Presumed Innocence and Trial by Media

There has been a recent media frenzy surrounding elitist men’s alleged sexual predation toward women/girls and men/boys. The news is hard to miss. Of course, over-the-top, unwanted sexual advances when made known to be unwelcome, exceed boundaries and enter the realm of harassment and, perhaps, criminal behavior.

But the condemnations of these alleged sexual predators has been based on trial by media rather than trials through the legal system.

Israel Shamir exposes the social justice implications of this in a recent article. Yet the writer starts out his article in a problematic fashion. He attacks a woman based on her lack of, in Shamir’s eyes, physical attractiveness. She is described as an “old crow,” a “burly unattractive woman in her late fifties or sixties, dyed hair, pearl laces around wrinkled neck…” He concedes that the woman maybe “once … was young and pretty, and could awake passion in a man’s loins, but that was long time ago.”

First, the physical attractiveness of a person, in youth or advanced age, should be irrelevant concerning the allegation that the person was a victim of sexual assault. Second, as is often quoted: “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” The woman in question may not be Shamir’s cup of tea, but attraction has its own continuum. Third, the motivations that induce perpetrators to commit sexual assault are myriad and not just a function of physical attraction.

But Shamir does raise questions that should be seriously pondered, such as why it took so long to speak, and where is the evidence supporting the allegation of a sexual assault.

The why it took so long to speak is easily addressed by societal factors: the power imbalance between the alleged assaulter and the alleged victim, the lack of a corroborating witness, and the wrongful stigma attached to a woman who has been “touched.”

However, if the allegations are untrue, then a person’s name has been smeared and a reputation defamed. A cornerstone of the American legal system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the standard that is supposed to be upheld in a court of law. The media does not have such a standard. It can publish or air allegations with minimal concern for the alleged perpetrator. And we shouldn’t forget that it is also without much concern for those who are linked to the alleged perpetrator: wives, children, parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues.

Just imagine if you were wrongfully and publicly accused of having committed a sexual assault. How would that affect those closest to you?

The outcomes of such allegations can be devastating.1

Can’t the alleged perpetrators sue for defamation? They can try, but that still will not erase the damage done by the public allegation, despite one being found not guilty afterwards. In fact, Harvey Weinstein did announce a $50 million suit against the New York Times. But such cases are difficult because as the Hollywood Reporter explained, “As a public figure, Weinstein will need to show actual malice to prevail in a defamation lawsuit against the Times…. Actual malice is a tough standard for plaintiffs…”

Sexquisition

Writes Shamir, “Only the Inquisition had similar features, with anonymous sources and obscure charges. Now we have sexquisition.”

Shamir hearkens to the witch burnings in the late 17th century: “In Salem, men hunted witches; just three hundred years passed, and now witches hunt men.”
Here again Shamir is problematic, bordering on misogyny. Instead of writing women hunt sexual predators, the women are witches and the alleged sexual predators are men. An unseemly bias is palpable.

Shamir considers that if the alleged perpetrators “has a name, a position and some money in his bank account. For a mysterious reason, ordinary hard-living guys, taxi drivers, lift operators or assembly belt workers were never remembered…. Is it plausible that the working class blokes never push their way or even squeeze a girl? That only rich and famous guys do it?”

Obviously not. But working class blokes tend to toil in obscurity unlike Hollywood moguls who covet the limelight.

Shamir turns the table and identifies an assault on men. He claims the #MeToo campaign coerced many women to join because: “if you didn’t, perhaps nobody ever found you attractive enough to make a pass.”

No evidence is given for the claim, and the rationale is challengeable. Shamir is asserting based on an overarching power of physical attraction. Indeed, there are undeniable advantages of being considered physically attractive, but it is not cut and dry.2

Next, Shamir claims that women are much more receptive to mass hysteria than men. This is supported by the academic studies. But what Shamir has not done is to compellingly tie mass hysteria to the #MeToo campaign.

Shamir questions the accounts of the women: “Is there some kernel of truth in those woeful tales?”

He concedes: “Up to a point.”

He then parses the women’s accounts and concludes: “Sex can be described – by a Puritan, by a man-hater, by a psycho, – in such a way that you will call for death sentence for the perpetrator.”

In other words, some women may be partially truthful, but Puritans, man-haters, and psychos (one assumes Shamir’s examples are women) can twist words to persuade others to their twisted version of events. Yet humans exist on a continuum. Some people are more persuasive than others, and other people are more susceptible to the words of certain orators. If there is a gender bias toward the persuasiveness of a source, it appears to work against women.3

Shamir states the obvious: “Anything can be described in nauseating manner.” He continues, “In the same time, actions that nauseate a normal person can be described as normal and even normative.” The example Shamir provides points to an animus. Writes he, “Normal men are revolted by the description or presentation of same-sex relationships.”

In other words, heterosexual men are normal, and therefore, one is led to conclude that men who deviate from this sexual orientation must be abnormal. I identify as an exclusively heterosexual man; am I, therefore, normal? However, I am not revolted by the consensual sexual preferences of other humans, be they hetero-, bi-, or homo-sexual. Am I abnormal then?

The writer misuses language, apparently attributing normalcy to statistical averages. One could just as well write that it is normal for people in China to spit in public. Does the statistical prevalence of spitting, therefore, render it less revolting (at least from a western cultural perspective)?

It should also be noted that, as far as same-sex relations being considered normative or not, a recent study of American males found, “An overall 27.8% reported sexual desire toward the same sex (male) in varying degrees, of whom 37.5% reported sexual encounters with males (practicing homosexuals; 10.3% of the total sample) …”4

Shamir continues: “Nowadays they [people] are forced to accept it [the homosexual act] as normal while considering usual man-to-woman act as almost criminal.”

Shamir offers the bible, “this great source of common sense,” as a solution to sexual assaults. Strangely, this is the same book that motivated the Catholic Church to launch its Inquisition. Assuredly the bible does offer some commonsense, but it is also a source disseminating blatant immorality, such as death by stoning for cursing, blaspheming, adultery, for a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night, for worshipping other gods, for disobeying parents, for breaking the Sabbath, etc.

Shamir calls for “no anonymity for the accusers. If you accuse a man, be prepared to stand for it, do not hide behind the veil of anonymity.”

Times have changed. There should be no need for a woman to feel stigmatized by the unwanted sexual predation of another person. However, there still probably exist many pockets of backwards morality in society.

Better is a ban on publication and naming of an alleged suspect until such a person has been found guilty by a fair trial in a court of law.

Shamir again contentiously argues, “As for harassment, this is most often an invention of man-haters. It should be out of criminal law and out of police business altogether. If a lady feels that somebody’s stares annoy her, she might sue the guy. Or call for a policeman if it is more than just stares. Policemen know how to deal with such guys.”

The writer reduces sexual harassment to staring, but it is much more than that. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. [emphasis added]

In other words, your job or position in the workplace may be affected by not putting up with the harassment.

The frenzy around the alleged sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape in the media has its roots in a society based in capitalism. Wealth and power has been concentrated overwhelmingly in the hands of a few predominantly white men. Such wealth, all too often, provides cover for crimes. Victims can be frightened and/or bought off, police and court officials can be bribed, media can be silenced. One might well surmise that Harvey Weinstein must have pissed off someone much more powerful than he for his alleged sexual misbehavior to have reached the corporate media, thereby bursting the dam.

In a society where power, status, and wealth is unfairly distributed, the potentials for this misallocation to foment elitist attitudes and a sense of being beyond the reproach of law lends itself to victimize the masses of society. Since wealth has accumulated especially among upper-crust men, women tend to be the victimized. And morally challenged men further down the totem pole may well seek to normalize sexual abuses.

Conclusion

Trial by media is wrong. So too is attacking the alleged victims. What are the options for women (and men) who are victims of sexual harassment and sexul assaults? It is difficult to provide forensic evidence or witness corroboration for these acts.

Patriarchy is wrong. Elitism is wrong.

The solution for preventing sexual harassment, assaults, rapes is not to be found in the bible or by decriminalizing sexual harassment. The solution involves overturning the establishment that fosters a climate in which sexual miscreants can operate. Women must be empowered. Sexism — against both men and women — must end. All workers must be empowered. And an egalitarian society must rise to replace a capitalist system beset with corruption.

  1. See David French, “A Suicide in Texas,” National Review, 12 April 2017. Cristina Criddle, “Mother of son who hanged himself after being accused of rape commits suicide a year later,” Telegraph, 29 July 2016. []
  2. See Madeleine A Fugère, “Why Physical Attraction Matters, and When It Might Not,” Psychology Today, 5 January 2017. []
  3. See Gervais, S. J. and Hillard, A. L. (2014), “Confronting Sexism as Persuasion: Effects of a Confrontation’s Recipient, Source, Message, and Context.” Journal of Social Issues, 70: 653–667. doi:10.1111/josi.12084 []
  4. See Shaeer, Osama and Sheer, Kamal, “The Global Online Sexuality Survey: The United States of America in 2011 homosexuality among English-speaking men,” Human Andrology: September 2015 – Volume 5(3): 45–48, doi: 10.1097/01.XHA.0000469536.57747.e7 []

Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen.

Read other articles by Kim.