Saturday, February 8, 2014

On believing victims

Endless stuff about Woody Allen recently. On and on. Every day some new update in my feed. And what the world needs less than anything is to know what I think about anything. So I move along, avoiding conversations, because getting involved in any of them is likely to do almost zero good and nearly guaranteed to piss me off.

But only a few weeks before I read this

And just a few days ago I read this

And over the summer read this

And holy crap this, ugh

Which is all horrible and sad and makes me feel bad about humans.

But it has me thinking, too. About what it takes for us to believe victims. About standards of proof that would move us from, "Well, that's just her story - what does he say?". About dragging these kinds of stories through months and years and decades of innuendo and scandal and nothing of substance actually happening that brings change or makes vulnerable people safer or holds powerful people to higher accountability.

We don't believe victims. We don't want to. It makes us feel icky and requires us to do things.

Is it ever possible that people not in power make false accusations? This is the wrong question. It is already setting us up to fail. To make it easier to shut the victims up.

A better question is: If the victim is telling the truth and we don't believe her, what do we lose? How does that loss compare to the alternative?

I think we lose much more as a society by creating a hostile culture for victims than we do by holding those in power to high expectations. If we make a culture that leans toward believing victims, we are demanding the powerful be above reproach, that they work hard toward avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing. Is this such a bad thing? I think about what we demand of teachers, because an accusation by a student is taken deadly seriously. It should be. And teachers are wary, and they should be. But there are also very good expectations in place to keep everyone safe, expectations about how teachers and students can and cannot interact, not because there is anything wrong with the interaction per se, but because of how it might appear. And this is a GOOD thing. Yes it creates some annoying side effects occasionally. But we need to believe children. And so teachers have to do the work ahead of time, to prevent situations (being alone with a student, for instance) that could create an appearance of impropriety.

Sure, an accusation is not the same as truth. Absolutely, the accused deserve to have due process. But when we reduce everything to "she can't REALLY prove that this happened, so maybe it didn't" we are avoiding dealing with the real problem.

An even better question is: What would it take for us to believe her, absolutely and without question?

When I ask myself that question, I realize how far gone I am in this mess as well. I realize, well, there is no way I can believe her absolutely. There will always be a sneaky way my mind can create a scenario in which she is lying and this public figure is innocent - because I don't want to believe that people are wretched, that those in power abuse those without it, that people who make things I like can hurt and shame others and are part of the darkness. The darkness is scary and threatens to overwhelm. It is much safer to believe that this one (or so) woman (or teenage boy) is a liar, out for money or fame, which is disgusting but not a tidal wave of darkness.

The tidal wave of darkness is my own issue to overcome.  To learn that there is no tidal wave of darkness, there are only challenges and things that hurt and things that can be worked through.  There is no jumping off point, past which redemption or forgiveness or love or healing is impossible. There is just stuff. Stuff that sometimes looks like a mountain of straw that you will never be able spin, but reality has this funny way of shifting a little bit when the sun comes up or your hormones balance out or a friend walks in the room. But outside of myself and my own personal growth, what would I like to see in my world that would help this situation? I'd like to see us trying to believe victims. I'd like us to put the bulk of the work on the shoulders that are in power, to avoid the appearance of misconduct.

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