People do talk

Russell Glasser was pointing out on Twitter a couple of days ago that it’s not the case that “People only go to the police. They never talk about their stories in blogs or articles.” He provided examples of the contrary: of the preliminary stage (which can last years) when people and groups do indeed make claims in public without/before going to the police.

Like SNAP for instance. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Just one item on their front page –

Abuse victims and SNAP are being attacked by lawyers for KC Bishop Robert Finn and pedophile priests. We’re fighting hard to protect the confidentiality of victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and others who come to us for help. Details available here.

Sound familiar?

That doesn’t mean all accusations are always true, obviously. It does mean it’s not automatically the case that all accusations are false until they’re ruled true by a judge or jury. It also (if you do some thinking and/or reading) points to the fact that there are often impediments to reporting the kinds of crimes that powerful people perpetrate on less powerful people. Bishops and priests; popular entertainers like Jimmy Savile; famous people like Roman Polanski*; football coaches like Jerry Sandusky; high school football players, even, like the ones in Our Guys and the ones in Steubenville.

It’s not simple. It’s not easy. Sometimes there are moral panics combined with pseudoscience like “recovered memory”; sometimes there are long histories of abuse by people who are shielded by colleagues or institutions or just general indifference. No one case is likely to be a slam-dunk either way. But it is not the case that there are only two choices: take it to the cops or stfu.

*In Polanski’s case the impediment wasn’t to reporting but to extradition after he fled the country.


  1. Kevin Schelley says

    Thank you for expressing this so clearly and concisely. I wish the “moral philosophers” and various people saying “You’re putting Shermer on trial!!!!!1oneleventy!!!” would get this through their heads. Accusations =/= a trial.

  2. left0ver1under says

    Car companies try to settle individual cases and then inflict a gag order.

    Pedopriests pay hush money to their victims.

    Polluters who poison people want cases held behind closed doors.

    Banks want mandatory (read: secret and biased) arbitration for disagreements.

    Et cetera, ad nauseum.

    The same goes for people who have been sexually harassed and assaulted. Threatening individuals with libel for discussing accusations in public is intended to prevent multiple victims from comparing notes and proving a pattern.

    You can’t prove a pattern if you only have one example, so the slime try to isolate individual complainants. Divide and conquer.

  3. says

    …[s]ometimes there are long histories of abuse by people who are shielded by colleagues or institutions…

    I could go on ad infinitum about the ‘long histories of abuse by clergy and religious, the latter of whom were protected by the church. In the case of clergy, invariably they were moved on to other parishes, and continued sexually abusing children and teenagers for decades more. One notorious case being that of Father Brendan Smyth, who almost toppled the Irish government.

    BBC News – Brendan Boland recalls abuse by Father Brendan Smyth

  4. says

    Well said. I wish too more people would stop reasoning in abstract, ideal terms, as if this was some sort of ideal world. (“If it’s true, why not report it to the police”… Sigh.)

    Minor quibble though, Ophelia: contrary to what happened with Sanduski or Saville, the Polanski case is not one where the victim couldn’t or wouldn’t go to the police, or where she wasn’t believed at first. The trouble started after that, when Polanski fled before the final verdict.

  5. says

    Irène – I paused over Polanski, for that reason – but then included it on the grounds that his fame seems to have protected him from extradition, so the reporting ultimately failed. But you’re right. I’ll asterisk it.

  6. Jacob Schmidt says

    …his fame seems to have protected him from extradition…

    Not to mention that it incites, from time to time, rape apologists ranting about how it wasn’t really rape.

  7. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    The other thing that constantly annoys me about the whole legalism schtick: As if the fucking courts, the law, and law enforcementeers are the final and accurate arbiters of all truth. Seriously, what the fuck? I’d bet that at least half of the jerks who constantly invoke court (or courtlike behavior) are mild-to-heavy skeptics/critics of government and the legal system in matters not pertaining to rape, sexual assault, and harassment or stalking.

    I’d also be willing to bet that they wouldn’t be playing their game so enthusiastically if it were their family members or friends who told them they were raped.

  8. says

    F- “I’d also be willing to bet that they wouldn’t be playing their game so enthusiastically if it were their family members or friends who told them they were raped.” Sadly, though, many of them still would. I’ve read so many stories about family members and close friends remaining in denial. 🙁

  9. Corvus says

    I find it deeply dissapointing how people are unable to understand basic rationalism and logic. You are not justified in believing heresay, just because it might be true. You dont believe something untill prooven false, disbelief is the DEFAULT position. You are not justified in believing such acusations UNTILL prooven true. Thats why we have that “inocent UNTILL PROOVEN guilty” part in the constitution. If you believe shermer is a rapist besed on some heresay posted on this site you IN FACT are part of a witchhunt.

    “That doesn’t mean all accusations are always true, obviously. It does mean it’s not automatically the case that all accusations are false until they’re ruled true by a judge or jury.” Actualy they are to be presumed false untill PROOVEN, because of the default position of disbelief i mentioned before.

    Fact is if you want to stop a rapist and you are a victim and you actualy have the KNOWLEDGE of it, you are immoral and unethical by not reporting it – that is if you care at all about your own justice being served or other next potential victims becoming real victims.

    You also are immoral and unethical if you post libelous material about someone and all you got is your biased need or want to believe the so claimed victim by word. Libel is a crime for a good reason. Untill this is taken to actual court or police, untill theres an investigation, untill the investigation produces PROOF and EVIDENCE against shermer and in support of the alleged rape. None of you is justified to judge shermer as a rapist and take these allegations on FAITH.

  10. Corvus says

    F – Courts are flawed, people are flawed, but its still the best thing we have. Just because a law system isnt perfect doesnt mean its one of the greatest achievements of man kind. It is not that hard to proove criminal ofence after you accept that you need to show proof.

    If you want to believe heresay that shermer is a witch, and you complain at the lawsystem which prevents you from burning said witch (and prevents others from burning you at the stake besed on heresay aswell) because the system requires actual proof, I find that deeply ironic. Even more so if you back the side that did not yet inform the legal execution system of the crime in general. If you didnt – dont complain that it didnt judge the case.

    Everyone has a right to due process and is to be presumed INOCENT UNTILL PROOVEN GUILTY.

  11. says

    You seem to be applying the same sort of overly simplified reasoning I see being applied by those who have the luxury of not really needing to take into consideration the risk to themselves if they disbelieve but are wrong. This is not a high school debate club looking at the question of if a god exists. This is a more complex situation that has implications for many people in the case that x is true but nobody believes it’s true. Not every question can be looked at in a clean neat and tidy vacuum as you suggest. In addition, as long as we are complaining about people not understanding rationality, maybe you ought to start looking at some issues such as and how they apply to this situation.

    For example, if you had some weird things going on with your body and you went to the doctor, would you want the doctor to not try or suggest any possible treatment until it was proven to them that you had a specific problem? No! Doctors have to assess the different possible explanations for your symptoms, the base rate of those various explanations (i.e. likely not malaria but it could be), and the risks to you if you have a particular disease but wait too long to treat it.

    It’s unlikely anyone will ever provide *you* with enough evidence to believe someone is a rapist, but knowing for sure is not the issue. The issue is is there enough probability of it being true for people to take action to protect themselves and others? What side of caution do we want to err on? As a woman, I now won’t ever hang out with Michael Shermer. I won’t drive to his house and throw a pie in his face or let my dog poop on his lawn, but I won’t spend time at places where he is and I won’t invite him to speak in my city (and yes, I am a local activist who could potentially do so). It’s not necessary for me to know with even 99% certainty that he’s a rapist. Even 50% is enough for me.

    This is not a dichotomous issue of believe or not believe like with assessing a claim of alien visitors. The real world is messy.

    It seems like throwing around phrases of so and so is or isn’t being rational is almost like our version of someone is or isn’t going against God’s word. It’s sort have become meaningless.

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