September 18, 2021

Review: Sexual Justice: Supporting Victims, Ensuring Due Process, and Resisting the Conservative Backlash

Sexual Justice: Supporting Victims, Ensuring Due Process, and Resisting the Conservative  Backlash Sexual Justice: Supporting Victims, Ensuring Due Process, and Resisting the Conservative Backlash by Alexandra Brodsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I took a break from my normal diet of SF and fantasy to read this. This was an interesting, absorbing, and often infuriating read (especially the chapter on Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, and how the Republicans lied and obfuscated and ignored other accusers and did everything possible to shove this guy on the Supreme Court). For the most part, I found the author to be fair-minded and even-handed in her points. She is obviously concerned about due process for all, accuser and accused, and points out that allegations of sexual harassment should be handed the same way as allegations of other crimes, such as theft and racial slurs (this is in a context of academia and the workplace, not necessarily a courtroom). One important point she makes is in regards to the idea of "exceptionalism," defined by her as "an assumption that sexual harassment allegations should be subject to different, and usually more demanding, procedures than all other forms of misconduct":

Scrape the surface of "exceptionalism" and you'll usually find misogyny beneath. Our collective fear of scorned, lying, irrational women who falsely "cry rape" has been ingrained in our culture and law for centuries, no matter the baselessness of the archetype. It serves as the unified, animating force behind the casual rape apologias, explicit doubts, and flawed policies that stand in the way of justice for survivors and an end to the violence. If we look at how rape victims have been treated historically, especially in criminal law, we can recognize contemporary exceptionalism as just the latest iteration of a long, terrible tradition. We believe we need special protections from sexual harassment allegations because we think that these accusations are particularly likely to be untrue.

No matter that the best research shows that only between 2 and 8 percent of rape allegations are false, on a par with false allegations of other crimes, and just because a prosecutor drops charges or declines to bring them doesn't mean a rape didn't happen. It just means they might not think they have sufficient evidence to prove it.

In the end, the author's conclusion is that sexual harassment should be treated as no different than other forms of misconduct, with clear policies for both accusers and accused, and suggests an even-handed set of procedures to follow:

Rules governing members' conduct should be clear and understandable. A harmed person should have the opportunity to lodge a complaint, and the other person should be informed of the details of the allegation. Both people should be told how the process will work and, if possible, assigned someone to help them navigate it. Each should be given the opportunity, with sufficient time, to present their side of the story and any supporting evidence, including witnesses. Both sides should be able to review the other's relevant evidence and rebut the account the other side gave. As part of that, they should both have the opportunity to present questions to the other, to solicit answers that might undermine the other's story. The complainant, not the accused, should bear the burden of proving the allegation. A conclusion should be made by unbiased decision-makers, who should explain their decision to the parties.

Of course, this would also require getting rid of the common kneejerk "bitches be lying" mentality, along with the cry of "boys will be boys" (as if boys are not intelligent beings who are quite capable of controlling themselves if they put their minds to it) and "we can't ruin a young man's life." (Never mind how the girl's life might be or already is ruined.) This is, of course, a contentious topic, but I think this book points to a convincing way forward.

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