presumption of innocence and complicity

I am, much to my own as well as my friends’ consternation, quite conflicted about this Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair (pun intended).

Maybe it’s that I don’t want it to be true, or that I have a character flaw which forces me to go against the court of public opinion and give the benefit of the doubt, to try not to judge, to try to believe in innocence until proven guilty.

As a woman, as a woman who supports women’s rights on all fronts, as a mother… I should, I know, just join the lynch mob. But I’m reticent to do so, not because I question the woman’s story or the events as portrayed, not because I believe there is any justification whatsoever for forcing sex on another, ever. Rape is rape. Forced non-consensual sex has no place in civilized society. If that is indeed what this man did, then he should pay the price.

Why then do I find the coverage of this so disturbing?

I’m not certain. We’re colored, in our judgements, by a million things. People we’ve known, experiences we’ve had, impressions based on our past and our present. I fear the angry mob.

What I suppose bothers me is that everyone is now coming out and accusing him of being sexually aggressive, as if that in itself were a crime. Boorish, yes… but criminal?

If every man who cornered a woman and tried to kiss her, every married man who pursued an adventure, every man who pressed a woman’s boundaries to try to get her to yield to him, if every man whose actions were clouded by desire…were found to be committing a crime, well, then we’d have quite a mess on our hands. There is a fine line, and we must be definitive of when that line is crossed and the border is consent. Period.

Simply put, I wish everyone would let justice take its course. Let the evidence decide. While he does seem guilty of sexual assault based on the press reports, in which case he should and will be duly tried and punished, stop pulling up every liaison he had with every woman where his attentions were not appreciated or wanted as if unwanted attentions were criminal in and of themselves.

For the sake of all involved, allow the story to be told based on fact, not on our feeding frenzy for salacious details.

And yes, while I realize that some will vehemently disagree with me, it is my promise to myself to say what I believe even when it may not be the most popular voice.

The presumption of innocence is a very difficult thing, but so very very important… regardless of what our gut tells us.

—–

I started this post saying that I was conflicted. My conflict came not in vilifying violence against women, but in determining guilt without trial.

I read a very moving blog today in which the blogger wrote of her own rape experience, as well as the fact that she, unlike the woman in the Strauss-Kahn events, did not come forward. In her post she spoke of complicity, in that guilt is shared by those who excuse and coverup the violence of nonconsensual sex and rape. There was a recent NYT article about how victims of rape while serving in the Peace Corps were treated as if they were somehow to blame. Yet it is not just that organization, but society as a whole which covers up this crime as if somehow it were shameful, or contagious.

So many of the women I’ve known have either been raped or have had near-rape experiences which they were fortunate to escape. Many kept the secret for years as it ate away at them. Perhaps one of the good things that comes of all the media coverage here is that so many women will come forward and speak of their own experiences.

Consensual sex, in all its forms, is just that. Non-consensual sex is violence.

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