Now that the Duke University rape case involving members of the lacrosse team has been dismissed for lack of evidence, the Right has formed a howling virtual mob and targeted the
plaintiff complainant. In the New York Post, John Podhoretz writes “Let the liar be named and shamed,” and a number of rightie blogs have picked up on this, posting photos of the young woman who had made the charges and repeating her name several times in boldface letters.
When the allegations of rape first became public I made a decision not to write about the case until there was a conviction. Hence, I didn’t write about it. I’ve seen innocent people convicted in media and by public opinion many times before — Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee come to mind. It can be particularly tempting to assume guilt when a situation seems so familiar — rich white boys abusing a poor black girl. But isn’t that the essence of bigotry — making assumptions about an individual based on what you think “his type” is like?
On the other hand — “innocence” is not necessarily innocent.
A 17-year-old girl went to police at the urging of her friends after she was allegedly gang-raped by three men, including her boyfriend. The men testified that the act was consensual. After reviewing all the information and statements, prosecutors decided they didnâ€™t think they could prove a rape allegation, and so declined to prosecute the case.
Instead, they prosecuted the victim for filing a false police report. Yesterday, she was found guilty.
The victim has never recanted her story. Instead, the decision was based on the judgeâ€™s opinion that the three men were more credible, in part because a police detective and the victimâ€™s friends testified she did not â€œact traumatizedâ€ in the days after the incident. …
… Let me give you some more informationâ€”something that is only a possibility because The American Streetâ€™s Kevin Hayden has known the victim nearly her whole life. He attended the trial. He noticed that the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the attackers as â€œboys,â€ even though they were grown men and the victim was 17. He noticed that the judge acknowledged he had found inconsistencies in all of their stories, but, inexplicably, decided that the same reasonable doubt that kept prosecutors from pursuing charges against the attackers wasnâ€™t enough to keep him from finding the victim guilty.
It was a sickening case. But the moral is that just because a rape charge is dismissed doesn’t necessarily mean the plaintiff lied or made the whole thing up. In the Duke case perhaps the young woman did make up the story for malicious reasons, or perhaps something happened that evening that genuinely distressed her. We don’t know. Neither does John Podhoretz or any of the several rightie bloggers who are making the Duke plaintiff a target of scorn, derision … or worse.
In our justice system people are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. That goes both ways, righties. What some of you are doing today is no less heinous than making assumptions of guilt about the defendants. In particular, by exposing her identity and making her the object of ridicule you could be setting up the young woman to be a target of genuine violence or abuse. The world is full of sick puppies who might feel they are justified to “punish” — in the form of assault or homicide — a young black woman for daring to file charges against white men.
Just leave it alone, all of you. Even if the worst of the assumptions about her actions and character are true, it’s not up to a mob to hand out “justice.”
Along these lines — let me second what Natasha at Pacific Views said of this Kos post. Yes, we all get “idiotic” emails. I’m sure Kos gets ’em by the bucketload. But I can say from my own experiences that being the target of a hate swarm can be, at the very least, unnerving. This is especially true if the swarmers don’t limit themselves to insulting emails but proceed to threatening and obscene phone calls, which has happened to me a couple of times. The swarmers were trying to intimidate me into shutting up, obviously, and it’s more than unnerving to realize that some of them knew where I lived.
There’s a reason it’s always bad form for a blogger to publish the street address and phone number of someone he doesn’t like and then sic his readers on ’em.
In my case the swarms died down in three or four days. The only action I took beyond filtering out their comments on the blog was to ignore them, and the creeps lost interest and went away.
Kathy Sierra was so upset by the tsunami of hate against her that she canceled travel plans and locked herself in her home. The threats against her went on for weeks, she said. Threats — and her home address — were posted on other blogs.
This is not to be shrugged off. Misogyny, like racism, is pervasive in our culture, and there are plenty of violent men who need very little encouragement to take their rage out on a woman who has been singled out as worthy of punishment.
I agree with Kos that the inane “blogger code of conduct” is not going to stop what happened to Kathy Sierra. But that doesn’t mean we should shrug it off. Very often men who assault women — and whites who assault blacks — feel they are justified in doing so. And they interpret expressions of misogyny and racism in our culture and among their peers to be permission. But “boys will be boys” is no excuse, and neither is “idiots will be idiots.”
That’s why I’m glad to see the recent backlash against Don Imus. About time. Racist and sexist rhetoric does real damage and can sometimes escalate into something worse. Hatemongers will push their hostility further and further, rhetorically and physically, until they are stopped. And in my experience the one thing that really does make them pause is overwhelming public disapproval. If they get a clue that the society they live in is not, in fact, winking and nodding at them that their bigotry is acceptable, the bigots will at least be more circumspect about their bigotry.