Leonard Pitts: The benefit of the doubt
Let’s get something straight: Men are not the victims here.
It is a foolish and offensive line of reasoning, so naturally it has caught traction on the political right. Indeed, for some, it is an article of faith as the confirmation of would-be Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh becomes ever more deeply mired in accusations that, as a high school boy, he committed attempted rape. For them, Kavanaugh is every man — and every man is in danger.
Donald Trump Jr. told Britain’s DailyMailTV that he fears for his sons more than his daughters.
Laura Ingraham told her radio audience: “If you are a young man … you’d better be very careful, because even if you didn’t do anything, you could be accused later on.”
An unnamed White House lawyer told Politico: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”
Then, there’s Kellyanne Conway who told CNN’s Jake Tapper she feels empathy for victims of sexual assault because she is one. Tapper, clearly moved as anyone would be, sought to explore what kind of psychological gymnastics allow her to defend Donald Trump, who infamously bragged on video about committing sexual assault.
Conway shut him down, making clear that she brought up her experience simply as a means of defending men. “This is Judge Kavanaugh now,” she said. “It could be anybody by next week. It could be any man in any position.”
So every man should worry? Sorry, but I don’t.
And all this solicitude for my well-being is as misguided as it is misplaced. In the last 40-plus years, all of my assistants, most of my bosses, and many of my colleagues, students and closest friends have been women. Yet I live in no fear that one of them will accuse me of sexual harassment or rape. See, I have a little trick: It’s called not committing sexual harassment or rape. I’ve found that it works pretty much every time.
Yes, “We can all be accused of something.” I could be accused of the Kennedy assassination. But given that I was 6 years old at the time, the charge would be less than credible.
And credibility is the fulcrum of all this, the wedge upon which conservatives seek to turn perception upside down and cast victimizers as victims. Because most women neglect to ask a stenographer or notary public to be present at their sexual assaults, we are told that they are unreliable. Where there’s doubt, men get the benefit thereof. We don’t want to ruin a guy’s life over a false accusation, after all.
Many on the right don’t seem overly concerned about ruining women’s lives though. Nor do they seem to get that false claims of sexual misconduct is not a thing. To the contrary, a report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sponsored by the Justice Department, puts the rate of false reporting between 2 percent and 10 percent. Meaning that up to 98 percent of those who report are telling the truth.
In the case of Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, factor in also that she first accused him by name six years ago in therapy, so there can be no political motivation. Factor in, too, that she came forward reluctantly, opening one of the most agonizing moments of her life to public scrutiny, even though she knew many of us would disbelieve.
But he’s the credible one? He gets the benefit of the doubt? And men are the true victims here? That’s called privilege. Too often, it forces survivors of sexual misconduct to live in guilt and shame.
And they’re not the ones who should.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.