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campus culture wars
On Sexual Assault, Is Presumption of Guilt Going Mainstream?

The former First Lady received an unexpected—and no doubt unwelcome—question on the campaign trail today. The Free Beacon reports:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked Thursday in New Hampshire whether the alleged sexual abuse or harassment victims of her husband should be believed, given her recent tweet on the matter.

“You recently came out to say that all rape victims should be believed? But would you say that about Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, and Paula Jones? Should we believe them as well?” the audience member asked.

“Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence,” Clinton said, drawing applause.

Of course, the term “be believed” is ambiguous—believed by whom, and in what context, and to what effect? If Clinton simply means that those who say they have been assaulted deserve a respectful and serious hearing, or that they should be supported by friends, that’s of course correct. But, in the context of her other remarks on this issue, Clinton may implicitly be endorsing the work of the controversial campus tribunals, which all too often require accused students to prove their innocence in violation of the fundamental principles of due process.

For our part, we believe that “innocent until proven guilty” has served American society well for hundreds of years, and bad things tend to happen when it is tossed aside. Protecting civil liberties doesn’t mean suppressing alleged victims—it just means that the authorities must take accusations seriously, conduct a thorough investigation, and, yes, prove that someone is guilty of wrongdoing before meting out official sanctions (or before others push social sanctions and shaming).

This story is a reminder of the power of campus politics to reshape the mainstream discourse. The notion that people who make an accusation of sexual assault “must be believed,” has spread from campuses to the media (remember the Rolling Stone debacle) to the highest levels of American politics. It’s important to take the kinds of ideas being floated by campus activists seriously—no matter how outlandish they might initially seem.

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  • Jim__L

    “Ms. Clinton, would you like to see your husband suffer for the Paula Jones / Kathleen Willey / Monica Lewinsky stuff?”

    How do you think she’s going to answer that question, now that she may or may not need his help to stay in the national spotlight?

    I think Bill might need to tread very, very carefully if his bitter half gets into the White House and no longer needs him.

    • Fat_Man

      Of course she thinks those women should be believed. She knows he is guilty.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    Memo to male undergrads: Date townies.

    • Tom

      Better idea: Don’t date a girl you’re not willing to marry.

      • qet

        Paradox: Chicken/egg

  • Fat_Man

    Hillary does not have a serious intellectual, ideological, or legal bone in her body. She will say anything, absolutely anything, to get elected. What she says at any moment is neither true nor false, just useful.

    • Andrew Allison

      You omitted accept serial infidelity on the part of her husband. The woman is completely and utterly amoral.

      • Fat_Man

        Details. Morals are for little people.

    • Blackbeard

      Indeed. And yet she will almost certainly be our next president. What does that say about the state of our republic?

      And if she is president, and serves two terms which is the normal expectation, she will probably name at least two, and possibly three, Supreme Court justices. Will there be any thing left of presumption of innocence? Will there be a broad program to suppress conservative speech (Citizens United)? Will the second amendment survive?

  • qet

    This issue is wholly one of power and not of any sophisticated form of legal or other analysis or thought. Back in 1992ish, when Anita Hill tried to torpedo the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, women of the Left began sporting buttons that said simply: I Believe Anita. Even then, it was clear that whatever presumptions of innocence, whatever procedural requirements, handed down for centuries as the basis of the Anglo-American system of “rule of law” (which was the envy of the world and still is, at least until the termites finish their work), were considered by them to be entirely dispensable. They and their ilk would take us back to the law of the Heptarchy where controversies were decided on the basis of who could bring more “oath-helpers”–i.e., believers–to the trial. Basically today’s feminists hold that justice is properly a matter of sympathy. So the current “yes means yes” nonsense and the like is merely an updating of a trend that has been in the works for some time.

  • bottomfish

    If the accuser’s side in a sexual assault case had to prove the validity of the charges, most of the time there would be no conviction. If she says, “He grabbed me” and He says “no, I didn’t”, it would be hard to prove that he really did grab her, assuming that he has no record of prior convictions. Usually there are no witnesses of course. If she made some kind of scream at the time, how do we know it wasn’t a trick? Without a large number of convictions, the issue of sexual assault looks weak.

  • jeburke

    This isn’t new. There is a reason why in the past 15 years or so, we’ve seen so many men imprisoned for rapes supposedly committed in the 1980s and 90s exonerated as DNA analysis has become available. Beginning around 1980, following years of “feminist” political and media pressure, police, prosecutors and courts shifted markedly toward regarding rape victims’ testimony as unchallengeable.

  • Beauceron

    “For our part, we believe that “innocent until proven guilty” has served American society well”

    And it still does, for most of the US.

    Look, the “guilty until proven innocent– and even then you’ll still be at least partially guilty” only applies to whites and males, depending on the circumstance and depending on who the victim is.

    If a white male kills another white male, I am sure the Left is happy to allow the “innocent until proven guilty” paradigm to stand. It’s when a white person, inherently racist since birth by dint of his pale skin and raised in a system of white privilege where everything was handed to him on a silver platter and he, even if unconsciously, was brought up in a society that exalts him above all others, kills a sacred Person Of Color that the guilty first ethic shifts into gear.

    • Jim__L

      Have you ever seen the complexion of the police involved in these shootings?

      They’re pretty racially diverse.

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