Women should be believed. Does that instantly mean men who refute their claims should not be believed? It’s a more difficult question to answer than most are acknowledging because we’re in murky waters. The era of #MeToo has raised to much-needed awareness and even justice for many women in America. But it has also weaponized the accusation, which introduces a whole new set of problems.
When is an accusation enough to end a career? What are the criteria that must be met in order to designate an accusation as sufficient reason for a person in power to resign?
The old methodology was similar to the right to due process. In the recent past, an accusation alone wouldn’t be enough to force a resignation without clear evidence backing the accusation. Things have reversed somewhat in the current era as we are called to “believe all women.” This often translates into a need to believe all women every time. That’s a dangerous stance because that makes it possible for an woman who can prove a sexual assault was possible can take down a person in power for any reason whether there was sexual misconduct at play or not.
We can’t go back to the idea of due process being the criteria. Not only is it impractical considering how far we’ve come from those days, but it’s also immoral. For too long, sexual misconduct has been a part of professional life for many women and it needs to end now. Unfortunately, that creates the situation we find ourselves in now where many will call for resignations at the first sign of a credible accusation.
The balance we need lies somewhere in the middle. It should include certain criteria that makes accusations powerful but not so powerful they become easy to abuse. Is the accuser reputable? Is there incentive to accuse outside of the truth? Was there opportunity for the alleged crime to take place?
Of course, the big criteria which seems to be the missing link in all of this is corroboration. What counts as corroboration? If someone files a police report, as in the case of Katie Brennan, is that enough corroboration to force the man she’s accusing to lose his job? If someone tells their therapist, as Christine Blasey Ford did, should that hold enough corroborative value to derail Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation? It’s tough to define the level of corroboration necessary to destroy a career.
The latest example of this problem is with Justin Fairfax, the Lt. Governor of Virginia who now faces two accusations of sexual assault over the past two decades. Should he resign? Many are calling for it. His accusers are credible. There seems to be no incentive to make a false accusation; Dr. Vanessa Tyson is a fellow Democrat and was with Fairfax at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which satisfies the final criteria of opportunity.
Should he resign? Before the second accusation, was made public, my colleague said, “No, not yet.” Now that a new accuser has stepped forward, is it time to say, “Yes, he should resign?”
I believe show, but I’m not fully in that camp just yet.
To be direct, I have no idea what the criteria needs to be. I fear a world where accusations are unheard just as much as I fear a world where accusations can be weaponized. Something needs to be established soon.