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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Column: Accusations of rape, sexual assault should be taken seriously

Liars are few when it comes to assault.

Martenzie Johnson

Feb. 4, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

We’re all taught that there are always three sides to a story: your side, their side and the truth.

No matter the situation, it would appear that the truth is some shade of gray, combining truths, lies and vague recollections.

One would believe that this is where the idea of “presumption of innocence” comes from in criminal law. Just because someone is accused of a crime, it doesn’t mean that person is necessarily guilty.

This is acceptable in the court of law, complete with a judge, lawyers, witnesses and the jury. But in the court of life, presumption of innocence can and should go completely out the window, especially in cases of rape and sexual assault.

Two accusations of sexual assault were revisited in the news these past two weeks. Dylan Farrow, the adoptive daughter of filmmaker Woody Allen, penned an open letter in The New York Times on Feb. 1 describing the abuse she suffered from Allen when she was only 7 years old. On Jan. 26, ESPN’s Outside the Lines accused MU of not investigating claims made by former Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey that she was raped by one or more members of the football team.

At their core, both allegations by the two women are just that, accusations. But when it comes to sexual assault, the onus of truth should never be put on the accuser, especially if the accuser is a woman.

After Farrow’s letter was published last week, Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist who posted her essay, noticed a gender gap in reactions to the post. He tweeted that many men denounced him for publishing it while many women thanked him. One male Twitter user wrote to Kristoff that the gender gap exists because “I guess men are sticklers for this thing called innocent UNTIL PROVEN guilty. I know it’s weird to live by the Constitution.”

Menu Courey’s accusations resurface just over a year after it became public that former Missouri basketball player Michael Dixon Jr. was accused of sexually assaulting two women during his time at the university. In September 2011, former Missouri football player Derrick Washington was convicted of fondling a woman while she was asleep in an off-campus apartment. Three of the four incidents allegedly took place in 2010.

Even given these high-profile cases of sexual assaults in Columbia — and not to mention the 67 reported incidents of rape in 2013 — the athletic department is playing more of the victim role, claiming it had no knowledge of Menu Courey’s allegations and bringing up her mental illness as if that had any bearing on the university’s actions.

The stories of Farrow and Menu Courey are not new, though. Each allegation and subsequent negative reaction follows the pattern of rape culture in America. University of Wisconsin-Madison student group Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment defines rape culture as “the way society comes to understand rape as unavoidable. This leads people to believe that rape and sexual assault are unstoppable phenomena… . Rape culture is not a result of bad people, but is a societal construct that perpetuates harmful victim blaming attitudes.”

Rape culture becomes even more concerning when it is mixed with male privilege, the rights and privileges afforded to men based solely off of being born with the “right” parts. Male privilege allows men to question a woman’s credibility and motive when it comes to rape and sexual assault. The Twitter user who lambasted Kristoff believes men are “sticklers” for the Constitution — thus implying women are not — and somehow the Constitution applies to the court of public opinion.

This is not to say that men are misogynistic if they don’t believe every single rape or sexual assault claim. There have been cases of women lying about being assaulted. Kobe Bryant and the Duke men’s lacrosse team quickly come to mind.

But that does not mean we as society should apply the “boy who cried wolf” idiom to all accusers based on the lies of a few. (Only 2-8 percent of rape allegations turn out to be false, according to a 2009 research article by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women.)

As The Maneater editorial board wrote Jan. 29, there needs to be more attention put on sexual assault and how the victims can be helped. As much as we aren’t sure of what happened to Farrow, Menu Courey or victims of Dixon and Washington, there are many things that cannot be denied.

Dixon now plays for Memphis. Washington tried out for the Kansas City Chiefs this past April. Allen received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes last month. Farrow had an eating disorder and took to cutting herself. Menu Courey took her life.

There aren’t really three sides to a story after all.

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Article comments

Feb. 6, 2014 at 7:45 p.m.

Skyler Waverly: There is no presumption of innocence mentioned in the United States Constitution. The presumption of innocence is a legal fiction and precept of English common law and only applies to judges and jurors who owe the accused a presumption of innocence until all the evidence is in. You and I, and everyone not on a jury, do not owe Mr. Allen or any accused any presumption of innocence. We are free to look at the evidence, to weigh the facts, to assess witness credibility, to use common sens and to draw out own conclusions. My conclusion is that Mr. Allen is a pedophile who sexually abused his daughter and got away with it because in rape culture women and girls are not believed.

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