Virginia Democrats now discover the very important difference between a political rally and a reasonable standard for institutional punishment.
As a call to respect and fully investigate the accounts of sexual assault victims, & # 39; Believe Survivors & # 39; powerful and effective. But as a standard for discerning the truth in a controversial case of assault, "Believe Survivors" is disastrous. For the # MeToo movement in general, the attack on sexual abuse against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax must bring this point home.
As a lieutenant governor, Fairfax would be the first in line to defeat the incumbent incumbent government leader Ralph Northam if Northam stepped down after his own separate racial scandal. But Fairfax is now credibly accused of sexually abusing a woman in his hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, calling into question his own political future.
In a detailed statement from her attorneys on Wednesday, Dr. Vanessa Tyson, professor of political science at Scripps College in California, met with Fairfax during which, she said, he forced her into oral sex. Fairfax acknowledges that he had sex with Tyson at that time and in the same place, but claims that the incident was fully in line.
The public defense of Fairfax has worried the content. He first uncovered unfounded accusations that "red flags" and "inconsistencies" had been found by objective journalists in Tyson's account; he then seemed to draw misleading conclusions about Tyson's accusation against him on the basis of unrelated statements she made about sexual abuse in childhood; and then, based on reports from multiple sources, he launched a verbal attack ("fuck that bitch") on Tyson. The office of Fairfax denies this last claim. These actions may stand in the way of the credibility of Fairfax's denials.
Nevertheless, Fairfax directly and unequivocally disputes Tyson's central allegation that he has sexually abused her. The claim of Tyson is clearly credible and contains important facts such as the time, place and circumstances surrounding the alleged attack. If the case was decided in the framework of the "Believe Survivors" mandate, the lieutenant governor would now have to be pressured to resign, to end his political career and to overthrow an election. Some politicians have already called on him to do that. But many others have so far renounced the fact that they have instead requested a full investigation into the facts and a weighing of the facts. In short, argue for a rational process that Tyson offers a respectful hearing and at the same time recognizes the importance of a correct decision, especially given the potentially serious consequences for the accused of an unfair negative conclusion.
The final approach, where both parties emphasize honesty, is the best way to go further. Because the # MeToo movement broke into public consciousness well over a year ago, it has been difficult to reconcile its political mandate with "Believe the survivors" with the obligation, in the basic honesty, to get accurate and proportional make decisions in cases of sexual misconduct that occur in private and political, as opposed to right-centered institutions.
If "Faith survivors" is considered a literal rule of decision in disputed cases of sexual assault, it makes fairness impossible. In a simple language interpretation, "Faith Survivors" necessarily produces a rule that all credible accusations should automatically result in the punishment of the accused. In non-criminal cases, of course, such a punishment usually involves shooting, forced resignation or being banned from public discourse.
On the other hand, as & # 39; Believe Survivors & # 39; simply asking for a full hearing of costs for sexual misconduct, followed by a rational assessment of the facts aimed at a correct decision, it suggests a process that moves us both forward, from the days that claims by female victims against powerful men were routinely suppressed and answered the most fundamental claims of decency and honesty.
In order to give a coherent and principled structure to such a process, we do not have to look far. In her courageous and profound speech in the Senate last October, Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, set out the principles that would inform the process of ruling sexual offense outside the courts. Collins explained in the speech her conclusion that the accusations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against the then supreme candidate Brett Kavanaugh were not proven.
In addition, Collins called for a decision-making process that emphasizes honesty over ideology. And she mentioned the fundamental concepts that should base that process: firstly, a respectful hearing of allegations of sexual misconduct. Secondly, a careful and well-considered investigation of all relevant facts. Third, a presumption of innocence that the accused should exonerate in cases where the facts do not prove the responsibility of the accused at least a standard of "more likely than not."
In one of the most powerful parts of her speech, Collins condemned the toxic impact of political ideology and bias on the Kavanaugh confirmation process. They condemned interest groups that whip & # 39; whip & # 39;[ped] their followers in a madness by spreading misrepresentations and outright untruths "and"[o]far from the top rhetoric and distortions "of Kavanaugh's record and testimony, they expressed the hope that the process" finally got deeply in the pit "and now rebounded, and warned, in what the most famous statement in the speech: "We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed, that honesty is most at risk."
Honesty requires that we step outside the political ideology and look at more fundamental principles, that we investigate the facts impartially before we impose sanctions on an accused person who disputes the accusation.
Collins' call for a fair trial resulted in death threats against her. But now, while trying to solve a credible claim to sexual violence against Fairfax, a popular democrat who is seen as a rising star in the party, many proponents of # MeToo seem to adopt the equity approach of Collins. That is a very good sign.
Cynthia Ward is a professor of law at William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia.