Creative Destruction

June 6, 2006

Yes Cathy – Part 2

Filed under: Feminist Issues — Daran @ 7:48 pm

While I await Barry’s promised resply to my remarks in another thread, I thought I’d relieve him of a possible distraction by fielding Cathy’s response to his criticism. Of course I do not purport to speak for him, and his reply might be different from mine.


Frankly, Barry’s claim of textual distortion on my part puzzles me. My column never even mentioned Hostler’s “Oh, absolutely” reply to O’Reilly’s question, “You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?” I understood it, in fact, in exactly the same way as Barry did: Ms. Hostler was saying that yes, the courts should absolutely give the defendants the presumption of innocence. However, I don’t think she would say the same of the court of public opinion.

Cathy is being unfair. In her original post, she said “Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply.”, without qualification or explanation. If she had meant “in the court of public opinion” she should have said so, instead of misleading her readers.

Barry’s reply was entirely on point to what it appeared that she was saying.

In fact, in the same interview, there was this exchange:

O’REILLY: All right, but you said, “Let’s be clear that we won’t know what — that they’re not guilty based on the outcome in court. That won’t tell us anything.”



However, Hostler seems to be saying that even if the Duke lacrosse players are acquitted in a case where the evidence is very much in dispute, the shadow of guilt in the court of public opinion should linger over them.

She doesn’t “appear to be saying” that to me. She “appears to be” agreeing with the proposition that “we won’t know that they’re not guilty” from the mere fact of a court acquittal. She later confirms that this is what she meant: “…just because someone is acquitted in court has never in the history of this country meant that they were actually innocent”. (My emphasis.) She is not claiming that no acquitted person is innocent or that we should regard acquitted people as guilty.

And she’s correct. An acquittal, despite the courtroom language of “not guilty” means that the the prosecution has failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. It does not mean that innocence has been proven.

That may be highly unsatistactory to actually innocent defendents, but I doubt many would be willing to replace it with the alternative – removing the presumption of innocence.

Note, too, that while she says the particular individuals who are accused may not be guilty of rape, someone in the house unquestionably is. This despite the fact that according to the police report, the woman initially said she was only groped, not raped.

Again, Cathy misrepresents Hostler. Her exact words were “I wouldn’t say that I think that those particular boys are absolutely guilty. But what I do think is that woman was raped in that house on that night”. Nowhere does she claim that this is an “unquestionable” fact. On the contrary, “I think” recognises that it’s questionable.

I agree with Cathy that the evidence is still “very much in dispute”, and that therefore no intellectually honest person (other than those participating in the events) can come to a certain view of them. I also agree that some feminists have come to such a view, (just as some non-feminists have come to an equally certain but opposite view). But Hostler doesn’t appear to be one of them, at least in her public expression.

It doesn’t seem to be beyond the bounds of intellectual honesty to “think”, with a degree of uncertainty in either direction.

As for the advocate’s role: yes, of course sexual assault victim advocates should provide support and aid to anyone who reports a rape. But should they continue to back a woman’s claims unconditionally even if emerging facts and details cast very serious doubt on her credibility?

I suggest that they should give all possible benefit of any doubt to her, just as the accused’s advocates should give the benefit of the doubt to him.

Should they support a woman who calls herself a rape victim because she had sex with her boyfriend after he threatened to break up with her? or because, after she told her date early in the evening that she didn’t want to have sex, she got tipsy and they started making out and one thing led to another?

Of course not, if there is no doubt that this is what she did, but see my comment immediately above about the “benefit of the doubt”.

Should they denounced the “abusive” tactics of a defense attorney who brings up the complainant’s history of false reports of rape?

If the defence attorney’s activities are abusive then certainly they should be denounced. Or is it Cathy’s opinion that only victims’ advocates may be denounced in public?

Should they write letters to the editor complaining about the overly prominent coverage given a false accusation?

That again would seem to fall within the remit of victims’ advocates. Such coverage could prejudice real victims’ cases.

Should they, when a woman recants a story of being raped, argue — with no evidence — that she may have been raped after all and may have recanted under pressure or out of fear?

Is Cathy claiming the opposite? Is she claiming, without evidence, that in every case where a woman recants, the recantation is true? That these women are 100% reliable? If this is not Cathy’s position (and I suspect it isn’t) then logically she must agree with the proposition, in which case what is her objection to a victims’ advocate saying so?

Should they go on national TV and make the claim that they have never seen a woman who said she was raped but really hadn’t been?

Again, is Cathy disputing Hostler’s claim? If so, with what evidence? (Remember this is Hostler’s personal experience we’re discussing here.) If not, what’s Cathy’s objection to her saying so?

There is one legitimate criticism of Hostler’s remarks that Cathy missed. Hostler said “rape is one of the least crimes that […] has false reports according to the U.S. Department of Justice.” That is simply incorrect.

And, while I certainly agree that rape crisis counselors should not be skeptical toward those seeking help, I don’t think it would hurt for them to develop some guidelines to help identify false allegations. In many cases, the women who make such allegations are not malicious but deeply troubled individuals who need help — just not the kind of help that includes complete support for their claims.

Cathy’s unstated assumption here is that rape crisis counsellors aren’t already doing this. Bear in mind, counsellors’ duty is to victims, not non-victims or those who stand accused. One thing I have observed, from talking to many scores, perhaps hundreds of rape survivors over several years, is that a disbelieving response from those they turn to for support is incredibly harmful. A counsellor should be very certain indeed that an allegation is false before so doing. Nor should counsellor express in public any doubts they might have about the veracity of some rape claimants which might lead to (genuine) victims fearing a disbelieving response from them.


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