Thursday, September 30, 2021

Cognitive dissonance


Today, a man, known jokingly by his colleagues as ‘the Rapist,’ has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

Today, also, as in many days since the start of the football season, the morning news was full of the on-pitch finesse of a man accused by at least three women of having raped them.

The defence is always “whatever happened to ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’?” But presumed innocent until proven guilty is not a statement of fact. If a man rapes a woman, he is guilty of rape from that moment. If a man kidnaps or murders a woman, he is guilty of kidnap and/or murder, not innocent until that guilt is proven. Presumed innocent until proven guilty sets out a legal process, in which the cards are stacked in favour of the accused. And there are, perhaps, good reasons to uphold this principle; but it is a principle that can be easily abused.

Very few rape cases come to trial, largely because the ‘justice’ system subjects the women who need justice to incredible trauma. The most powerful football player on earth can engage lawyers who will present these women with a choice: be crucified by us in court, and by hundreds of thousands of trolls on social media, or accept compensation out of court, in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement. This is the closest to justice you can hope for. What should such women do?

An out of court settlement and NDA is an admission of guilt without consequence. (Sure, there is a financial consequence, but one easily absorbed.) Guilt without being held to account. Without having to face up to one’s actions. Because there was insufficient evidence to meet the legal threshold, in circumstances where such evidence is almost impossible. She said, he said.

When men perpetrate sexual violence against women (and yes, women perpetuate sexual violence against men, by how it is handled by society is different) we rally round to recast the victim as predatory gold-digger and the perpetrator as victim. And when we hold up these ‘wickedly wronged’ men as role-models, we tell less famous, less wealthy, less powerful men, this is how to treat women. This is what you ought to aspire to.

I hope that today feels like some kind of justice for the family of Sarah Everard. I hope that there are some very uncomfortable conversations within the Met, and that they lead to genuine culture change. But when I look at the bigger picture, I don't see the will, among men, to help make the world a better place, in which all can flourish.

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