The movement of women coming forward to state that they have suffered unwanted sexual advances, or even rape, has struck a chord. It is a powerful movement.
But we may be giving insufficient attention to two important aspects of this development: Why is sexual misbehavior so rampant? What happens when the innocent are accused?
Bloomberg columnist Megan McAardle has a must-read column (I am linking to the version in The New York Post) arguing that the "believe all women" policy just doesn't work. She cites several men whose careers are likely ruined by accusations.
McArdle points out that these accusations have been adjudicated quickly, behind closed doors, and likely without the accused being able to mount a defense–in some instances the accused may not know who his accuser is. We know that it is painful for a woman to come forward, and we want her to have the support to do so. But it is also important that innocent people not be ruined by anonymous accusers.
McArdle writes about the cases of Tavis Smiley, formerly of PBS, and Ray Lizza, formerly of the New Yorker magazine:
Now, I don’t know the truth of Smiley’s or Lizza’s cases; I don’t have enough detail to form an opinion. And yet, that in itself seems disturbing. It seems safe to say that few of these men will ever work in journalism again; there is a blacklist, and unless they can conclusively clear themselves, most of their names are on it.
Some of these accusations are both clear and credible enough that the economic death penalty is clearly justified. But what about cases like Thrush, where it’s not clear exactly what line is thought to have been crossed?
More disturbing still is what Lizza and Smiley both seem to be alleging: hasty investigations, reminiscent of the Star Chamber, in which the verdict appears to be predetermined and the accused is not offered adequate chance to defend himself.
Blacklisting people so cavalierly is hard to defend. But with “believe all women” the order of the day, that’s effectively the new regime we’re looking at. No outlet wants to be deemed insufficiently concerned with sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, when we accept no limits on what constitutes a crime, and when we lower the standards of evidence for believing a crime has occurred, we aren’t necessarily furthering the cause of crime-reduction.
McArdle knows that some will respond that a few innocents felled is the price we will pay for war on the patriarchy. Or they might argue that for years women have been harmed without having a voice. Why are these not sufficient answers? McArdle writes:
One answer is that truth and justice matter. That’s a good answer. But if it doesn’t satisfy you, here’s another: Moral panics aren’t good for anyone, including the victims they’re trying to protect.
#BelieveAllWomen elides the messy reality that women, like the rest of humanity, aren’t always telling the truth — and that even when they are, their interpretation of events is not always the most reasonable one. If we reify too many weak or false claims, the norm will quickly slide toward “believe no women.”
It is also important to answer my first question: Why is sexual misconduct rampant in our society? I urge you to read Daniel Henninger's recent Wall Street Journal column headlined "The Death of Restraint." It's not the critique of the current crisis that the left wants, but in my opinion it is required reading for understanding how we got here.