I’ve been thinking a lot about the presumption of innocence and how it applies to rape allegations. The obvious application is toward the person (usually a man) the allegations are made against. The less obvious one, or at least less talked about one, is toward the person (usually a woman) who is making the allegations. In this case, the presumption of innocence would be the presumption that she’s not lying.
But how does that work, presuming both parties are innocent unless one of them is proved guilty (or rape or of lying)? How does it work during the time of #metoo when women are coming forward with their stories of sexual harassment, assault, and rape? How do statistics impact who we favor with the presumption of innocence? When I’ve Googled it I’ve found the estimates of false rape accusations are between 2% and 10%.
Let me be clear: I’m happy women are telling their stories and I tend to believe allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Not all women are raped (thank goodness) but all women are harassed at some point, at the very least. It’s happened to me. I’ve heard all the excuses. What was she wearing? How much did she have to drink? Did she flirt with him? Did she say no? Was she clear? Why couldn’t she take it as a compliment? He just asked for a smile. Why wasn’t she nicer when she turned him down? Doesn’t she know how much guts it takes to ask someone out? He was just trying to tell her she doesn’t need makeup to be attractive (dude, who asked you?). He was drunk so she shouldn’t take it so seriously. And it goes on and on.
There’s a pervasive idea that expresses itself in many forms in our society: the idea that a woman exists for a man’s pleasure. It’s disgusting and it’s appalling and in 2018 it’s long overdue for a swift death. But it won’t die quickly and it won’t die easily and it certainly won’t die quietly. Not until a rape case can be tried without a woman ever being put on the defensive for her very right to exist and be human in the presence of men, not until the fault is laid entirely on the rapist and whatever taught him it was his right to rape, not until women’s bodies aren’t policed for how they might distract men, not until so many things change.
I want women to be able to come forward with their trauma and stories of rape. I want women to be believed. I also want to keep in mind that the idea that someone is innocent until proved guilty is supposed to be fundamental to our justice system, and that I never want to fall blindly into making assumptions. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize things have swung entirely in the opposite direction – that men are always assumed guilty in the face of any allegation of sexual misconduct. 2% to 10% is a minority, but those 2% to 10% of men are innocent, and it would be wonderful if we had a system that always worked, always found the truth, and always made sure justice was served, even when the truth was inconvenient.
We don’t have that system though, and I’m so tired of women being blamed for the behavior of men.
One last side note on this subject: isn’t the use of “until” interesting in “innocent until proved guilty”? Doesn’t it say a lot? Imagine if it were “unless” instead.
I’m too tired to smoothly change the subject so this is me doing it abruptly. I took down all my story board cards today. I wish I could have left them up, but I numbered them and stacked them in order in case I need to refer back to him (stack pictured above). I also have pictures of them on the various walls they spanned, in case I want the visual. Since this is very much the story I need to get back into and finally get in final draft form, today I’m posting an excerpt from my novel:
<You could make a living doing that,> I point out.
<On Lyril, but not here.>
<You might be surprised.>
His gaze flits past me. <Do you ever wish they hadn’t left?>
I know what he means. Do I ever wish our amari hadn’t left Lyril and come back to Earth. <Yes.>
<Me too. But I understand why they did. When the Lyril disappeared they left a vast empty world, full of memory and loneliness. Every building, every plant, a reminder of what was lost. Earth is full of people, our people, and they wanted to belong.>
<They’re not our people. We might be the same species but we’re not the same. The Lyril changed us.>
<By what they taught us. We can teach these people too.>
<Our ancestors were also changed by the Awakening.>
<But that didn’t make them into different people anymore than handing someone a paintbrush makes them an artist. We can teach these people too,> he repeats.
Him too? What is it about human cruelty that people don’t see or don’t want to comprehend? The Lyril saw it; that’s why they decided against public disclosure. The violence of humanity appalled them. They were an ancient race, having overcome the need to inflict harm on one another after a single war. One violent conflict was all it took for them to realize it wasn’t worth it, to sit down and talk. They made great philosophical, mental, and medicinal advances and when they discovered Earth, discovered a sentient species living on it, they wanted to share their knowledge. They visited in secret, watching and learning.
After a hundred years of observation they started revealing themselves to specific people. People who were themselves different and therefore unafraid of other’s differences. Or people who were, by Earth standards, terminally ill. They offered these Chosen few a new home, a new world, full of ideas and possibility. The humans who accepted were taken to Lyril and thrived there. Until…
The disappearance wasn’t gradual. It didn’t happen over several weeks or even over several hours. It happened in one second. One moment they were there, the next they vanished, like snow against fire. No, not even like that. Not like something perishes in battle against a visible enemy. Like falling into a void without the warning of tripping on loose gravel. Every Lyril gone, every human untouched.
We’re still trying to solve the mystery. Well, not all of us. Not those of us who left, but the ones who stayed behind to investigate. The scientists and detectives. It’s been 50 years, though. Most think the answer unattainable, the captive of a universe too vast and wondrous, too full of riddles to be tamed or fully understood.
Please excuse typos more than usual today. I really am quite tired and getting around to this much later than I would have liked.