Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Balance, and justice

In many parts of our lives, we have to look at a balance between two things. For example, in our criminal justice system, we have to balance our willingness to punish the guilty with our desire to protect the innocent. Are there times where protections for the innocent also end up protecting the guilty? Of course... and if the guilty are going free too often, we might have to tinker a bit with the level of protections given, unless it would create too much danger of punishing the innocent.

It's simple, really. There are no "protections for the guilty" in our justice system. There are protections for people... and to make sure we extend them to the innocent, we have to extend them to everyone. Otherwise, innocent people suffer.

That's terrible in any situation, but it's even more terrible in America. Remember, America's founding philosophy is that the government exists to protect the rights of the people.

I'm about to change the subject to something else entirely, in one of my commonly-used attempts to induce mental whiplash, so let me just point this last thing out: every time the Republicans have used the phrase "rights for terrorists", remember that they know US history too, and know damn well that we liberals are fighting for rights for innocent people.

Another important place this balance must be struck is in the realm of sexual assault.

You see, you have two choices. You can care about the people who have been sexually assaulted, and be concerned with the suffering they're feeling, and help the cause of justice... or you can help those who've committed these terrible crimes get away with it.

You don't like those choices? Well, that's too bad... that's just the way life is.

If you take a random person off the street, the odds that this person will make a false accusation of having been sexually assaulted are miniscule. Sure, people can make false accusations; it doesn't violate any laws of physics or biology, but it takes a certain kind of dishonest mean-spiritedness that just isn't present in most people. It takes a great deal of callousness to even think of making such an accusation falsely, and it takes a certain nasty willingness to press such an accusation forward in the face of resistance. In short, if you think that someone will make a false accusation of having been sexually assaulted, you have to have a really poor opinion of that person. You have to think that person is among the lowest of the low.

Except most people don't even think that far. If a victim comes forward, people start questioning it right from the start. Oh, and they usually throw a sop to how they're trying to protect someone from such a serious accusation... but they're automatically, and unthinkingly, making a terrible accusation about the original accuser.

They're suggesting that the accuser is stupid enough, or hateful enough, to bring forth such a serious accusation when it's unfounded.

The facts of the matter are this: very, very few people in this world have to suffer from false accusations of rape. Too many, but, of course, even one is too many. But one in four women are raped at some point in time of their lives.

Are you saying "oh, that old line; yeah, maybe if you count women who get their asses pinched on the bus, it's one in four!"?

I know a few people who feel that way. They say it's a much, much smaller number, nowhere near one in four.

And you know what? I envy them, sometimes, just a little bit. It must be nice to be so unaware of human cruelty and callousness, to think that so few people have been so terribly hurt.

But the facts are the facts, and if you're thinking "no, it's just not possible," well, yeah, I know how you feel. If you're thinking "But that means if I walked into a room where sixteen women are standing around, there's a decent chance that four of them have been raped!" you're starting to get the picture.

And if you're thinking "but somehow, I would have to have known if it was that many", well, part of the problem is that you don't want to know that it's that many, so you're willing to avoid realizing it. And it's not that hard.

A woman who's been raped doesn't look any different from a woman who hasn't, and it's not the kind of thing most folks bring up in polite conversation. In fact, even if a woman trusted you completely, she might not tell you, even in a circumstance where she might otherwise, because many women feel that they were somehow at fault.

Plus, if they mention that they were raped, folks are a little too likely to wonder if it was "really" rape or not.

The fact of the matter is, the number of rape victims is hundreds of times higher than the number of victims of false accusations... and yet accusations of rape tend to be taken as if the two were equally likely.

It's something to think about... especially the next time you hear folks getting ready to make excuses, and explain how a particular rape accusation is probably unfair.

If anyone's wondering, this post was certainly inspired by the current media frenzy regarding improper sexual behavior... but it has no direct bearing on anything in recent news.

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