We can't just "believe women" in assault cases

Heidi Thom | Columnist

I am a woman. I feel deeply for any woman or man who has been sexually assaulted. It is a terrible thing that no one should ever have to go through. I cannot comprehend how a sexual abuser could do such a thing, let alone live with themselves afterwards. The stories of sexual assault and abuse I have heard from those I know and care greatly about makes my blood boil. I am by no means belittling the pain of these experiences. But if I have learned anything over my time at Whitworth it is that we should not lose our reason to our emotions, or vice versa. We need reason and feelings, truth and grace, mind and heart. Sound familiar?

I also feel deeply for anyone who has been falsely accused of sexual assault by a malicious individual attempting to ruin them. I think this is more common than most of us may think. I know men who do terrible things, but I also know women who do terrible things. Evil does not discriminate between gender. Women can be deceptive and manipulative just as men can be abusive. I realize sexual abuse as well as false accusations happen to people regardless of gender, but I’m talking about women specifically because that is the most common case.

Think about it. What better time than during the #metoo movement to falsely accuse someone of sexual assault and get away with it? The tension and emotional outrage is so high that it would be easy to do. These kind of false accusations are made all the more horrible by the fact that they are consequently making it harder for those who have actually experienced sexual assault to come forward. No, we can not just “believe women”, any more than we can just believe men. We can not afford to be that naive, no matter how good our intentions are. We need to have evidence. We need to be reasonable and fair to the best of our ability. This is difficult to do when emotions of outrage and injustice come into play, not to mention political biases.

As a woman, it is honestly a bit insulting to me that if I accused a man of sexual assault I would be believed so readily because of my gender. What about my character? Am I a good or bad person? What about all the other factors that make me who I am- that is, besides being a woman? What phrases like “believe women” or “every woman deserves to be believed” seems to communicate is that one’s character does not really matter compared with one’s identity. This is the fundamental issue of identity politics, whether the focus is on gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other label that has no correlation to one's character. Identity politics focuses on what the individual is rather than who the individual is, and this is a problem.

I believe men and women are different but equal. We aren’t the same, but that is not a bad thing. Our differences compliment one another, and we both need each other. As a woman, I want to encourage and lift up the men in my life so they can be the best that they can be. Good men should not have to inherit the stereotypes developed by other evil men, they don’t deserve that. Masculinity is not inherently toxic. There is good masculinity just as there is good femininity. When it comes to accusations of sexual violence and assault we can’t take the marginal case and use it to judge all of the others. We must look at each accusation as a separate and unique case and put aside preconceived notions if we want to discover the actual truth.

Many believe Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of the accusations of sexual assault brought against him. “Guilty until proven innocent” is not the kind of judicial process I want to live under. I would like to challenge those who have already made up their minds that Kavanaugh is guilty to ask, “What if he is innocent”? Put political differences aside. What if he is an honest man of integrity who has been wrongly accused and is now fighting not only to win the Supreme Court Seat, but also to protect his character, reputation, and everything he has worked his whole life to achieve?

There is real injustice out there when it comes to sexual assault and abuse. There is no doubt about that. However, we must do our best to look at the facts and judge fairly. Just as my parents used to tell me as a kid that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, we cannot fight injustice with more injustice.