The Hollywood scandals: should we convict someone on hearsay alone?

The increasing number of accusations of sexual harassment or assault by famous actors and producers in Hollywood—the latest is Kevin Spacey—carries two lessons: the practice is far more prevalent than many believed (and I’m one of those who had no idea), and if a powerful man does it once, they’ve probably done it before (viz., Bill Cosby). I was going to write about Kevin Spacey this morning, and in particular Brendan O’Neill’s defense of him in Spiked, “Kevin Spacey is innocent” (what he means is that Spacey’s “not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”, since Spacey was accused of fondling an underaged boy, but it was 30 years ago and Spacey doesn’t remember it)—but then I woke up this morning to read that Spacey has been accused by at least eight more people of inappropriate behavior on his “House of Cards” television show:

All of those involved described Spacey’s behaviour as “predatory”. It allegedly included non-consensual touching and inappropriate sexual comments, with the actor typically targeting young, male members of the production crew.

Well, these are neither rape nor pedophilia, but they’re inappropriate, probably prompted by a power relationship, and may be illegal, as they create a climate of harassment in the workplace.

That is, if the allegations are true.

What’s happening now, and what I want readers to discuss, is that many people’s lives are being overturned by accusations that can’t be proven—accusations that wouldn’t stand up in a court where the standard of conviction is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.  An accusation in the present climate is tantamount to a conviction, even if the accused denies it.

Now in many cases they don’t deny it: they admit it and apologize, which is the right thing to do if you’re really guilty. In other cases in which the accused doesn’t admit anything, or says that the sex is consensual, the accusations gain credibility as the number of accusers mounts and their stories comport. That’s the situation of Harvey Weinstein, who in my view was an odious sexual predator and, most likely, a rapist. (New York is investigating the possibility of rape charges.) But what if there are only one or two accusers? Is the word of a single person, contested by the accused, nevertheless sufficient to demonize someone and ruin their career?

Aside from the power relationships involving someone like Weinstein, these situations—the one-offs—resemble accusations of sexual harassment or assault made in American colleges, nearly all by women against men. When I asked readers how the accused should be judged in those cases, readers here voted this way:

The lesson was that college judiciary bodies shouldn’t be trusted to adjudicate these cases, which could result in expulsion and a permanent black mark on an accused student’s record. They should, said 82% of readers, be adjudicated first by the courts, which use the “reasonable doubt” standard. If you can’t trust college judicial bodies to do it, why trust the “court of public opinion”: the media and social media folks who take accusations for convictions?

Okay, now what about a student who has not one but two accusations? Do you feel the same way: no punishment without solid proof? I suspect many of you do.

This is the situation that many Hollywood figures are in, and that’s what Brendan O’Neill wrote about. Before I give a few quotes from his piece, let me emphasize that I’m not trying to exculpate sexual harassers and predators. I am not a woman, but I’ve heard enough of them tell me (one yesterday who lives in Los Angeles) about the lifelong harassment they’ve endured: groping, creepy remarks, penises being exposed, and so on. When it’s done in a power relationship, it’s doubly bad because it’s extra coercive. I’m also aware that some studies show that the bulk of such accusations are true. But we can’t use that when judging a single person, just as we can’t use the statement (made to me by a public defender) that “85% of my clients are almost certainly guilty” to go ahead and convict all accused people without a trial.

Nevertheless, let’s go back a day and assume that Kevin Spacey (like some figures) had only one accusation against him, with no proof. There’s nothing wrong with going public with accusations against him or similar people, but do we automatically say “guilty” and throw him out of the industry? O’Neill says no (we’ll ignore Spacey’s excoriation for also saying, in his statement, that he was gay, which some say was the wrong way to “come out”).  An excerpt from O’Neill’s piece:

Why does everyone believe Kevin Spacey’s accuser rather than Kevin Spacey himself? In a civilised society, it would be the other way round. In a civilised society we would doubt the accuser and maintain the innocence of the accused. But increasingly we do not live in a civilised society. As demonstrated by the hysteria of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the increasingly strange and narcissistic #metoo contagion, we live in a society where accusation is now proof. Where accusation alone can colour someone’s reputation beyond repair. I fear we haven’t yet registered how worrying, and terrifying, this state of affairs is.

No sooner had Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp claimed that Spacey made a ‘sexual advance’ towards him in 1986, when Rapp was 14 years old, than the internet was aflame with whispers and chatter about Spacey being a paedophile. Everyone, it seems, believes Rapp, and they want the world to know they believe Rapp. ‘I believe him’, people are tweeting. ‘Of COURSE we believe you’, says civil-rights activist — read professional tweeter — Danielle Muscato. One political comedian says we need to use the right term for ‘what he did’ — it was ‘child molestation’. ‘What he did’. The arrogance. The mob thinking. How do we know Spacey did this thing? Because one person said he did. If we had any kind of attachment to the ideals of reason and justice, the building blocks of civilisation, this wouldn’t be enough. It would be so far from being enough.

Spacey says he doesn’t remember the assault. ‘I honestly do not remember the encounter’, he said in a statement, before going on to say that if it did happen, then he’s sorry. (Who’s advising these people? Do not apologise for something you do not remember doing.) Spacey, in his own lame way, is calling into question the veracity of Rapp’s accusation. And you know what? We should all be doing that. For three reasons.

First, because the alleged incident took place 31 years ago. Thatcher and Reagan were in power. Mark Zuckerberg was two years old. Boy George joined The A-Team. It is entirely feasible — likely, in fact — that Mr Rapp misremembers what happened that long ago. We all have foggy memories of decades-old events. Secondly, because Mr Rapp has made his accusation as part of the #metoo phenomenon, which may well have coloured how he sees that alleged event that is a third-of-a-century old. As part of #metoo, individuals can fast-track themselves to a position of moral and cultural authority through claiming to have been victims of celebrity abuse. Can we agree that this attractive prospect, this promise of cultural cachet, might — only might — have influenced both Mr Rapp’s recollection of what happened and his decision to accuse now? And thirdly because this is what we are meant to do. We are meant to believe in the innocence of everyone accused of a crime or misdemeanour, until such a time as a jury of their peers has been convinced beyond reasonable doubt that this is ‘what he did’.

We are meant to side with the accused. It is the civilised thing to do: side with the accused. We are meant to insist upon his or her innocence until guilt has been properly and convincingly established. But today the Twitterati, the media, the feminist set and increasingly the political class — see the jumped-up, ‘me too!’ sex-harassment panic now brewing in the House of Commons — line up with accusers. . .

Well, you get the point, though O’Neill’s argument has lost considerable force due to the new accusations against Spacey. In the courts, people walk away free from punishment if the allegation can’t be proven. (That, of course, doesn’t mean free from criticism, as evidenced by the decline in O.J. Simpson’s reputation after he was found not guilty of murder.). But are we supposed to fire someone, demonize them, and remove their honors and livelihood when they’re accused of sexual malfeasance—and it hasn’t been definitively established? Or, if you use the word of people as this kind of proof, how many people does it take to accuse someone before they’re not just seen as guilty by the public, but deserve punishment for what they’re accused of?

The trope “always believe the accuser” may usually lead to accurate beliefs, but as we know from individual cases, not ones that are 100% accurate. (Estimates of false reports of sexual assaults appear to be between 2% and 10%.) And so long as there is some doubt, should we consider someone guilty when they’re simply accused?

But weigh against that the likelihood that even if false reports are low, most cases involving simply hearsay wouldn’t even make it to trial, so many guilty people would walk away free. And sexual predation seems to be something that’s notoriously difficult to “cure” by psychological treatment, so if unpunished it will persist—and grow.

These are just some thoughts.

Let me know your thoughts, and do remember that I’ve listed several factors that, to my mind, make accusations more credible.  If you have solutions to the pervasive problem of sexual harassment and assault, given that many aren’t reported and there is no proof for many, put it below.

180 Comments

  1. Stephen Barnard
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    No.

  2. GBJames
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    sub

  3. Gayle Ferguson
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    The problem is that it’s *always* going to be hearsay, which is why these men in positions of power do this in the first place – because they can, because it’s easy to threaten a victim enough to silence them, and because for the entire history of humankind until maybe now, finally, females have simply not been believed. Unless we all start going about with hidden cameras on us to record everything that happens as proof, it will always be his word against mine. So how are victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape to proceed?

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Hi Gayle. Do you have any suggestions?

      • nicky
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Maybe 2 or 4 witnesses, as proscribed by Islam? /s

    • GM
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      By reporting it to the police as soon as it happens so that forensic evidence can be collected if an actual sexual assault/rape has occurred.

      And if there is no forensic evidence to be collected, then probably nothing of major significance happened.

      The alternative “solution” is much worse than the problem.

      “Believing the victims” opens the door to rampant abuse of the legal system on an unprecedented scale – all that you have to do is accuse someone of doing something to you decades ago with no evidence whatsoever supporting your position, and his life is ruined. It is insane to think that if this becomes the standard it will not be massively abused. And most of the people who get their lives ruined that way will not be celebrities and rich movie producers, it will be ordinary people with no means to defend themselves. Which, BTW, is an effect we have seen on college campuses already — young black males are significantly overrepresented among those who were accused of sexual assault after Obama’s Title IX letter relaxed the standards of prosecution to what is essentially exactly the nightmarish “She said you did it and that means you indeed did it” scenario I am referring to. With the accusers more often than not being white women. Who would have thought this would be the effect…

      Of course, we do have a precedent for exactly that sort of thing happening — a lot of black males ended up hanging from tree branches across the South and the Midwest back in the days based on precisely the same “believe the victim” line of reasoning that is being pushed onto us now…

      • KD33
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        “And if there is no forensic evidence to be collected, then probably nothing of major significance happened.”

        That’s far to high a bar. Most cases of even egregious harassment don’t involve any forensic evidence. And even consider that Cosby’s victims would not have been able to provide any forensic evidence.

        • GM
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Wrong — his sperm there would be inside them, whatever drug he gave them would be in their bloodstream.

          That would not necessarily implicate him as rapist, but if at the next step police searched him and found the same pills, that would be quite convincing.

          • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            I have read on more than one occassion that in a % of cases of rape – bona fide rape, I assume – there is no sperm. The perp did not climax. But it was still conclusive that a rape had still occured.
            There are other problems with the high standard of evidence, but that is certainly one of them.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        “And if there is no forensic evidence to be collected, then probably nothing of major significance happened.”

        As you’re one of the first ones to point out, when the topic suits your argument, that men are statistically bigger and stronger than females, I’m surprised you can’t grasp that a wide array of assault can occur before getting to the point of there being any forensic evidence to collect.

        • GM
          Posted November 4, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          If there was struggle usually there is forensic evidence — bruises, cuts, etc., with DNA left in the vicinity too.

          But if there wasn’t struggle, well…

          • BJ
            Posted November 4, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            And what about threats of physical harm?

            If the world was as you say, these cases would be far easier to actually prove….Unless you’re saying that every single he-said-she-said case is really just the accuser lying about what happened.

      • Bernie
        Posted November 4, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        See also Salem witch trials and their many antecedents.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 4, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          McCarthyism comes to mind.

          cr

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted November 4, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

            The most egregious recent example of a moral panic ruining many innocent lives I can recall was the daycare child abuse “scandals” in the 1980s and early 1990s.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted November 4, 2017 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

              Oh yes. Wasn’t there a hint of ‘satanic rituals’ mixed in with that one too?

              Appalling, I agree.

              cr

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      It’s not always going to be hearsay. If it’s taking place in an office, there are likely multiple witnesses.

      Regardless, just because a crime is more likely to be reported based entirely on hearsay than others doesn’t mean you can lower the bar for guilty verdicts, thus risking putting tons of innocent people in jail.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that it’s *always* going to be hearsay

      No it isn’t. If the victim testifies against the accused, that is not hearsay.

      I think what you might have meant to say is that it is always the victims’ word against the accused’s word, which, I agree is a huge problem, especially in cases where there is a big imbalance of power. For example if you were a young actress just starting out and you accused Harvey Weinstein but failed to take him down, your career was most likely over.

      On the other hand, if you are falsely accused, you do want a farce chance to be exonerated because a false accusation of this nature can be disastrous.

      • BJ
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        As I said to Ken many comments below, I think it’s clear people are using “hearsay” in a colloquial sense. I know it can be annoying to those of us who know what it really means (and I agree that it can get on one’s nerves), but we have to accept that this is how an enormous number of people use it and we have no chance of changing that.

        • Posted November 4, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard the word “hearsay” used colloquially or otherwise to refer to direct testimony of a witness to an event.

      • GM
        Posted November 4, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        If the victim testifies, then it’s not hearsay indeed, the victim is either telling the truth, or it enters the territory of libel and perjury.

  4. Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    The most recent high profile accusation I’ve read about is Dustin Hoffman.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      DH currently has two accusers.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      That saddened me.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 4, 2017 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Me, too, Mrs. Robinson.

      • Posted November 5, 2017 at 1:28 am | Permalink

        It’s so disappointing how so many men can’t seem to figure out how to be a decent fucking human being.

  5. Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I was annoyed at the way the Kevin Spacey situation was handled, particularly due to the lack of verifiable facts. As far as I could tell, he was accused of hitting on a minor 30 years ago, in which his advances were rejected and nothing serious happened! Innocent until proven guilty is not how the public eye works unfortunately.

    I actually did like Kevin’s apology. Instead of denying it, which can make the public doubt your innocence, he said that he didn’t remember (not surprising if he was drunk) but apologized for his actions if it did happen. I have yet to see an apology by a politician or celebrity that wasn’t heavily criticized or deemed a non-apology in the media.

    Your piece reminded me of an incident that happened when I was a teenager. My next door neighbour’s son had dreamed of joining the police force. Unfortunately he broke up with his girlfriend around the same time he applied, and she related a story to them that led to his application being rejected. Despite numerous friends telling them that the story was taken out of context, and just a spiteful act by her, the police said that it displayed poor judgement and refused to change their decision.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I got a different message from Spacey’s statement. By saying that he could not remember, but nevertheless apologised for the supposed assault, he’s suggesting that, yes, this is the sort of thing he does. If it wasn’t the sort of thing he does (or could remember ever doing) I think he would seriously doubt the accuser, and say so.

      I find O’Neill’s writing to be often idiotic, but on the narrow point he makes here, that accusations should not be treated as proof, I think he is spot on. We are reifying people’s sometimes very doubtful recall into truth; I think this comes from the notion that people’s lived experiences cannot be doubted. Well, the *existence* of the experience may not be doubted but the *veracity* of it may be, and, I think, often should be. We know this from various studies of memory.

      The problem is that until now the system has been heavily weighted against the vulnerable party in any such interactions, and that vulnerable party has been predominantly female.

      I’m hopeful that what is needed may be happening now. I think we need to adopt a limited form of affirmative action for accusations where it’s one person’s word against another, recognising the difficulty a subordinate has in being believed. How often have we heard that the perp has said that no-one would believe the victim if they told their story? Giving increased credibility to people in this position would, I hope, deter many who are tempted to behave like this in the first place; apart from anything else their reputation would take a hell of a hammering if any accusations are made, and people would avoid meeting in hotel rooms alone to avoid vexatious complaints.

      The flipside of this, of course, is the danger of an increase in those vexatious complaints, but, as hinted above, the need to protect oneself from such accusations will also reduce the opportunity for sexual predators to strike.

      Anyway, this is obviously not an ideal state of affairs, and maybe others will have better suggestions.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        The message that I took from Spacey’s comment was that “Yes, it is quite possible that I hit on you while I was drunk. I’m sorry if I did.” Since nothing serious happened, I saw it as a bit of a witch hunt (new accusations notwithstanding).

      • BJ
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        “I got a different message from Spacey’s statement. By saying that he could not remember, but nevertheless apologised for the supposed assault, he’s suggesting that, yes, this is the sort of thing he does.”

        Whoa, that’s quite a leap. He should be allowed to apologize for the possibility that he did something wrong thirty years ago that he doesn’t remember happening without people assuming that he regularly does such things.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

          Absolutely agree with you there.

          I may well have done something thirty years ago that I can’t remember (drunk or not). How can anyone possibly refute that sort of charge? Unless the accuser can bring some sort of evidence, that should be thrown out court.

          cr

  6. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    It is uncivilized to go to all the effort of creating laws, police forces, and law courts which reach (generally) sound conclusions to then throw it away in favour of mob rule.

    We’ve tried long and hard to get away from mob rule because the mob is too easy to stir up and too difficult to restrain.

    Perhaps alternative ways are needed to record anonymised alleged assaults? This could alert the Police to investigate recurring names without exposing alleged victims details.

    But in the end as long as the personal cost of calling for justice is seen as greater than the personal cost of letting alleged abusers go then more people will suffer the attentions of abusers.

  7. GM
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    >(Estimates of false reports of sexual assaults appear to be between 2% and 10%.)

    That link you provided is citing lots of papers by Lisak, who is a crazy SJW whose “studies” have been quite thoroughly discredited.

    There is no way to know what the real rate of false accusations is given that in so many cases it’s a “she says vs he says” kind of situation with no material evidence whatsoever (BTW, if there is no forensic evidence, how could we even speak of rape to begin with? Yet that does not prevent allegations from being made without it).

    But the 10% rate is a lower bound because those are the reports that the police has shown to be false.

    The real rate of false allegations also includes some significant portion of the cases that were inconclusive for lack of evidence. It may well be closer to half of all cases than it is to 2%.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      “But the 10% rate is a lower bound because those are the reports that the police has shown to be false.”

      Citation, please.

      • GM
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        The Campus Rape Frenzy by Johnson and Taylor discusses that issue quite at length.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      And, as someone who values rational analysis of statistics and their reliability, its’ extremely important to note that these estimates, and any such estimates, are incredibly unreliable, as this kind of thing is basically incalculable. The only reports studies can deem false with any certainty are ones proved false. All others that were never confirmed to be true or false cannot be classified, ans just as it’s difficult to figure out if a claim based on a single person’s hearsay is true, it’s equally difficult to prove one false.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that is a thing, on the one hand we have a lot of sexual assault and rape that does not get reported, on the other there are false accusations.
      For the latter I’ve seen estimates varying from 2 to 24%.(To complicate matters, a retracted accusation does not necessarily mean the accusation was false).
      For the former the estimates vary even more, I’ve heard from 20% to 80%, which means we haven’t got a clue.
      More to the point of the thread, “innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt” is the cornerstone of a functional judiciary, and we do not want to undermine that.
      So my answer is ‘no’

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      What makes you think there can be no rape without forensic evidence? It’s entirely possible; plus, there are attempted rapes, and other lesser-included sexual assaults unlikely to result in the existence of retrievable forensic evidence.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Lisak was the one who produced that deeply flawed paper claiming 90% of campus rapes are committed by serial offenders. I don’t disagree with the idea — it’s very likely that the vast majority of rapes, both on campus and off, are committed by a small number of people who are either psychopaths or deeply deviant — but the methods and data he used were poor and heavily criticized. And it was not the first time a paper of his suffered such scrutiny and subsequent derision.

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Timeliness is also an issue. The NPR employee who was put on indefinite leave for something he did 20 years ago while employed elsewhere shouldn’t be on leave. NPR is just covering its arse to protect its reputation, but they did no wrong. Anything that’s gone past the statute of limitation (if that even applies) with no further allegations should be dropped.

    Drunk drivers almost never drive drunk, either, but if they haven’t done it in 20 years I would assume they have changed their ways.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      At least one NPR current employee has submitted a harassment charge against Michael Oreskes. That’s why they have put him on leave. The head of NPR has explained that it is not due to the NYT charges.

  9. Mark Reaume
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I think that this is one of those issues that has no obvious right answer. It is important to have an atmosphere that is open to accusers so that they can seek justice and have predators removed from their positions of power, this open environment also empowers other victims to come forward. On the other hand this freedom to accuse could be used against people in power if there were no penalties for false accusations.

    In the case where there is no evidence and a single accuser (he said, she said) I don’t know what the right course of action is. The mere act of accusing is quite damaging – especially if played out in public against a public figure. Organizations like Netflix (or the producers of a show or the HR department of an organization) have an obligation to take these accusations seriously so perhaps that is the right venue for the initial investigation, that is to say not in the public square.

    For cases that occurred decades earlier or outside of the work context then the court system is really the only venue that would have any chance of a fair hearing.

    Like I said, I don’t know what the right answer to this issue is.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      “In the case where there is no evidence and a single accuser (he said, she said) I don’t know what the right course of action is.”

      If we assume, in any case that is 50-50 (which is what a he-said-she-said case is), we are doing wrong. We cannot convict someone, either in the court of public opinion or the judicial system, based on the word of a single person and no evidence.

      I would also note that judging the veracity of such a claim based on the accused’s looks, job (say, computer programmer), popularity, etc. would end up targeting many of the most vulnerable people: autisttics, “nerds” (AKA “creepy”), ugly people, the socially awkward, outcasts, and the like.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I am in that area now as well. There are the flaws that are inherent in course of developing formal charges and going to trial, and this path generally requires a high standard of evidence when there may be little evidence.

      Then there are what happens in the court of public opinion and in what employers decide to do. There, I see little interest in having a high standard of proof. So the whole process is very uneven, as Jerry says, and I for one do not know where to go with it except consideration on a case by case basis.

      But one who is repeatedly accused by different people is probably guilty to the point where it is hard to imagine the accusations to be false. The resulting public excoriation and termination from employment is effective, however unjust in the strict legal sense. It must be admitted that this course has benefits. The most likely guilty are punished. And more importantly the public is protected.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Multiple independent accounts of similar behavior really does up the probability of the accused being guilty. Especially when the accounts can be backed up with records or recollections of others they told at the time.

        The Uber engineer who wrote about their corporate culture mentioned HR lying to her about no one else having complained. Breaking the silence and allowing multiple people’s claims to be aired in public helps.

        At the same time, I think it’s important to keep in mind that not all of these incidents are all that serious. Behaving in an aggressive and sexual manner isn’t a crime, just boorish behavior.

  10. sshort
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I am inclined to believe the accusers. The history of men in power taking advantage is not that opaque. Especially to women.

    The internet is the new town square, and if they want to stand and shout down their abusers, so be it.

    That said, lives and careers are at stake (yes, the accusers lives and careers are/were at stake as well. And they claim damage, which should be remedied. Of course). But slander and libel are actionable as well.

    Some opportunists may well spot a MeToo moment and will use this opening for some kind of completely unrelated revenge. I take it there is more than a little jealousy and vindictiveness in Hollywood.

    I am wary MeToo will become this generations Red Scare/Satanic Panic, etc. A citizenry feeling increasingly ineffectual and fragmented will look for any old witch to burn, and they will burn the village down to clean it. And then they will start looking for new villages to purify.

    • GM
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      The history of men in power taking advantage is not that opaque.

      The history of women making up rape allegations is also extremely long.

      • sshort
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        I would entirely agree. I am aware of a colleague (an exceptionally generous and gentle fellow) who spent a year in fear after a very very brief relationship ended, and months later the woman accused him of rape.

        There was a quick trial. His completely unvarnished record and many character witnesses against the woman’s many deceits and problems found him completely innocent.

        But it damaged him emotionally and financially and cost him more than a few weak friendships.

        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          I recently read Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, by Laura Kipnis, which leads me to think that this should all be reviewed in courts of law. And reiterates that people accuse people for many reasons: True harms against them; but also: Revenge, rivalries between colleagues, desire for monetary gain (settlements), etc.

          As many have said on many subjects: It’s more complicated than one might think.

        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          I know a person at a previous employer (and this was 20 years ago) who was demoted from a director position to a line-management position (2+ levels) due to an off-color joke. (I guess at least he kept a job!)

          Not a joke he spoke out loud or even wrote or even forwarded in some way.

          He received it in an email and deleted the email after telling the sender to knock it off by email.

          He was deemed insufficiently zealous in pursuing the person who had sent it to him.

          • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

            It sounds like that was merely an excuse for off-loading a colleague they couldn’t otherwise easily get rid of.

            • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

              He was widely liked and respected; and he had risen rapidly in the organization.

              This employer had plenty of crappy managers. He wasn’t one of them.

              I saw sexual harassment at that employer — but not from this guy.

            • GM
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              But that is precisely the point — if you weaponize accusations, they will be used to settle scores.

            • BJ
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              Who knows. Let’s not forget donglegate and Adria Richards’ successful campaign to have terminated two employees who told a (very, very tame) joke about dongles at a tech conference while sitting behind her in the audience of a talk (she also took their picture, posted it to Twitter, and implicitly encouraged her followers to go after the two men), and similar incidents. You never know when you’re going to run into a constantly offended and highly motivated stranger or coworker!

          • sshort
            Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

            This is way too long, and kinda meta, but..

            Many years back I was standing at a water cooler with a few colleagues and we were laughing about a TV show the night before. A character told a crude joke at a water cooler, and things went hilariously bad for him.

            A young woman walked up to us, a new employee, and asked what we were laughing about. I told her the premise and she wanted to hear the joke. I immediately was on guard. I said it was very crude and she probably didn’t want to hear it. She insisted. I demurred. She insisted again. I said, OK, but I’m just telling you the joke from the show last night, because you want to know what we are laughing about.

            I told the joke.

            Silence.

            More silence. I see the friends I had been laughing with looking stricken.

            “Oh my God” she says. “Oh my God. I can’t believe you said that to me. I’m going to HR.”

            I panicked. I pleaded… “No no no. You asked me. You insisted. I wasn’t going to tell you but you insisted.”

            And then I got it. I laughed! She was having a joke on me! Touché!

            No one else was laughing.

            She turned to go and I grabbed her by the arm (luckily I wasn’t charged with assault) and pleaded again, realizing I could well lose my job. She was dead serious.

            I lived in fear of this person and the summons to HR for a couple of weeks at least before it seemed to have blown over. I still don’t know why she didn’t report me. And I avoided her like the plague after that.

            • Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

              Yikes!

              Have you read Laura Kipnis’s book?

              • sshort
                Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                I definitely intend to now. Thank you.

            • BJ
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              Good on her! I’d like to work with people like her.

              Unfortunately, her prank only works because people like the one she was imitating exist, usually in every office.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

            insufficiently zealous” — Sounds like why no one in the Politburo wanted to be the first to stop applauding after a Stalin speech.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          Yours is a tragic anecdote. Before you “entirely agree” with GM’s assertion, however, you’d be better off considering data.

  11. Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Regardless of whether very few past allegations have been oroven false, using that as a metric by which to judge future allegations and assume that, in each case, the accuser is being truthful, only creates an environment where those who would lie about such events to further their own aims or to hurt someone they don’t like will feel emboldened that their lies will be easily believed. In the current environment, a casual accusation punctuated by a popular hash tag is enough to ruin a person even if it does not lead to conviction and the only recourse is libel, which would be seen as a tool of oppression, and a successful retraction merely the accuser submitting to the power of the accused.

  12. Paul
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the whole ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ concept founded on the idea that it’s better to let someone guilty walk free than put an innocent person in jail?

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Precisely, but it does presuppose that all crimes have the same standards of evidence, which may be an idealization that should be discarded.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Well, if that is the case, surely the crimes with the highest standards of evidence should be the ones that have the biggest effect on the accused should they be convicted. If you are convicted of sexual assault, the consequences for you are pretty severe (rightly so if you did it), so the standards of evidence should therefore be quite high, right?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

          That’s exactly my feeling. A severe penalty should demand conclusive evidence.

          And maybe all potential victims (that means, everybody) should be warned, “If you expect us to do anything about this, you report it immediately, while there’s potential evidence to be gathered. Otherwise, just forget it”.

          After all, would anyone be interested in investigating a burglary that wasn’t reported till a year later?

          cr

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Should it be discarded, do you have a suggested replacement?

  13. colnago80
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    A textbook example of the vice of single accusers is the current brouhaha about an accusation against Neil Tyson that has gone viral on the Internet (I am not going to link to any of the sites repeating this claim as it refers to an alleged incident that allegedly took place 35 years ago). So far, the mainstream media has been ignoring this story, properly so, because of the long time interval and because, so far, there have been no other such allegations. As professor Coyne has stated, usually this sort of conduct is not an isolated event (see Geoff Marcy).

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    There is one celebrity caught up in this in which:

    a) there is only one accusation
    b) At least four people close to him are convinced he is innocent.

    That would be Woody Allen. This is relevant here because the exoneratiing evidence is ignored in the media.

    Allen’s older stepson with Mia Farrow, Moses Farrow, is thoroughly convinced of his innocence. So also was Dory Previn (deceased 2012) the previous wife of Andre Previn before the latter left her for Mia Farrow. Finally, there is Woody Allen’s biographer, Eric Lax (author of 4 books on Allen), and one of the original investigators in 1992 of the alleged molestation.

    Dory Previn was convinced Mia Farrow invented the molestation incident based on her pop song from 1970 “Daddy in the Attic”. (This is from the same album that has her song damning Farrow in strong terms “Beware of Young Girls”.)

    Moses Farrow is 7-8 years older than Ronan. He was 14 with both the Soon-Yi and alleged molestation of Dylan Farrow went down. At 14, he wrote an angry letter to Allen saying he [Allen] had destroyed his [Moses’] dream of fatherhood and he hoped Allen committed suicide. But over the years while living in the Farrow home, Moses became increasingly convinced Mia Farrow had fabricated the incident. He gives several reasons, among which are that his train set was never in the attic at any time. He now has a strong friendship with Allen, and has broken ties with the Farrow family.

    When the alleged molestation was the subject of a brief police investigation, afterwards one of the three investigators (a female) stated she was convinced that Mia Farrow had deliberately fabricated the incident in revenge for Soon-Yi, and gave specific reasons including Dylan giving several mutually inconsistent versions of the story.

    Eric Lax’s most recent book on Allen published a month ago also outlines a good case for his defense.

    Consider the media coverage Mariel Hemingway’s 2014 autobiography, Therein she recounts FOUR(!!) Hollywood figures who hit on her between the age of 18 and 20. The only one who does NOT act like Harvey Weinstein is Woody Allen!!!
    The other three (all named Bob- Robert DeNiro, Bob Fosse, and Robert Towne) all throw temper tantrums and get aggressive. Fosse says angrily, “No actress in any of my movies has ever turned me down.” Only Allen gently backs away!!! She worked with him again 15 years later.
    Had her book been published this month, IMO, there would be a different focus, but when she published in 2014, ALL the attention was on Allen!!

    So, yes, public opinion is a bad court!!

  15. claudia baker
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    “…groping, creepy remarks, penises being exposed…” – yup, I have experienced all of that my whole life too. It’s almost a relief to be older now, and not have to endure it any more. And, isn’t THAT a sad thing to have to say?

    As for O’Neill’s comment that we all have “foggy memories” about things that happened a long time ago. No, Mr. O’Neill. When someone stops their car, on the pretence of asking for directions, and then exposes himself to you when you are a 15-yer-old girl, you remember every fucking detail as if it was yesterday.

    The only suggestion I have as to how to stop this kind of behaviour is to keep talking about it. Make people aware and hopefully, today’s young boys will grow up to abhor it as much as women already do.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Speaking as a man that should – at a rate of 1 men for every 4 women according to a recent poll – and indeed have been sexually harassed many times, I also hope young girls will grow up to abhor it as much as men already do. Not that I haven’t been groped and maybe pinched by men too (it is hard to tell on dance floors), but women have been the worst and most numerous harassers. Frankly I am glad that this is doing the rounds, even if men has been less eager to #metoo. But we should realize that we all are victims here.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Oops, not “should”, but “could easily be”. I seem to have been unlucky here, as I average as lifetime victim of violence. (But I was happy to note that now the gap between men and women has shrunk from much more often victim towards parity, as Sweden’s statistics is now down from much higher numbers to 3 % victims/year for men and 2 % victims/year for women.)

        Mind that we need statistics on this, polls are just a start.

        • claudia baker
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Not to say that your experiences aren’t real or unpleasant, but the difference between being groped on a dance floor (by a male or female, as you said), and having a fully, erect penis exposed to a 15-year-old (innocent, inexperienced) female by a pervy older man, are light years apart on the trauma scale, IMO.

          • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

            And there’s always the power imbalance between (essentially every) encounter between women and men. Men can physically overpower women. This is almost never true in the other direction.

            Women are under more threat from men than the other way around. I think this is (much of) the basis of the greater trauma for women in these situations.

            (Speaking the obvious I suppose; but we shouldn’t forget this.)

            • GBJames
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

              So it goes with sexual selection.

            • nicky
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, one could argue that generally a sexual assault is felt more strongly by women than men.
              I mean, if, say, a male is grabbed in the groin by a female, he will most probably not have sleepless nights about it, a female grabbed by the pussy more probably would (unless the grabber is a celebrity, of course. They let them do it. /s).
              And yes, there might be some obvious evolutionary underlying causes.

              • BJ
                Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                She we punish men more for the same crime as a woman because it can have a greater emotional effect? It seems to me that if two people do the same thing, the potential sentence should be the same. We can’t say, “sorry, men, but sexual assault against you just isn’t worth as much because you’re tough enough to take it.”

  16. Liz
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    “If you have solutions to the pervasive problem of sexual harassment and assault, given that many aren’t reported and there is no proof for many, put it below.”

    I posted a little bit about possible solutions in a response to a previous post on here discussing Laura Kipnis and Unwanted Advances, the book she wrote.
    “. . .sexual education in public schools and at home should attempt to emphasize mutual respect when it comes to sex. Parents, teachers, church leaders, and maybe doctors also, need to promote mutual respect as a key component in addition to condoms etc. in sex education. It would also be good for educators to talk about how sex is okay and not to be shamed by it. . .People are uncomfortable with sex for the most part. (My observation in general) It’s sinful or sacred or I don’t know what. I could be wrong on this but I think what’s also missing from sex education is that women should be taught how to be comfortable with and men should be taught how to “give” orgasms. It naturally happens for men in sexual intercourse and most times women are left without. I could be totally wrong but that might be part of the problem also.”

    I used to think that the people who practice “Continuum” or whatever it is where the families don’t use strollers and practice “family bed” were very, very weird. It was just odd to think that the two parents would sleep in the same bed as their children and have sex in front of them. A friend’s older brother married a woman who wanted to practice that and that’s what they do. She was breast-feeding the first boy until he was five. Five. There is a scene in the movie Away We Go where the two main characters visit a family friend who practices that life style. I would laugh and “judge” and think about how odd it was that my friend’s brother was doing that when I watched it. Now, though, I don’t think it’s that odd considering how damaged so many people are about sex. Sex is healthy and should be encouraged. Mutual respect is also important. I’m not advocating the Continuum way, to clarify. I’m just saying it really isn’t that odd, or shouldn’t be that odd, to see your parents (cringe) I don’t know. A different approach to sex education in general could possibly help.

    • Liz
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      The quoted part is my own from a previous post.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      The “have sex in front of them” (or not) does have variability across the world’s sociocultural groups, as does the age of weaning.

      (This is data, not a conclusion either way about what *should* be done.)

      • Liz
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for sharing. Variability in what way? I’m just curious.

        • Adam M.
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

          I can’t give a reference but I remember reading years ago that in some cultures women breastfeed as long as the child still wants it, which can be as long as six years. Their interest gradually tapers off over time rather than mother imposing a sudden stop to it.

          It’s probably healthier. It’s a very nourishing food. Personally I think mothers should be breastfeeding for longer than three or six or twelve months, but of course that’s easy for me to say. 🙂

          • Liz
            Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            Okay. That’s interesting. It’s really neat that our bodies produce milk to keep the babies alive. Most of my friends and cousins have babies or have had in the last few years. Most breast-feed for as long as they can (usually less than a year if even six months) or pump milk to give in daycare. I might do this lifetime without as if lifetimes is a real concept. That’s how it feels, though- like I already did that before. I think if it happened I would consider breast-feeding until the baby doesn’t want to anymore. Unless he or she turned two. I would say, “Okay. That’s enough.” Or if the world goes to hell or Yellowstone goes and the only food for the child is what’s coming from my breasts, I guess I’d play it by ear.

        • Posted November 7, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

          Inuit, for example, live a few months of the year in snow houses (the proverbial “igloo”). If you live with an extended family in one of those, everything you do is in view.

          The interesting thing to me is that a recent book about Inuit attitudes *now* is that at least the elders interviewed have changed their minds. I wonder if this is due to almost full Christianization – and of course most Inuit do not live in igloos as much anymore.

          • Liz
            Posted November 8, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

            That’s interesting. What is the book?

  17. Jamie
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    It is a difficult and serious subject, and I do not think one, or even a number of accusations ought to suffice to demonize someone, but O’Neill’s argument is pretty lame.

    First of all the memory thing… If a child is actually molested, or even approached in a creepy way by a respected powerful adult, that is likely to make a strong impression… especially if it was traumatic. So, no, I don’t doubt the accuser’s memory because it was a long time ago, and I don’t give much weight to the notion that the accused would necessarily remember with the same vividness, something that was perhaps just business as usual for them. There is no reason to expect it to stick in the accused’s mind, but there is every reason to expect it to stick in the accuser’s mind. We have a culture of shame and embarrassment surrounding all things sexual, which is enough to explain why it might not be reported at the time, and we also have a tendency to “forget” early traumatic events, which can explain thirty years of silence. But traumatic events are never truly forgotten and can resurface under certain conditions, so one line of evidence to look at that is often overlooked is the circumstances surrounding the accuser’s memory… was it forgotten? if not, why come forward only now? was the memory recently recovered? and if so, how did that happen? Such inquiry could, in some cases, lend evidentiary weight for or against a claim.

    We are meant to side with the accused.

    Meant by whom? God? Churchill? Who, exactly, is the arbiter of what is “civilized”? And if he can claim a “civilized” society would “side with the accused”, cannot I claim with equal validity that a “civilized” society would not manifest sexual predation to begin with? Do we think, as good determinists, that sexual predation must be “caused” by something? Or was it a deplorable act of “free will”? Demonizing the accused ought not to happen (in a “civilized” society) even if they did the deed. A rational justice system would look for ways to ameliorate the problem, to treat the underlying causes, to safeguard our children… not to tar and feather anyone accused.

    If a single accusation without proof were enough to destroy a person’s livelihood and social standing, then powerful people would buy false accusations for political purposes. If multiple accusations were required, then they would pay for multiple accusations. Which is why even a number of evidence free accusations do not warrant conviction. Although we seethe with anger at the apparent impunity of sexual predators, convicting without evidence would be a far worse situation. We need a better scientific understanding of compulsion and its remedies, more satisfying adult sexual relationships and a lessening of shame and fear surrounding sex to be what I would call “civilized”.

    • Jamie
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Sorry I didn’t properly close my blockquote.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      The US system (and I presume the UK one, from which our derived) does side with the accused, on principle:

      1. Beyond a reasonable doubt standard of evidence (criminal trials).
      2. Presumed innocent until proved guilty.
      3. No secret trials.
      4. Right confront one’s accuser, examine their witnesses, provide their own defense.
      5. Right to not testify to convict oneself.

      Etc.

      The logic is that it’s better to let a guilty person free than to punish an innocent one. Which, if you imagine being imprisoned (or executed, which has certainly happened many times in the USA) for something you didn’t do, seems pretty reasonable.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      IIRC, studies show that the trauma or vividness associated with an event make it more likely that the event will be stored in a victim’s long-term memory, but are not guarantors of the accuracy of the details of that memory.

  18. Historian
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Many of these accusations are regarding incidents that took place decades ago in a Hollywood environment. That is, if people did not accede to the advances made by persons in power, their careers would be jeopardized. Now the wall of silence is coming down as victims are coming forward with their stories. If just one person makes an accusation against an alleged attacker and the incident took place decades ago, we are in a “he said, she said” situation if the alleged attacker denies the incident. However, if several people come forward then we must give the stories credibility. Unless one is a conspiracy theorist, it is hard to deny that at least some of the stories are true. It seems that predators engage in multiple attacks, so I am quite willing to believe that Cosby and Weinstein are predators and probably Spacey.

    In today’s atmosphere an accusation against a person of prominence could end that person’s career and cause a significant financial hit, which has happened to Weinstein, Cosby, and Spacey. Is this fair? Assuming the incidents took place, my judgment would be based on when the alleged incidents took place and the number of them. If the accused engaged in only one or two acts many decades ago and never since, I would not ruin that person’s career and life. However, if these persons have engaged in many of these incidents up to the recent past then I think they deserve everything they get.

  19. Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Recently a teacher and friend of my brother was accused of molesting two young teen boys. Despite his loud and desperate claims of innocence, he lost his job, his reputation, his marriage, his home and his family. Just before trial all charges were dropped as it turned out the two fine young fellows had lied. They had been caught by the teacher vandalizing school property and disciplined. The molestation accusations were “pay-back”.

    So yeah, always believe the victim?

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      This sounds familiar to me, did this happen in Cambridge WI?
      No, hearsay isn’t evidence as mikeyc’s story illustrates, it really just irresponsible gossip in most cases. A friend of friend told me. . . if it’s a criminal charge then it’s a matter for the courts and then the standard must be beyond a reasonable doubt. If on the other hand, the consequences are tantamount to a slap on the wrist, then perhaps the preponderance of evidence is enough–no soup for you.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        Cambridge WI? Could very well be. The teacher is a friend of my brother’s from college (I don’t know him) but I am pretty sure he lives in WI.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      There have been some high profile *and public* investigations into well known people in the UK and the allegations have been shown to be complete fantasies.

      Some of the alleged abusers, now cleared during the investigations, are suing the police services *and broadcasters* for making the start of the investigations into a public circus.

      Poorer people cannot afford to sue – they just have to put up with the life-affecting consequences of false accusations.

      I’ve argued that the anonymity granted to alleged victims before the trial should also be granted to the alleged perpetrators.
      Otherwise you stir up ‘me too’ claims whether they are true or not.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think anonymity should be granted to either. Transparency is the most important aspect of legal proceedings in maintaining it’s integrity. Further, we don’t break down the shame culture when we hide the victims names.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        I think the false-accusers should be prosecuted and should go to jail. For a term at least equal to that which their victims might have been subject to.

        (And subject of course to ‘reasonable doubt’ caveats).

        But then I also think no-one should be convicted on someone else’s unsupported word.

        cr

      • Posted November 4, 2017 at 5:10 am | Permalink

        I’ve argued that the anonymity granted to alleged victims before the trial should also be granted to the alleged perpetrators.

        Agreed.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Your story is too bad for the guy but I must say has nothing to do with sexual harassment in the workplace or in Hollywood. Little kids make stuff up sometimes as your example shows but again, this is kids.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        I know and you are correct. But I was trying to address the overall issue of “always believing accusers”. Little kids lie all the time, it’s true. But so do adults.

        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. From many motives: Revenge, monetary gain, besting a rival (getting them “out of the way”), etc.

  20. Ryan
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure discussion on this topic matters. Human nature makes the answer inevitable.

    Who cares if you need a conviction to throw Spacey in jail; he will always be guilty in the court of public opinion, and ruining his career and reputation serves a very similar purpose.

  21. Stephen Barnard
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    This viral episode of sex harassment (and worse) accusations against celebrities has the feel of a moral panic. I’m not excusing the behavior of pigs like Cosby and Weinstein, but moral panics are, by definition, dangerous, and innocent people tend to get caught up in them, while attention-seeking, self-righteous opportunists prosper.

  22. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Is the word of a single person, contested by the accused, nevertheless sufficient to demonize someone and ruin their career?

    Absolutely. It is the nature of some offenses — especially those of a sexual nature — that they tend to occur in private, in the absence of potential third-party witnesses. No one’s entitled to one free shot at sexual abuse. (To my knowledge, the only crime for which the testimony of a single witness is legally insufficient is treason.)

    The requirement of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” applies only in criminal cases, of course. In civil lawsuits for sexual harassment — or for the tort of battery (which includes any unwanted touching) — the burden of proof is merely by a “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning more likely than not).

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I would certainly concur with the lawyer when speaking of the legal but would like to say there is a definite difference between sexual harassment and actual sexual assault and rape. In the workplace they can be handled in different ways. An assault or rape accusation should be going to the police. However, accusation of sexual harassment is not normally in the police area and they are not likely to spend much time, if any, on them.

      I have said before in comments what should be happening regarding sexual harassment and also have plenty of experience in the workforce with this issue. You do not prevent it with classes, it simply does not work. Your company or institution must have an educated, professional unit who investigate these accusations to determine the truth. The company also must have a specific system of reporting any accusations to insure it is done safely, in a discreet manner. One of the reasons the sexual harasser can get away with it for years is fear. Fear of reporting and what will happen to the accuser in companies who have no system in place. Mr O’Neill would do well to think about all of the victims who never come forward for fear of what will happen. Mostly all they can do is quit. To just make statements about those accused is just a little lame to me.

      • Historian
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I agree with you that sexual harassment classes will do little to dissuade those who are intent on doing it. But, such classes may be beneficial in preventing harassment by those who do not know what harassment is. In every organization you can find a percentage of clueless men who think, for example, there is nothing wrong in patting a woman’s butt. They think that such actions are harmless ways to show women that they are liked. Education could serve as a wake-up call for these men that such actions are not acceptable and disrespect women.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          It can introduce some to the problem, yes. But it does nothing to solve or even reduce the problem in the workplace. At least it did not in the company I worked for. If you do not have a proper system for the victims to use in reporting sexual harassment you have nothing. Our system required every supervisor, every person, every manager to report any accusations of sexual harassment within two hours to the HR department. And that is all you do. You do not question the person, you do not attempt to investigate, nothing. Why, because you do not know what the hell you are doing. After that, a proper team or person from eeo investigation comes in and does the rest.

          • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

            ” If you do not have a proper system for the victims to use in reporting sexual harassment you have nothing.”

            This is perfectly correct too.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          … clueless men who think, for example, there is nothing wrong in patting a woman’s butt.

          Poppy Bush, for example, though in his instance it’s unclear if the recent cluelessness is attributable to sexism or senescence.

        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          This is exactly correct, Historian.

          And the classes/training (I am required to take it every year) creates an atmosphere that does not condone/ignore harassment. It’s also a reminder to everyone to be aware, pay attention.

  23. darrelle
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Definitely a tough issue. Periods of change always involve problems. The more rapid the change the bigger the problems. Right now one change our society is going through is that the general zeitgeist of what women’s (and children’s, LGBT+?’s, minorities’, ??) proper place and standing in our society is, which has been changing for some time, has reached a tipping point where it can result in rapid change of status quo situations that have persisted for most of human history.

    Throughout most of our history women generally didn’t get much justice by reporting sexual harassment, or even rape, to the proper authorities. Often just the opposite. Now, that’s been changing. Now more and more they are getting something positive out of reporting such assaults. I regret that some men will suffer unjustly because of over-reaction. I understand that some small percentage of instances will be women lying with malice aforethought. That sucks. It’s also no different than any other category of crime.

    But however we handle this we should not do anything that might reverse the trend of women being more willing to speak up when they are victims of sexual harassment, assault or rape. We should not do anything to reverse the trend of being less willing to accept tropes such as ‘men will be men’ and less willing to give powerful men a pass because they are powerful.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      “It’s also no different than any other category of crime.” I guess you meant ‘different ‘from”?
      I disagree with you there. Sexual assault and rape are different, because it is nearly always a “she says / he says” situation, much less so for other crimes.
      I second your last paragraph though.

      • darrelle
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        You may be right, that there is a difference in scale. But I am not sure. Right now I am dealing with a real nasty person, an older adult, in my neighborhood who has been bullying my son (13 years old) for some time. Verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, restraining him by blocking his movement and making false reports to the police. Most recently he told the police that he wanted them to file assault charges against my son. I want to be real clear here that this person is a lying sack of shit. He is attempting to use the police to punish my son under entirely false pretenses.

        This is all he said / He said as far as the police are concerned. Luckily for us the police don’t believe the geriatric bully. But they have done fuck all about it, likely for several reasons. To them it is a very minor case. It is entirely he said / He said / they said. When its an elderly person vs a child, who is going to get more respect? The adult.

        So what’s been done? The police have assured my son that he hasn’t done anything wrong and they’ve told him that any time he sees the geriatric bully to avoid him by going the other way. If justice worked as well as it should the geriatric bully would be legally sanctioned / punished for bullying a child, threatening a child with violence, restraining a child against his will, for lying to the police and for attempting to get the police to lay a completely bogus charge of assault on my son.

        I can’t begin to describe how unsatisfactory to me it is that my son has to live in a constant state of anxiety about encountering this bully any time he is about the neighborhood while the bully hasn’t got a damn thing to worry about. This helps me to imagine how it must be for women traditionally regarding male sexual “bullies”.

        That went a bit off topic. Just trying to say that I think in practice many types of crime situations amount to nothing more than he said / they said, even though in theory, or in idealistic simplified models, they needn’t be limited to that.

        • GBJames
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          You may want to get your son to wear a little body camera and wear it when he’s in situations where he might encounter the geriatric bully. It is remarkable what video evidence will do to changes from he-Said/he-Said to “it really happened and here’s the evidence”.

          I got one of these little things for $50 a couple years ago to experiment with. Small, discrete… records audio…

          • darrelle
            Posted November 6, 2017 at 7:14 am | Permalink

            That sounds like a good idea.

        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

          Your son’s story reminds me of junior high. Bullying has a big impact on the victim.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 4, 2017 at 4:03 am | Permalink

          What a nightmare, Darrelle! My heart goes out to you and your son.

          And I appreciate what you said in both this and your previous post. I think it’s telling that in many of the current cases, the floodgates only opened when one brave woman spoke up. Traditionally, the person with the least amount of power in any relationship has been at a severe disadvantage. I also think it’s telling the way the press makes a big deal whenever “even some high profile actresses” (thinking of the Weinstein case here, of course) come forth with corroborative stories of harassment and assault. In a perfect world, the status of the accuser shouldn’t matter; but it’s hard to avoid the impression that accusations from more prominent victims hold more water…

          • darrelle
            Posted November 6, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

            Thank you Diane.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    [I lost track since I need to caffeinate, maybe I have already attempted to post this:]

    I am not sure that legal punishment or treatment is ineffective, the rape rates are diminishing in instances that do use that. (Even if Sweden got a temporary jump when the laws were centered around “consented sex else rape”.

    The legal system should apply here as elsewhere, but it is also a balance with seeing to the interest of others to prevent harm. And what do we do when a person – like Spacey did – him- or herself vouch for voluntary “treatment” (regardless of what it really means)?

    As side notes:

    – I knew that Hollywood had this power structure and rumors of systematic harassment, but I did not realize it would extend to stars like Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman and Ben Affleck, who all now has confessed to harassment [ https://www.thewrap.com/kevin-spacey-dropped-caa-publicist-staci-wolfe/ ].

    – The way this was going, it likely would appear anonymous charges that Spacey is a repeat paedophile and attempted child – less than 18 years of age – rapist [ https://www.thewrap.com/kevin-spacey-attempted-rape-teen/ ].

    [The Wrap is described by Wikipedia – with references – as “an entertainment and media news website … with commentary from industry heavyweight guest “Hollybloggers”,” whatever the last means.]

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      So this was an earlier draft. The only change I would like to redo is that the actors admitted to “harassment actions”, since some labeled it ‘unfortunate actions’ or something like that. A notpology of sorts.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      So, if I understand correctly, the 14 year old was f–ing 26 year old Spacey. That is a whole kind of different ‘angle'(no pun), immo.

  25. Jake Sevins
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I worry about two things here: (1) that publishing details about an allegation allows others to make corroborating accusations that seem to strengthen the case, even if the accusers are making things up, and (2) the first accusation against someone might spur other accusers to re-interpret past events they had thought were “no big deal” and decide they were abject instances of harassment.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      ‘No big deal’ does not equate to ‘wasn’t harassment’. For example, when I was a teen in high school, I worked part time as a nurse’s aide at a local home for the elderly. There was one old man there who would expose himself to female employees and his hand would regularly drop to grope the bottom of an aide assisting him into bed.

      Exposing yourself to the people who are also charged with bathing you and taking you to the toilet is no big deal. Butt gropes aren’t a big deal either, particularly not back in the 70’s. But this was absolutely deliberate sexual harassment.

  26. rickflick
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    What seems clear is that there are many cases where there simply is not enough physical evidence to prove one way or another who’s telling the truth. One solution might be to perfect the lie-detector process to the point where it works reliably. Some day there may be means, probably a cluster of tests including brain scans, that taken together resolves the ambiguity of he-said/she-said. For the time being, I see no easy fix.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Trained EEO investigators can generally get to the truth of any sexual harassment accusations. That is what they are trained for and they do it all the time. It involves questioning all the people around the area where it happened but first much questioning of the accuser and the accused. Sexual harassment almost always involves a person in power, the supervisor or manager of the other person and interviews with others who worked for this supervisor generally will find the truth. Think of these people as the Muellers of sexual harassment investigation.

      • rickflick
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        If that is the case why is there any controversy about these high profile cases? Why is this thread 26 comments long? It appears that EEO is not being used to get to the bottom of any of the cases in question.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          The eeo would only be involved in sexual harassment, not sexual assault or rape, that are for the police. Also, the eeo may only be working, from the federal level thru other federal agencies and organizations. I worked for a semi-federal institution and years ago we could call in federal eeo people to investigate sexual harassment. We later established our own unit of investigators that worked in the legal and HR departments.

          If in fact, the EEOC does go out to non government businesses, I am not aware of it. I should look into that??

      • nicky
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Yes, they do reach a conclusion, but how do we know it is the truth?

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          All I can do is recommend that any and all who want to know more about it, google some of the information available on line. EEOC and sexual harassment investigation. These folks have been in the business for many years. I have seen them in action and seen the work they did for years in our company. If your business or corporation sets up a proper EEO type office for handling this problem it will nearly eliminate it. The fact is, many companies do not do this. Certainly Hollywood has done nothing.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      The standard polygraph machine is an efficacious tool for the police to use in eliciting a confession from a guilty suspect. As science, however, it’s naught but pseudoscience. (As the urban legend has it, a couple wires from a metal colander atop a suspect’s head leading back to a copying machine containing a sheet of paper on which is written “HE’S LYING!” works as well.)

  27. Historian
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    When considering the credibility of the accusations made against the Hollywood powerful, we need to consider the possible motivations of the accusers. Here are some possible motivations:

    1. Revenge against the accused for a perceived action by the accused not related to the actual accusation.
    2 The publicity the accuser receives will somehow enhance that person’s career.
    3. Possible civil action against the accused with the probability of a large monetary award.
    4.A genuine desire to publicly state a long, haunting memory and to warn others about the accused.

    It seems to me that motivations one through three are highly unlikely, at least for the great majority of accusers, since many of the alleged incidents took place decades ago. In my estimation, the motivation of the great majority of accusers is to out a predator and to contribute to changing a culture of harassment that seemingly engulfs many of the powerful in the Hollywood community.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I found the most damaging to Weinstein that interview with an established Hollywood star when asked what advice she could give to upcoming ‘wannabees’ “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a party in ‘The Four Seasons'(?), don’t go!”

  28. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I of all people certainly don’t believe we should abandon the presumption of innocence. But Brendan O’Neill is talking about public opinion, not legal procedure. I know of no means for controlling the former, other than commonsense and equanimous ratiocination (and both of those seem in rather short supply these days).

    Let’s not overlook that the falsely accused can seek to clear their names by means of bringing a lawsuit for slander against their accusers (as Dear Leader promised to do — but conspicuously hasn’t — against the numerous women who came forward after release of his infamous hot-mic, pussgrab tape). Alternatively, the accused could waive any applicable statute-of-limitations defense and allow a criminal prosecution to proceed, in which case they would be entitled to the protective mantle of the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      “Let’s not overlook that the falsely accused can seek to clear their names by means of bringing a lawsuit for slander against their accusers…” That may clear one’s name legally, but it rarely results in the same effect with the public (assuming it has already turned against the falsely accused).

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I think O’Neill spent far too much time on line looking at all the mass of junk that hits every section of the web. Then he reacts to the tons of rubbish that is always there and assumes this is people everywhere. No Mr. O’Neill, it is people and opinions on line.

  29. Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Hearsay should never lead to conviction, but evidence and dialogue help. Here are some of my thoughts on major points.

    I. Criminal vs. Civil – Whole Life Picture and Actions for Reparation Matter
    Tarnished reputations can be as bad as civil punishment. Trump, for example, has little respect from millions of Americans mostly based on previous allegations which are not legally recognized as harassment. As a package, Trump largely deserves his reputation: vile and cowardly and unrepentant. To first order Spacey does not appear to have caused as many to suffer as Weinstein, Crosby, Trump, or others like them.

    II. Time
    Waiting several years (>5 or >10 for minors) to make an accusation is problematic. In the case of celebrities, it is hard to interpret what are the motivations of an accuser who waits so long. In the case of domestic abuse, which can persist for decades, we are as much to blame for not recognizing harassment in plain sight and doing nothing about it.

    III. Minors
    Where are the parents? Child actors, in particular, should be required to have parents or guardians at all times. Hollywood should learn from athletes: parents who are involved with and communicate to their kids and their kid’s athletic organizations can severely restrict the probabilities of their kids being molested.

    III. Discussion and Openness
    It’s always better to talk about these issues. Society can develop engineering and administrative controls that help prevent these issues, but continued discussion is useful. It provides more information and data about how to prevent or resolve issues in the future.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      On II Time – a number of the accusers for in anecdotes about Trump, Cosby and Weinstein have been corroborated with written records or reports from others they told the tale too at the time. And Weinstein, at least, is claimed to have worked at controlling the publicity accusations would receive. Cosby, Weinstein and O’Reilly are all now known to have bought silence from women they mistreated.

  30. bundorgarden
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I wonder why Anthony Rapp decided to come forward with this accusation after such a long time, particularly knowing that it could well destroy Kevin Spacey’s career.

    Is it publicity seeking on his part or did the alleged act damage Rapp emotionally to such an extent that making such an accusation public is justifiable? I suspect the former. Or perhaps there is another reason.

    I saw one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers on TV accusing him of squeezing her boob (quite a long time ago). I couldn’t help but get the impression she was getting her fifteen minutes of fame.

    • Jamie
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      We may never know the answer to “why now?” in this particular case, but many victims of sexual assault feel disempowered to talk about it. (Abused children are often explicitly told, both by the perpetrator and sometimes by their parents, never to mention it to anyone… they may be terrified of the event becoming known.) But if such a person ends up in therapy it is quite likely that the memory will become an issue and the therapist may recommend talking openly about it, even years later. Some therapists will go further and recommend some action be taken. Even if a therapist recommends against, for instance, confronting the perpetrator, discussing the issue in therapy and hearing that the victim is not at fault may empower such a person to seek some kind of retribution… again, even years later. The passage of time, in other words, is not an indictment of the motives of the purported victim.

  31. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    It constitutes “hearsay alone” only if the alleged victim is unwilling to speak out publicly (or to testify) him-or-herself.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      I think you know what people mean when they say hearsay in a general sense rather than a legal one. In much of this post, Jerry is very clearly talking about the court of public opinion.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        My point is that there’s a crucial distinction between allegations merely attributed to a victim (in the press or otherwise) by some third-party (quintessential “hearsay”) and alleged victims who are willing to come out and make those allegations themselves, in the first person, subject to public questioning (be it cross-examination or a less-formal Q&A setting).

        • BJ
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          Fair enough. Perhaps I should have said the word “hearsay” is being used here in the colloquial sense.

  32. Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Someone (who was such a victim) once told me that one way to help victims of sexual assault was to make sex less moralized. (She blamed puritanism, for example.) She said her assault hurt, it was nasty and wrong to do something like that against her will, but she doesn’t consider it any different than if she had been kicked or knifed. I am not sure this is right as to the “no different” but perhaps there’s something to do it. (One can take the suggestion “part way”.)

    As for the specific question about “convicting in public opinion” I have no easy answer, but one thing to think about is what I do when I design systems: what happens if they fail? So, what happens if someone really is accused wrongly? What happens then? I think *that* has to guide the policy, unless we knew in advance that there were a vanishingly small number of false accusations. I have no idea what the figures are, of course, but it strikes me that they cannot be 1 in a billion or whatever that would be some “magic number” to not worry about.

  33. BJ
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Before I begin my comment, a note: I’m not trying to in any way downplay anything that has happened throughout this wide-ranging scandal. I’m merely trying to apply a Bayesian analysis to what has happened.

    Before generalizing what is coming out about harassment and assault in Hollywood to the wider world, we need to remember two things: (1) Hollywood is a nigh-completely isolated bubble in which the most powerful and popular have (or had, up until now) the power to do whatever they want, and (2) as far as I’ve seen, every person who has been accused so far is in their 50’s or older.

    Let’s address number two first. The fact that all the accusations are being levied against older actors who started and rose to stardom in a different era of Hollywood should suggest — until this scandal hits the younger generation even half as hard as it has the older — that the people being accused started their careers during and are from a different time. Just as corporate culture was saturated with and found acceptable cosnsistent harassment of women in the workplace three decades ago, the same was surely true of Hollywood, and of the actors and higher-ups of the time. One can assume, until evidence suggesting otherwise, that things are different with the younger generation.

    With regard to the first point, we can say that, according to a Bayesian analysis, there is not yet reason to generalize the scandal in Hollywood to the wider world and/or current corporate culture. Surely there is some harassment and assault today, and there always will be, as that is the nature of crime, statistics, and the constant proportion of psychopaths to the general population. As of now, this scandal and the revelations contained are restricted in their reporting to Hollywood, which is a completely different world and culture with entirely unique power dynamics in comparison to the wider world.

    What I find of particular interest is that conservatives have been saying this was/is the culture in Hollywood for at least three decades, but everyone on the left dismissed them as conspiracy theorists. I at least partially did myself. It’s clear that some of their claims were correct, and we should have listened.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      All of the above is to say that, no, we should absolutely not ever convict people on hearsay, along with the various reasons that have been repeatedly explained regarding the 50-50 nature he-said-she-said cases, the risk of putting an enormous amount of innocent people through absolute hell/loss of employment/ostracization/loss of money to lawsuits, etc., and the simple reason that such behavior is not how a just society should ever act.

      I would also note that I’ve had one crazy ex-girlfriend threaten to accuse me of rape if I broke up with her, and two threaten to commit suicide. All three stalked me for various amounts of time, and two of them regularly harassed me to have sex when I would repeatedly tell them no (and after I broke up with them). And I haven’t even had that many relationships. I know several men who have similar experiences. Women do these things too, but often in different ways (though women in power are usually very direct when they do it, as the boss of a friend of mine, who forced him to do things for the promise of promotion/to keep his job).

      Though I am quite certain that, at least when it comes to the direct route, women don’t do this nearly as often as men.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      “(1) Hollywood is a nigh-completely isolated bubble in which the most powerful and popular have (or had, up until now) the power to do whatever they want, and (2) as far as I’ve seen, every person who has been accused so far is in their 50’s or older.”

      I dunno, as the saying goes, Washington, D.C., is just Hollywood for ugly people.

      Also, I think you’re employing a fairly loose definition of “Bayesian.” 🙂

      • BJ
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        I am employing a loose definition. I didn’t want to go into a nitty-gritty analysis, assuming most people wouldn’t care. A Bayesian analysis can be used on point two, and while it could be helpful on point one, it’s less useful.

    • Hunt
      Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      My thoughts as well. Hollywood is a time capsule and more than likely the bad behavior has origins in a culture that formed mid-20th century, the heyday of “fuck your way to the top” Hollywood. No doubt certain elements of Weinstein’s personality (and Cosby, Spacey, etc.) just thought he was following the operative rules. But the times have changed. People operating in these bubbles are prone to being “caught out” by society at large, which isn’t in the bubble. It was never a moral system to begin with, and definitely those swayed by it, and particularly those who relished it, were never nice guys. But I doubt they’re the personification of evil either. What we’re witnessing is the sins of the past exposed to the light of the present day.

      The same kind of thing can hit young people as well, when they’re caught acting inside a “culture” that is somehow morally frozen in the past. I’m thinking of college frat culture and drunken revelers who end up committing acts that society at large deems despicable. This can actually be quite heartbreaking, especially when they receive long sentences, for acting within a system they didn’t create, for acting in a globally unaware way, and for which they take the fall. Unforgiving people will say “oh, no, that’s no excuse!” On the contrary, it’s probably the most profound and human excuse of them all! How much of human “evil” is just people’s firm belief that they’re following the rules?

  34. Gareth Price
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure what O’Neill means when he says that it is likely that Anthony Rapp misremembers. I agree that there is a problem with memories becoming unreliable over time: details get added, deleted, modified etc. That said, is it really likely (as opposed to feasible) that he remembers someone making a sexual advance which never happened?

    • Posted November 7, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      It does strike me as being *a bit* similar to the “satanic panic” stuff from the 1980s, which often involved claims of sexual abuse.

      Many of those cases, sadly, turned out to be false memories planted by (Freudian, often) psychotherapists and psychiatrists.

      • Posted November 7, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        (Note: I am not claiming that any particular cases are false: what I am worried about is that “moral panic” will create false memories.)

  35. J. Quinton
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Things like this are why we need better education in the realm of statistics and probability theory. These subjects should be mandatory, lest we continue to have these moral outrage hysterias (hysteriæ?) crop up every generation (e.g, in the 80s it was day care molestation rings and heavy metal leads to murder).

    I’ve read countless “always believe the victim” apologists who posit that, because false accusations are rare, we must always believe the accuser. This is just the height of numerical illiteracy. Not only that, but it’s a fallacy called the Prosecutor’s Fallacy.

    False positives in and of themselves may be rare, but what matters more is how rare they are in comparison with the base rate of being an offender in the total population being looked at.

    Let’s say that there have been a rash of child kidnapping and molestation cases in your neighborhood. In response, your neighborhood watch decides to purchase a screening device that can show whether someone who walks through the device is a child molester. The company that provided the device says that during testing, the device successfully pointed out 100% of the child molesters that it was shown, and only had a misfire of identifying someone completely innocent 1 out of 100 times (1%!). In other words, the false accusations were rare. So should you deploy this device in your neighborhood to weed out all of the child molesters? Should you “always believe the accuser”?

    No. And doing so would be a terrible injustice to anyone in that community.

    Let’s say that in the USA for every 1000 people, there is 1 child molester. The device’s success rate is 1000 out of 1000 for detecting child molesters and 1 out of 100 for misidentifying someone as a child molester. If this machine says someone is a child molester — remember, the device successfully points out 1000 out of 1000 child molesters — what are the chances that they actually *are* a child molester?

    While the machine’s success rate is 100%, the probability of someone being a child molester if the machine says they are is *only* 9.1%. Yes, that’s right: a measly 9.1%.

    This is determined by using Bayes’ Theorem, and plugging in 1 out of 1000 for the rate of child molesters in the country, 1000 out of 1000 for the success rate, and 1 out of 100 for the false accusations. You end up with a deplorable 9.1% chance that someone is a child molester if this device says they are. On the flip side, this means that there’s a 90.9% chance that the machine is wrong! This screams against our intuition regarding the 1000 out of 1000 success rate for the machine but is nonetheless true.

    With rape accusations, we have far less data than what I’ve presented here in this hypothetical: Are 100% of the men who are rapists successfully pointed out by women? Probably not. So the success rate is not 100%. Already we are deviating towards less certainty from the hypothetical. What about the false accusation rate? Is it 2%? 8%? (Complicating this is the false rape accusation stat doesn’t seem to distinguish between women who have made up a rape whole cloth and women who have been raped but misidentified the perpetrator. AFAIK they’re both included as a single stat).

    Most importantly, out of the entire population of men, how many are rapists? This is actually the most crucial piece of information, it’s what we want to know, yet it’s never discussed (it even has a formal logical fallacy name: The Base Rate Fallacy). Formulated another way, we want to see whether the person accused of rape is in the population of rapists or not.

    If the % of men who are rapists is less than the false accusation rate, then you end up with counter intuitive results just like in the hypothetical child molestation device above: An accusation would be more likely to be false than true, even with a low false accusation rate and a high true positive rate. Someone could be accused of being a rapist, but this accusation might only bump up the probability from 5% to 10%. Or on the other hand, if 40% of men are rapists then an accusation of rape could bump it up from 40% to 90%. Again, I don’t know what the initial probability is (5%? 10%? 50%?) so we really don’t have enough information when it comes to rape/sexual assault.

    But believing an accusation based only on hearsay? No.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Excellent post, bringing up several other reasons not to generalize this scandal to either other actors or the realm outside Hollywood. I forgot to mention in my post that this rash of claims still only touches an extremely small number of actors. It is absurd to extrapolate this to others who have no accusations.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes JQ, that is a very pertinent and important point.
      We had the same problem with HIV tests, with a sensitivity and selectivity rate both close to 99%, your chances of being positive when testing positive was actually quite low, since the prevalence was < 1%.
      In SA the prevalence of HIV in the population is about 15% now (and over 30% of the sexually active population as defined by maternity clinics in some provinces). The probability of actually being HIV positive if tested positive is rather good now here.

      What is the base rate of rapists and sexual assaulters? 0.5% or 50% of the male population? That would make a world of difference ('obviously', as they would say here). And how much of that would be influenced by circumstances ('potential rapist')? We haven't got a clue, let alone a serious one.

  36. danstarfish
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I have a proposed idea for dealing with the issue, but I would like to touch on some of the other issues first.

    I think it is irresponsible when people conflate pedophilia and hebephilia. Sexual attraction and inappropriate behavior with teenagers is different from that directed at pre-pubescent children. Because of the power imbalance, I think society should have norms against sex between adults and teenagers. However, we need to remember that a young teenager can be interested in and seek out sex. Situations can occur that fall in a moral gray area. In school, I knew someone who was the father in a teen pregnancy where both parents were 14 years old when the child was conceived. With children, it really is black and white with no gray areas.

    I have an assumption that most of the problems come from serial sexual harassers. I would estimate that perhaps 1 out of 20 people are generating the majority of offenses. I might estimate that 90% of accusations are true and 10% are false, but this is a rough order of magnitude estimate. It could be 95/5 % or 85/15%. No matter what the true percentage, the always believe the accuser rule would lead to a lot of victims of false accusations. I also would argue that in a society that always believes the accuser and makes accusations consequence free, the level of false accusations will go up significantly. There are opportunists and bad actors out there who would use this as a tool. This group of bad actors is rare, but given a tool like this they would abuse it.

    My idea would only address the serial harassers and to a lesser extent serial false accusers. The idea is create a national police database where an accuser who didn’t want to go through the difficulty of a full legal proceeding if they are the only accuser could log the incident with the police. The police would also ask them if they have any reason to hold a grudge against the person they are accusing and log their answer. If the same person keeps getting accused with the same MO then that would trigger a police investigation. All the previous accusers would be contacted and asked if they wanted to participate now that they knew that they weren’t the sole accuser. The database might also find serial false accusers who always accuse their exes of misdeeds. Though if all they did was log a false incident in the database, I’m not sure if there should be big consequences for that.

    Practically speaking, I don’t think this will happen, but it is actually something that could be done and could be more fair than the court of public opinion. I think the knowledge of its existence would be a deterrent to serial abusers.

    • revelator60
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      “I think it is irresponsible when people conflate pedophilia and hebephilia. Sexual attraction and inappropriate behavior with teenagers is different from that directed at pre-pubescent children.”

      Indeed. Such conflation ignores the reality that sexual activity with a pre-pubescent individual is a considerably worse crime. Teenagers are neither children nor adults, and sexual maturation varies from individual to individual. Those factors complicate matters a great deal.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        That’s why most jurisdictions make it a separate statutory offense, punished more harshly, for an adult to commit sexual battery on a victim under 12 years old.

  37. Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Estimates of false reports of sexual assaults appear to be between 2% and 10%.

    Jerry, as others have said, those figures are for reports that are then *proven* to be false! (That really means that either the male produces a cast-iron alibi or the female retracts.)

    If it were possible to prove that under 10% of reports were false, then it must be possible to prove that 90% were true, wouldn’t it? So why is the conviction rate for rape so low?

    The truth is that in she-says, he-says situations about 10% can be proven true, 10% proven false, and 80% cannot be proven either way to any satisfactory standard.

    This is completely glossed over in all the claims that “false reports of sexual assaults appear to be between 2% and 10%”.

    I wrote a blog post on this recently, after being shocked by how badly such figures were being misreported.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Excellent post on your blog. It is also mirroring J Quinton’s observation regarding false positives.
      If false accusations are common, many probably will be true accusations of falseness, if they are rare, most accusations of falseness will be false.
      (I somehow feel the above might not be very clear, maybe I should think of expressing it differently, or is it clear? or am I mistaken?)
      Your point of the 2% false accusations is taken, that number is way too low. Even the 10% probably is, as you convincingly point out. If false accusations are higher than 10%, as they with near certainty are, the ‘dear colleague’ letters and title IX are a big mistake.
      [for all clarity, I’m a great admirer of Mr Obama, I think he was the best POTUS since Mr Roosevelt (Teddy, that is), but here he and his administration, obviously with all good intentions, made that big mistake]

    • Craw
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      It’s also shocking Coyne does not see the moral hazard here. If you argue “claims X are reliable because claims X are almost always true” then you create an incentive for false claims of X. We are long past that point where X is a claim of any kind of victimhood.

  38. Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Why would this actor risk his own career with false accusations that smear another actor if those accusations weren’t indeed true? The young actor is credible.

    When someone is addicted to drugs with a criminal record, we might day they lack credibility, even though these are the story of people who are probably more likely to have been vulnerable to abuse, both in the past, which has contributed to their anti social behaviours and in the present due to those anti social behaviours.

    As always those in real need get the least help.

  39. CJColucci
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Someone has to get all lawyerly here, and I guess that’s me. If A says that B raped him or her, that is not “hearsay.” If C says that A told C that B raped A, that’s hearsay. A’s testimony about what B did to A is direct testimony from a percipient witness, and, if believed, is legally sufficient to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. Always has been and always will be.
    What’s true, though, is that there may be reasons to disbelieve A’s testimony, many of which have been ventilated here, and prosecutors like to win cases, so they may shy away from bringing a pure “he says-she says” case without something else to back it up — though someone I know spent two decades in prison on just such evidence.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 4, 2017 at 4:23 am | Permalink

      I know it’s hard to read every comment in a long thread like this; suffice it to say, you are not the first to point out the correct definition of hearsay. (See especially Ken Kucek’s contributions.) However, given my first premise, it is probably a good idea to have it repeated every so often for that very reason! 🙂

  40. Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Some of my limited experiences in this area:

    1. I was raised in a very religious environment where sex wasn’t discussed and my mother protected me, among many reasons, because she’d had an uncle by marriage who was a pedophile.

    2. From the reading I’ve done, I’ve received the impression that sex abuse frequently occurs within families, by neighbors, in communities, etc. Not just business or school environments. In these cases, the abuse may not be reported to authorities for numerous reasons, including relationship, confusion and/or shame. What do you do when this atrocity is committed by someone you know and may love?

    3. I have never been sexually abused, but I was such an ignorant young thing, I probably wouldn’t have known. At a party once, a fellow worker of my husband’s had me cornered and was invading my space extremely. My husband’s boss, recognizing the situation, went for my husband to come rescue me.

    4. I know of a case in which two mid-teen girls accused their teacher of sexual abuse. He was tried, found guilty, lost his job as a teacher. Of course, none of his family believed him guilty. He ended his life working for Goodwill.

    5. A close member of my family was sexually abused at college. Some of us are too trusting to realize that there are sexual predators among us, some of whom prey on females, and others on males. Why isn’t this reported sooner? Confusion. Fear. Shame. “Maybe I somehow caused it.” We all know about girls who ostensibly dress too provocatively that entice males to attack them. The community, police departments and courts have reiterated this for way too many years. What can the boys be blamed for?

    6. What’s the answer to this? I’m afraid that whatever solution(s) we choose will not totally solve the problem and that there will continue to be cultures in which some of us think it’s our prerogative to abuse others. As to the Cosbys and Weinsteins, I find it difficult to cry over the sad situations they at last find themselves in. They have benefitted for a great many years from their powerful positions before being accused by many.

    • nicky
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Rowena, you make some pertinent points there, but “We all know about girls who ostensibly dress too provocatively that entice males to attack them” will not go down well with many (including myself). It sounds like blaming the victim. However, sadly, I fear it is true.

  41. Charles Sawicki
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    It’s probably wise to wait for evidence from multiple accusers in the case of rape accusations involving events dating back decades. For example: Tchiya Amet has accused astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of drugging and raping her while they were both graduate students. So far, no one else has come forward and Ms. Amet’s social media presence is extremely wooish.

  42. Craw
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    No.

    It’s worrying. There’s a mob mentality at work.
    Rose McGowan is pretty clearly a witch hunter with her explicit calls for a “RoseArmy”, ie mob.
    And this ties in with all the hysteria on campuses too.

  43. Gabrielle
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I have a few thoughts on what can be done to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace. I’m confining my thoughts to private sector companies of 300+ employees, where there is an HR department.

    1. The upper management should view this as a business productivity issue. Repeated unwanted behavior of a sexual nature from a more senior person towards a younger employee, that results in the decreased productivity of the younger person, should be viewed as a drag on the corporation’s profitability. From my years working for companies, one thing I’ve learned is that companies first and last only care about money.
    2. It should be made clear to more senior employees that younger employees are not there for their amusement. No propositioning, no talking/boasting (lying) about one’s sex life, no questions about a younger person’s sex life, no repeated comments on a person’s appearance, etc.
    3. I also second Mr. Schenk’s suggestion that companies should have HR reps who are trained to investigate harassment complaints.

    But all this being said, some of the above is a pipe dream. In certain companies, there are worksites where it is upper managers who are doing the harassing. I know, because I once worked at one such site. Suggestions 1 and 2 would have gone nowhere, and as for suggestion 3, the upper managers would have simply ignored any findings from the HR reps.
    So, where does this leave us? There is a suggestion a coworker once gave me, which he said I should do if a man ever harassed me at work. This person had worked in both the US and Latin America, and he had an interesting take on things. His suggestion was that the woman should firmly tell the harasser that if he didn’t stop, she would go to his home and tell his wife and children what Dad was really like at work. If there was one thing a harasser would still want, it is a happy, quiet home life.
    My coworker was quite certain this plan of action would be effective. I’d be interested in reading what others think of this.
    And lastly, on the subject of accusers coming forward with statements of harassment: Back during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings (ca. 1992), my late father-in-law, a crusty old World War II vet, once gave me his opinion on the subject (unprompted from me). He said that if two women come forward, and they don’t know each other, and they are saying the same thing about a man, then what they are saying is probably true. I wish I had asked him how he’d come to this conclusion. He wasn’t some fancy white-collar person in a big corporation, but a sheet metal worker who was mostly employed by small businesses. Perhaps he had seen some things himself over the years.

  44. Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Deducting from a statistics to an individual case is called the Ecological Fallacy and that is the root of bigotry. It is always wrong unless something is 100% the case. You can never know into which set a case at hand belongs based on a statistic alone.

    Next. What I or anyone believes has little value for anything. It also means nothing. I also don‘t think that authorities need to believe anyone. They are supposed to do a job, and folllow a proper procedure, so that anyone gets justice, not those who can elicit most sympathy. We can be compassionate instead of believing. So neither I, nor authorities need to believe anyone. It’s also a false dichotomy. The whole believing-not-believing has something thought-policing about it and disregards that it‘s well possible to not be judgmental and simply leave it as it is.

    I believe law and social judgment should be treated separately. The law can act only on solid evidence. However, people can think or believe whatever they want, and are of course free to act on heuristics as they see fit, say, abstain from watching films with “bad people” in the credits, whatever the criteria for “bad” are (I believe it’s often hypocritical, but someone is free to be a hypocrite). Such social consequences are real, and maybe not always fair.

    With that established. Nobody can simply make accusations, for they are a form of violating a personal space, and abuse, too. One abuse does not make another one acceptable. We cannot counter one dubious power structure by placing another next to it. Then the yellow press or whoever has a platform can be abusive.

    The problem with these crimes is not he-said-she-said. The problem are power structures, a cutthroat society of fierce competition, severe drawbacks for anyone who is seen as making trouble, having opinions or “acting up“ and of course that status and status seeking is rewarded by everyone. We are status seeking monkeys and what makes someone climb up seems to be the same traits that can lead them to abusive behaviour, once in power (traits apparently more common in men).

    The truth is, aside from authors or activists, where opinions and speaking out are the business model, it‘s not beneficial to stick your head out too much. It will be cut down. And that has zero to do with patriarchy. Our society wants people who play along, who fit in, and who are willing to scratch backs. They are rewarded with learning secret handshakes, and a warm recommendation to shake the right hands. It‘s not a meritocracy. It‘s a KO system. If you don‘t want to play along, you‘re out. With plenty of other candidates eagerly queued up filling the vacancy. This is why few involve authorities. Victims are too often trapped in dependencies.

    But of course, that‘s hardly a concern for the Intersectionalists, the so-called “Left“ in the US. They are obsessed with a freudian-marxists psychoanalysis plus a dash of radical feminism (according to their founders!). It‘s interesting but not surprising that that Danielle Muscato‘s name shows up. Muscato was once in official capacity with American Atheists, known for their close ties to the intersectionalist atheists.

    These people seem to leech off the grief and emotions of such spectacles. Their listen and belief views gel nicely with their born-again attitude of being “woke”. The common Intersectionalist is the type of person that once gathered around a stage to see someone enviscerated and their intestines burned while alive. A crowd with a numbed emotional capacity, with next to no empathy, who seems to get off on torture porn, and are otherwise cruel and judgmental. They see Rape Culture, because it‘s their raison d’être, which is an extension of who they are. These days the banality of evil is intersectional, and often atheistic. They have demonstrated before that they imagine due process more like Roland Freisler.

    They might call thenselves woke, but they are only opening eyes to throw sand into them. They play their part why genuine left concerns are never on the agenda.

  45. Liuba Balaska
    Posted November 4, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    A relevant movie on this theme is The Life of David Gale (Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, Kate Winslett etc). Another point is what was a 14 year old boy (were the parents not interested)doing at an adult party late at night after everyone had left? I am not a person who says: he/she asked for it but there are many queries that should be raised here. Why on earth didn’t this child tell his parents/teachers/authorities/friends about the inappropriate approach? Or did he tell his friends in a boastful way? I have heard teenagers show-off about similar matters.
    Children have to be confident in what is appropriate and have the strength of character to object to harassment of any kind then to tell parents/someone.

  46. Blue
    Posted November 4, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Curious: only comments on this particular post
    come from a mere one reader who regularly are
    on WEIT its feminists*. Its feminists who are
    those who are the ones … … female.

    Blue
    *definition of feminist: the actual one thereof.

    • GBJames
      Posted November 4, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      I do not understand this comment, Blue.

  47. Posted November 5, 2017 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, you wrote:

    “We can’t use the statement (made to me by a public defender) that “85% of my clients are almost certainly guilty” to go ahead and convict all accused people without a trial.”

    That’s true, but it is evidence that a criminal defendant about which we have no other knowledge is probably guilty.

    1. 85% of criminal defendants are guilty.

    2. X is a criminal defendant.

    3. Therefore, X is probably guilty.

    This is standard probabilistic reasoning of the same form that might be used by a doctor diagnosing a patient.

    If we decide that it’s not reasonable to treat people as guilty based on the fact that they are a criminal defendant, it’s not because of the statistical probabilities, it’s because some other epistemological or moral principle is in play.

    • GM
      Posted November 5, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      It might be a good idea to ask yourself where that 85% numbers is coming from.

      Could it be that there is already a selection process before the clients even get in the hands of a public defender, i.e. cops will drop cases that are clearly bogus or will never amount to anything in court, and so it is indeed the people who are most likely guilty that do end up in court?

      If that is the case, would be proper to apply the “85% are guilty” estimate to people accused of rape BEFORE that selection process has happened?

      And even then, is “p(X is guilty) = 0.85” what “beyond reasonable doubt” is supposed to mean? And what about the other 15%?

      • Posted November 5, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        I’d like to clarify that I’m not saying that we should convict anyone without a trial. I actually agreed with Dr. Coyne’s statement to that effect, if you read closely.

  48. Blue
    Posted November 7, 2017 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    from feminist and University of Texas –
    Austin journalism professor, Robert Jensen, thus:

    http://www.feministcurrent.com/2017/11/06/good-guys-bad-guys

    ” Judged by the standards set by these public
    reprobates, most of the rest of us men appear
    almost saintly, and therein lies a danger. ”

    ” So, not all men are rapists. Not all sex is rape. The majority of men do not rape. Many couples have loving sexual relationships. But consider these other categories:
    • Men who do not rape but would be willing to rape if they were sure they would not be punished.
    • Men who do not rape but will not intervene when another man rapes.
    • Men who do not rape but buy sex from women and believe that payment gives them the right to do as they please.
    • Men who do not rape but are sexually stimulated by pornography featuring women in situations that depict rape-like acts.
    • Men who do not rape but find the idea of rape sexually arousing.
    • Men who do not rape but whose sexual arousal depends on feeling dominant and having power over a woman. ”

    Blue

    • Blue
      Posted November 9, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      from feminist Dr Phyllis Chesler of #metoo
      at the United Nations:

      http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/249169/metoo-at-the-un

      “We held our conference in Oslo in the summer
      of 1980. Davidson … … began to sexually
      harass other women. I “told” my story. Other
      attendees, including black African women,
      were ready to confront him when two white
      women—not men, women—feminists, not anti-
      feminists—persuaded everyone that such a
      confrontation would be seen as “racist” given
      that Davidson was black and many of us were
      white. ”

      There is more. Dr Chesler writes more.
      Of course.

      Blue

  49. Westi
    Posted November 8, 2017 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Big problem in Hollywood is that there is no HR where you can report misconduct. Who do you make a complaint when someone harrasses you? Mainly you have to go to producers/directors/etc. who have direct finacial interest in the production, so it’s not ideal situation. SAG could actually take the probelm seriously and enforce some union rules but I guess it’s easier to sweep up these things under the rug and hope nobody checks under the rug.


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