Murphy: Roy Moore and the backlash against revelations of sexual violence (column)
While some backlash is inevitable during the current wave of sexual assault and harassment revelations nationwide, it was disappointing to see Morgan Liddick’s Nov. 20 column “Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Yeah Right…” appear as an example.
Liddick begins with a reference to the Salem Witch Trials, an instance of violence against innocent people, mostly women. As Liddick would have it, those who believe modern-day accusers and demand accountability for perpetrators are the witch-hunters, and those accused of sexual assault or harassment today are akin to the innocent victims of the past. Senatorial candidate Roy Moore is the star of this bizarre analogy.
Liddick proceeds to minimize Roy Moore’s alleged crimes, adopting a position I will describe as “we don’t know he did it, but even if he did, it’s not that big of a deal.” In Liddick’s own words, Roy Moore is at worst someone who “had a somewhat creepy but legal taste in female companionship.” First, one of the accusers was 14 at the time. Secondly, even if an age-of-consent law in the state of Alabama in the late ’70s is somehow a good measuring stick for the appropriateness of a 30-something male’s behavior towards teenage girls, which it is not, Liddick still ignores the most critical issue: lack of consent. If Moore did in fact engage in actions such as the report of one survivor that he was “squeezing (her) neck attempting to force (her) head onto his crotch,” what difference does it make how old she was? The phrase “somewhat creepy but legal taste in female companionship” is itself creepy in this context; Moore’s alleged actions are far worse than that.
Liddick also stresses the time that has passed since the “38-year-old” crime occurred: “38 years distance,” “decades ago,” as if that should make any difference in our moral assessment of an adult who sexually assaults teenagers. The accusations should be doubted, Liddick would have us believe, because if they are true then Roy Moore must be some sort of anomaly or outlier, “a very clever sociopath who has eluded detection for decades.” Unfortunately, neither cleverness nor a personality disorder are prerequisites for committing sexual violence, or for getting away with it.
The accusers are not given the same consideration when it comes to time — and the rest of us are succumbing to “hysteria” — if we choose to believe them or to express outrage at the behavior they describe, because there is “no evidence” from 38 years ago in the form of the “photographs” or “letters” that have accompanied other recent accusations. Apparently Liddick believes those teenage girls in 1979 should have carried Polaroid cameras to document abuse in progress, just in case…or at least, they should have taken up correspondence with a pen pal afterwards to get it all down in writing.
Inside the courtroom, “innocent until proven guilty” applies. Outside the courtroom, the initial decision to believe an alleged victim who takes the risk of coming forward lays the groundwork for justice and healing for that person, and increases the chances that the perpetrator will be held accountable. With regard to Roy Moore’s case, we have multiple accusers with similar accounts, who have as much or more to lose as they have to gain by coming forward. We know that only a small percentage of sexual assault reports are false. And, we have corroboration of Moore’s sexually aggressive behavior towards teenage girls from non-accusers. In other words, we have a number of reasons to believe the accusers, and a response of outrage and concern — including opposition to giving such a person a seat in the Senate — is both rational and morally justified.
In contrast, a knee-jerk, reactionary response that minimizes sexual assault, statutory rape, and other sexual abuse of minors, even when thinly veiled by appeal to due process, seems neither rational nor justified.
Rob Murphy is the executive director of Advocates for Victims of Assault, a local nonprofit serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
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