Sexual assault is the only crime in which the victim is assumed guilty. It's also the crime in which the victim's voice is most likely to be silenced. Shame, stigma, and fear keep us quiet, and those of us who dare to give voice to what happened to us at home, at work, at the pub – in whispers, in confidential reviews, in police interviews, in written accounts – are apparently opportunistic charlatans, going out of our way to ruin some poor, innocent man's life.
Let's examine some of the advantages of accusing someone of sexual misconduct. First, you'll be told that you were too friendly, wearing clothes too revealing, giving mixed signals, leading him on, or really wanted it, but then feared being labelled a "slut", so came up with a lie to protect your own modesty. Then you'll be labelled a "slut" anyway. Then you'll be seen by certain co-workers to be "troublesome", which may or may not lead to professional penalties. Then it will be suggested that you have a personal tirade against the man. Then your account likely won't be able to be corroborated, given the private and predatory nature of such incidents, so any investigation will be labelled "inconclusive" or "unsubstantiated" and you'll likely have to continue seeing your abuser regularly while trying to forget that anything happened and dealing with the fallout of your assumed fraudulence.
That sounds appealing, doesn't it? Knowing all that, you'd feel extremely motivated to come forward and tell your story, wouldn't you? Yet the suggestion persists that women who accuse men of sexual violations are opportunistic, self-serving liars. Or tightly-laced biddies who couldn't take a joke.
Even when there are many such "liars" telling eerily similar stories about the same man, their accounts are still assumed to be false. How many women did it take to bring down Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby? It's like a sick, misogynistic joke: How many women does it take to bring a rapist to justice? Statistically speaking, given that only nine in every 100 rapes are reported, about three of those make it to the prosecution stage and one of those actually results in a conviction, probably at least a hundred…
And the men who are accused are given every opportunity to cast themselves as the victim. In the Herald 's interview with the man at the centre of the furore at Parliament, for example, he was allowed to remain anonymous, make veiled insinuations that one complainant was involved in two complaints (could there be a vendetta against a poor, wronged man?) and that another was "put up to it", and described as "teary-eyed" and "distraught". The anonymity, "to protect his family", conjured the image of a family man, fighting to protect his innocent spouse and, presumably, children. In short, every effort was made to humanise him, while the women who complained about him were simply colleagues with beef who had apparently misinterpreted his "old-fashioned" behaviour. Their side of the story was nowhere to be seen. Given the consequences they'll likely face if they come forward (see above), we're unlikely to ever hear their version of events.
The man argued that he should've been approached as part of the Francis review. It was not the purpose or scope of the review to investigate each individual claim of bullying or harassment. Had the complainants thought that Debbie Francis would hear their accounts, then go to the man to tell him that various women had made allegations against him, would they have felt safe enough to talk to her at all? What reviewer worth their salt would've put potentially vulnerable complainants at risk in such a way? The suggestion that Francis should've spoken to him at all is ludicrous.
The appropriate people to speak to the man were Parliamentary Services, who, as soon as they received the renewed complaint, did so and stood him down pending investigation.
The original complaint was investigated and ruled to be unsubstantiated last year.
It was laid two years after the alleged incident (which is not unusual - given the shame and stigma surrounding sexual violation, many complainants take years to pluck up the courage to speak out).
The complainant came forward again in the wake of the Francis report and on the same day that Speaker Trevor Mallard said it was "possible that an alleged rapist was still working in the parliamentary premises".
Ask yourself: what employer could take have taken any other course of action? When allegations of serial sexual assault have been made, the employer must first act to ensure the safety of its staff.
None of this is to say that this man doesn't deserve a fair hearing, and a chance to defend himself. But he doesn't deserve to be the only one who gets to tell his side of the story to a sympathetic journalist who paints him as "distraught" and "devastated", then writes an opinion piece the next day demanding an apology for him. And in the interests of quality journalism, the media should make sure that he isn't. The other sides of the story – all three of them – deserve an equal airing, with a dose of healthy investigative scepticism applied to them all.
You can be fairly sure that the complainants won't be given the same treatment as accused. They will be interrogated. Their stories will be thoroughly probed. Any publication that publishes their accounts must make absolutely certain that they are telling the truth. The risks of speaking out, both for the complainants and for media, are enormous. Publications could be sued for defamation. Complainants could be targeted at work. They could jeopardise any internal investigations.
Even if they did tell their stories, people won't call for them to be given the benefit of the doubt. The plethora of tried and true methods we have of blaming victims, from questioning their short skirts to accusing them of vengeful plotting, show that deep down we don't want to believe complainants.
If we're to suggest that we've made any progress at all during the #MeToo age, we must at least grant that women's accusations could be true. If the allegations of the women in Parliament are true, then the accused's "devastation" takes on a different light. Logically, if it is possible that the women might be lying, then it should be similarly possible that the accused might also be lying. And it would indeed be devastating to be caught out in a lie.