Thursday, 7 April 2016

A Modest Proposal (for fixing sexual assault trials)

Judge William Horkins, Ghomeshi lawyer Marie Henein and about a million people on Twitter are very concerned about believing women who have been sexually assaulted. They basically equate the idea that we believe assault victims with the idea that the word of a woman would be law - any men accused would be presumed guilty and sentenced, possibly without even a trial. No one thinks that should be the case, these anti-belief advocates are arguing against phantoms.

Well, phantoms and me. I have a proposal for how to fix the current unacceptable state of sexual assault trials - believe women in the strong sense that men on Twitter fear. If a woman accuses a man of sexual assault, then he has to provide physical evidence he didn't do it, or he is guilty and sentenced under the criminal code.

Let's set aside the automatic reaction to this idea - for one I am obviously not serious, for another it is obviously unjust and terrible - and think about what that society would look like.

It's easy to say the prisons would be full of innocent men, that there would be no male-female relationships, and plenty of other hyperbole, but just because a complete perversion of justice has been introduced into a society doesn't mean that dogs will live with cats and hot snow will fall up. Men wouldn't give up on women - some of them would just assume bad things wouldn't happen to them, some would believe in the justness of their clearly unjust society, some would just care more about getting laid than about staying out of prison. Women wouldn't suddenly feel like it was okay to lie about being sexually assaulted or to put innocent men in prison for personal slights - and there would still be a slim chance of getting caught making a false accusation - so we wouldn't end up with a situation where 80% of men were in prison.

We sure would see a lot of differences, though.

Men would be understandably cautious about going out alone and being unaccounted for. Having someone know where you are means having an alibi for a false accusation.

Men would be understandably cautious about first dates and blind dates, always wanting to meet in public places so they know they can't be accused of anything until they develop enough trust in the person they are dating to risk something more intimate.

Men would be understandably cautious around strangers and around female anger - trying to make sure they never made any women so angry that those women might take revenge on them. Even though the majority of false accusations would almost certainly come from people known to the falsely accused, it would be very hard to trust strangers.

Presumably it would also drastically reduce the number of actual sexual assaults, since the chance of being convicted of one would go from 3% to 90%.

These changes in male behaviour wouldn't protect all men, though. As I said, women wouldn't suddenly think they should perjure themselves to send innocent men to prison, but clearly there would be a small number who would do that, and they would probably do it to quite a few men each because they think it's okay for them to do so. Some number of false accusations would come from misunderstandings, but quite a few would come from a small number of serial false accusers who are shielded by the law from having any of the men accused by them say, "She's done this to 14 other men, does anyone really believe that she's not making this up? Who is sexually assaulted by 15 different men?" That wouldn't be admissible, every man would have to prove his case himself.

By this point, it should be pretty obvious what I've done here: This imaginary society where women are believed - in the absence of strong evidence to contradict them - is just like our society, except instead of being raped it's victims get a two to three year prison sentence, and instead of women, it's men.

If anyone cares to argue that a two to three year prison sentence is worse than rape then they should probably do themselves a favour and keep that to themselves.

And before anyone points out all the other reasons this is bad, I can think of plenty. Like I would assume there would be a spike in the murder rate as many men probably prefer the possibility of being convicted of murder to the certainty of being convicted of sexual assault.

But on the other hand, as I said above, people who lived in such a society would think it was just, or at least a lot would, because people justify their own culture. And a culture that could produce such a law would be a very different culture indeed. Perhaps one where men just accept that they have a one in five chance of being put in prison for a fictitious sexual assault at some point in their lives and set up support groups rather than trying to kill all women to prevent it from happening to them. They might start advocacy groups saying we ought to listen to men who say they've been falsely accused, because a lot of men have, or pointing out that if we kept a database of accusations we could notice when one person was making a lot of them an investigate.

I don't think this speculative fiction society is actually any less just in its outcomes than our society is, even if it seems less principled in its rules.

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