Moments of Permanence - Thoughts on this WisCon Thing part one: the failure of mindset on the topic of innocence

About Thoughts on this WisCon Thing part one: the failure of mindset on the topic of innocence

Previous Entry Thoughts on this WisCon Thing part one: the failure of mindset on the topic of innocence Jul. 1st, 2014 @ 10:56 am Next Entry
I have been thinking a lot about the problem that seems to exist with large-scale organisations that attempt to be feministy and progressive but nonetheless fail emphatically at dealing with things like allegations of sexual harassment.

I've been discussing it a lot with a particular male friend, because he's an exceptionally good sounding-board when I'm considering ideas that involve being kind of down on men, generally, because he's not okay with that. He's the sort of guy who's totally opposed to men getting away with sexual harassment, but still points out that it's offensive for me to refer to men who harass women as "improperly house-trained", because of the implication that men, generally, are equivalent to dogs.

So here's the first of a few conclusions I hope to collate at some point into a coherent article: the Myth of Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

See, that's the optimistic interpretation to put on a failure to bar a man accused of sexual harassment from the con thereafter: that if there isn't rock-solid proof that he's guilty, it would be unfair to ban him and so forth.

But where this goes wrong is: as soon as an allegation of harassment has been made, someone is guilty of something. Either the alleged perpetrator is guilty of harassment, or the alleged victim is guilty of lying about it. Best case scenario, there's been a hideous miscommunication, but that is still a significant problem.

If you go with, well, we can't punish the man, then you are, in effect, punishing the woman. This is how society, overall, currently operates because Patriarchy. If you are trying to be feminist, and to counterbalance all that massive weight of privilege, you have to operate the other way.

Which is where my discussions with my male friend come into this, because so far, he and I are more-or-less agreed, but he suggested a more nuanced way to resolve this than I had initially been thinking.

See, as a man, he considered, if he was genuinely innocent of sexual harassment but had in some other way annoyed a woman, and that vindictive bitch had falsely accused him of sexual harassment, and for lack of other evidence everyone assumed he was guilty, he would be offended and angry, downright livid in fact.

On the other hand, if the same situation occurred, and the committee informed him that the accusation had been made, but there was no evidence or witnesses and basically it came down to he said/she said, so they were not concluding that he was guilty, because there was no way to know, really, but as a matter of policy for maintaining the safety of women at the convention, they would nonetheless be required to apply the consequences relevant to his alleged offence... he'd be upset, but he'd understand that.

We're not talking criminal prosecution, here. And an investigation, run promptly and carefully, can take into account character witnesses and general behaviour. If a woman has claimed sexual harassment from multiple men, and those men's friends and acquaintances were all in accordance that he would totally never do that, and there was never any proof, well, you start taking less account of that woman's reports. If a man is accused and other people who've met him agree that he's really kinda skeevy, yeah, you go with he totally did that, or at least that he's in dire need of social lessons in "how not to seem like a creep".

If you're pretty convinced his intentions were innocent, then you can have middle-ground consequences, like yeah, he can attend the con, but he's not allowed to volunteer/work at it and he's not allowed in any but the most public, heavily-populated areas without a designated chaperone.

But you have to accept that there is no real option for the assumption of innocence, because someone is guilty. And if you want somewhere to be a safe space for women, then you have to give women the assumption of innocence, and therefore the assumption that they are not liars.

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From:[personal profile] elspethdixon
Date: July 2nd, 2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
Innocent until proven guilty is supposed to be a legal principle, not a social one. The burden of proof required by the American legal system (example used because that's the one I know about) is and should be very high because criminal convictions are extremely serious - people's lives can quite literally be at stake.

Banning someone from attending a privately-run sci-fi con or excluding someone from your social circle is not at all the same caliber of seriousness, and people running a con have to balance overall con-goer safety + the potential liability concerns if they received a report of sexual harassment or assault and didn't act on it and then the harasser assaulted someone else against the possibility of offending or mistakenly punishing individual con-goers. I'd refund the male con attendee's ticket price and tell him that we were very sorry, but there had been complaints made against him and that as a matter of policy were going to therefore have to ask him to leave. I would probably include the "liability concerns plus a general commitment to the safety of all attendees mean that we have a zero tolerance policy regarding all complaints of harassment, sexual or otherwise" in the literature about the con and boot out people who got into shouting&shoving matches in the registration line or fist-fights in the hotel lobby in the exact same way - maybe treating sexual violence in exactly the same way as any other form of violence would help discourage it and make people take it more seriously. People don't say things like "it's so unfair that Dragon*con banned Joe permanently after he punched that guy on the hotel security staff in the face," after all.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: July 3rd, 2014 10:07 am (UTC)
Indeed. I bring up the innocence until proven guilty thing because I think it's a concept that's also, now, culturally embedded. People shy away from holding others accountable for actions that can't be definitively proven against them sometimes.

The trouble with equating it with violence is that it can be non-violent. Perhaps, for geeks, it would be helpful to equate it with bullying...
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