even some of his Republican detractors scarcely waited for the ink to dry on the first story about him before calling for him to get out.

One Republican even went so far as to say these “shameful” allegations mean that he should get out of the race even if innocent. Wait a minute! The accusation doesn’t mean he is guilty.

I’m not defending him or any other accused individual. If they are guilty, as Weinstein apparently has admitted, it is time to hang up their professional hats. But Moore adamantly denies these charges. This race to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions is a political hot potato and many people have major political motivation to alter facts or completely fabricate stories in a Senate only marginally held by Republicans.

There is no doubt that sometimes men are falsely accuse of sexual assault or rape. The FBI puts that percentage at about 8 percent. That is why we have courts of law. This is not the 1700s where the mere accusation of being a witch – bolstered by public outrage – is all that is needed to convict.

I realize there may be statute of limitations on many of these allegations and that criminal prosecution may be impossible. But if we allow the impulsive reactions in the court of public opinion to destroy individuals, who of us is safe? Today men are targets. Perhaps tomorrow it will be another set of accuser with a new set of targets and allegations.

I have had to discuss this situation with my son. It is a very dangerous time to be a male. Title IX requires colleges to look into all accusations of sexual assault on campuses.

“That means, son, any sexual behavior, even if you think it is consensual, could come back to haunt you in the form of a rape charge.” That is very scary and doesn’t even include the possibility of totally fabricated, vengeful allegations by a rejected girlfriend.

I have daughters. I want them to be empowered to stand up for themselves and pursue all avenues available to them if anyone takes advantage of them. And I would want them to be believed. But as a culture we must not be satisfied with sensational accusations and the plague mentality that can lead us to convict without clear evidence.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]