I don’t dispute your stats. I’ve seen slightly higher and slightly lower, but when it comes to cases of sexual assault that make it to trial, I think you are well within the margin of error. When it comes to cases in which charges are never filed, however, there’s really no way to know. That said, I readily concede that even after taking those cases into account the instances of intentionally false or misleading accusations are rare. That’s not just true of sexual assault charges but accusations of crimes of any nature. We should expect that in a society that assumes a person is innocent until proven guilty intentionally false charges of criminal activity will be far rarer than they would be in a society that assumes someone is guilty until proven innocent. And that’s the point. The call to “believe women” asks us to assume guilt.
It’s unfortunate that you took my article as somehow not taking accusations of sexual assault seriously. I explicitly state in the article they should be taken seriously, so it’s a charge that I think any fair reader will dismiss. I agree with you we have not done nearly as good a job as we could when it comes to collecting rape kits or testing them in a timely manner (or even at all in some instances). In fact, I think many if not most law enforcement efforts to investigate sexual assault claims generally has been wanting. Whether the number of innocent people accused is 1% or 10%, it’s as much in their interest as in the interest of the victim to have these kits (and any other evidence) examined within weeks instead of months or years (or never).
I also readily admit that in cases involving child abuse there is rarely any way, let alone a reasonable expectation for, a victim to come forward at the time. This makes accusations of abuse that arise years after the fact difficult from a legal perspective. However, avoiding these legal, moral, and philosophical difficulties or accusing anyone who dares raise them of not taking the matter seriously isn’t going to magically bring society to a more favorable solution. Conversation, not angry dismissals, is what is called for. The bottom line is that we both agree we need to increase the resources our law enforcement agencies have and hold them to account when they fail to use them to thoroughly investigate charges brought to their attention.
I do not advocate for disbelieving those accusing anyone of anything. However, I also don’t advocate for believing them. The same goes for the accused. Neither belief nor disbelief should be the stance of complete strangers out here in the internet world reading about accusations or denials on social or in more traditional media sources. Until everyone has had a chance to respond and, ideally, some investigating has been done, no one should be expected to reach a conclusion one way or the other. Frankly, this is how you would wish to be treated if someone posted some accusation against you; you would want to be given the chance to be heard and you would urge people not conclude you are guilty before an investigation had been completed. You would be right.
As I state in my response to the initial comment to this article earlier, “believe women” is a reasoning error, and it’s an error that falls within the category of dangerous reasoning errors. Not because it is women we are being asked to believe, but because it asks us to assume the truth of a statement on no other grounds than a particular person or member of a particular group of people is making it. I would be equally critical of “believe men” or “believe Trump” or “believe X (fill in the blank).” Taking criminal charges seriously requires us to believe in the value of investigations and holding those the evidence reveals to be responsible accountable. Sometimes we can’t find evidence, or sufficient evidence, and while this is unfortunate lowering the bar when it comes to the amount of evidence we will accept is only a recipe for raising the percentage of innocent people that end up in jail.
In conclusion, if you think belief alone is sufficient grounds for tearing people apart before the facts have come in, I urge you to be careful what you wish for. Tomorrow’s Twitter post may be urging people to believe someone else over you or people you sympathize with. We can retain compassion and respect for victims while also carefully reflecting upon the particulars of a case and trusting due process. Where due process isn’t working as well as it should we need to work together to strengthen it, not join in calls to abandon it. I think the #Me Too movement is playing with fire if it adopts the “believe women” stance over the “every accuser/survivor deserves to be heard” stance. As we should have learned from the sad history of witch trials in both Europe and the Americas, women were more often than not the target of accusations of witchcraft. Those accusations came with no more supporting evidence than the word of the accuser and “tests” built upon the premise that one was guilty until proven innocent.