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‘Sexual Justice’ Shows Us How to Better Understand Survivors’ Needs

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24.08.2021

Check out Rewire News Group‘s Q&A with Alexandra Brodsky here.

In December 2018—over a year after the Me Too deluge began, and shortly after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court—Kathleen Parker wrote in the Washington Post of a worrying trend. Many men in finance and other industries, she said, were adopting the “Pence Rule,” the vice president’s insistence that he avoid time alone with any women besides his wife. These men feared, or purported to fear, a false accusation of sexual harassment.

According to Parker, this development was an “inevitable” consequence of Me Too. And the reason for it was not sexism, paranoia, or sensationalist reporting. It was, instead, the “erosion of due process” for accusations of sexual harassment, rendering men afraid that their innocence would not protect them. “In many ways,” she wrote, “this is all new terrain for us societally: How do we balance the right of every individual to be believed innocent until proven otherwise, while also giving accusers a platform to be heard?”

Perhaps issues of fair process were new to Parker’s column. But the question itself is very old. How to balance the rights of the accused and those who say they have been harmed is, quite literally, an ancient problem, one that has shaped the development of our legal systems from the beginning.

And here’s the key: It isn’t a question unique to sexual harassment. Governments, workplaces, schools, political organizations, and social clubs all get called upon to investigate misconduct of all varieties. Employees get into fights, steal company property, and call each other racial slurs. Members of the local charity board embezzle funds. Political organizers punch each other in the face over strategic disagreements or romantic entanglements. Students beat each other up, vandalize campus landmarks, and taunt classmates with disabilities. In 2007, a student at my alma mater repeatedly threatened to kill his roommate, leaving messages in fake blood on their shared dorm wall.

In short, people hurt each other. Their communities are then tasked with figuring out what happened and what to do next. Every one of these examples demands we answer Parker’s challenge: How do we respect fair process while giving victims the chance to come forward? None of this is unique to Me Too. The reasons why process matters for sexual harassment apply to every other kind of misconduct as well. Fair process is important for sexual harassment allegations because it is important for all allegations.

Indeed, many of the concerns that have been raised about the treatment of alleged harassers speak to systemic issues that aren’t specific to harassment at all. Chief among these is the precarious nature of employment in the United States. Critics like Parker assume that accused harassers are often fired without any fair investigation. I have no sense of whether that’s true. But if it is, that’s only possible because most workers are utterly unprotected from arbitrary termination, thanks to the shrinking membership of labor unions over the last half-century and the “at-will” employment arrangements for almost all nonunion employees. That’s not a story........

© Rewire.News


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