Beware of a rush to judgment in sexual assault cases
So, where’s it going to end? Assuming it’s going to end. And that’s an awfully big assumption these days. Especially when you have the likes of beloved, 74-year-old, public radio icon Garrison Keillor joining the ranks of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose in the sexual assault scandals rocking the entertainment and media worlds.
Are they all just “dirty old men” deserving of a comeuppance? I can hear a lot of women out there shouting yes and their outrage is understandable. Especially when it comes to Weinstein, who was obviously a pig when it came to abusing his powerful position to exploit and violate any woman who came within his reach. The malicious former producer went into “therapy” for a few days after the scandal broke and then fled into hiding “somewhere in the world,” according to his publicist, who was probably glad to see him gone.
But Garrison Keillor, the grand old man of Minnesota Public Radio, a Peter Gzowski-like broadcaster to millions of Americans (and Canadians), who loved his folksy ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ show which he hosted for almost 40 years. Is he an abuser of the sordid likes of Weinstein, Spacey and Cosby? Surely not! But then again, I can hear the anguished voices of abused women taken advantage of by their bosses saying victims must be believed in these situations and their abusers punished, male victims included.
In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, no less a personage than former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.” To which another tweeter (male) replied: “Every time Hillary Clinton tweets an angel loses its wings.” Obviously, there’s no middle ground in this debate and it’s probably going to get uglier. It’s a watershed moment for men who abuse. And so, it should be. This has gone on far too long.
Personally, I’m glad to hear women speaking out like this and in the great majority of cases, I believe their allegations. In my lifetime, no less than two former US presidents – Bill Clinton and John Kennedy – were serial philanderers and close to 20 women have accused President Donald Trump of harassment. These are powerful men. And powerful men have been abusing powerless women for generations. Probably forever. And it must be ended. Not just in Hollywood and the media, but everywhere. And that includes every workplace in the land.
But, and this is a big “but,” in dealing with these cases do we throw out the law as well as the presumption of innocence and the notion that there’s two sides to every story? Do we engage in trial by social media or by the courts? Do we become vigilantes or a lynch mob braying for revenge regardless of the facts?
Ah, the facts. In Keillor’s case, the only “fact” offered so far is that he put his hand on a woman’s bare back during a social occasion. Is that sufficient grounds to fire him and leave his long career and high reputation in tatters?
Everyone deserves a fair trial, or so they say, but this doesn’t appear to be happening these days in workplace sex abuse cases. With Weinstein it wasn’t an issue because he just cut and ran and didn’t deny the allegations. The same for Spacey. Cosby is still denying the 60 women who have made allegations against him, but the odds of an acquittal in his next trial look slim.
But need I remind anyone of the sordid trial of Jian Ghomeshi in 2016 that resulted in an acquittal on four counts of sexual assault against female colleagues at the CBC? Most women were enraged at the trial’s result, but the facts remain that a court of law that impartially weighed all of the evidence found Ghomeshi not guilty. This, of course was only one case and it’s not a repudiation of all the times women have been repeatedly groped and assaulted on the job and other places too.
When men admit what they’ve done they should be punished and punished severely. But there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment in these matters because in a civilized society everyone deserves a fair trial, men and women alike.
– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who believes even the worst of us deserve a fair hearing.