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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

20 Comments

  1. arcbeatle
    November 26, 2013 @ 2:00 am

    Philip- thank you so much for this article. I'll write more later… but for now just thank you.

    Reply

  2. Spacewarp
    November 26, 2013 @ 2:07 am

    It's still not black & white and by God you have to tread carefully. In the UK the point has recently been raised that making the accused's name public knowledge can actually harm the case for the prosecution, because you risk being unable to find an impartial jury.

    I have just three names to mention – Michael La Vell, Dave Lee Travis, and Rolf Harris. One of these has been proven innocent despite the UK Press being absolutely convinced he wasn't. The other two we don't know about yet, but they are also dangerously close to being proclaimed guilty by public jury.

    Reply

  3. prandeamus
    November 26, 2013 @ 2:39 am

    Absolutely agree with this about treading carefully, for moral reasons as well as pragmatic reasons in UK or US law. I wouldn't want to continue a culture of silence, for victims should never be prevented from speaking out, and yet an over-enthusiastic campaign to "name and shame" can end up making a jury trial nearly unworkable. It's a dilemma.

    Of those two persons mentioned above for which a case is not yet proved (DLT/RH), I have wildly differing reactions. For one of them, I instinctively feel he is innocent. For another, I vaguely feel he is probably guilty. And yet, I have not a shred of evidence for either position: it's entirely emotional. One person I care nothing about, the other will be a shattering of lost innocence if I feel he is found guilty. But they, and their victims (alleged or real) deserve equal treatment in law and by the public.

    What does one do? I would hope that the accusers have a clear path to the police, that the police and CPS assess evidence carefully, and that the criminal justice system does its job if called upon in court.

    Reply

  4. doktorvox
    November 26, 2013 @ 3:39 am

    What's absurd to me is that people get itchy about this idea in a purely abstract setting when nobody's reputation is at stake at all. Look, I understand that in the real world, we might feel a previously established fondness for a real person who abuses others—and hence our instinct may be to defend him/her—but to defend a faceless theoretical abuser bespeaks not affection for a person, but affection for the ability to abuse. Good grief.

    Reply

  5. doktorvox
    November 26, 2013 @ 3:40 am

    "I would hope that the accusers have a clear path to the police, that the police and CPS assess evidence carefully, and that the criminal justice system does its job if called upon in court."

    I would hope to have wings, a million dollars, and world peace.

    Reply

  6. doktorvox
    November 26, 2013 @ 3:45 am

    Sorry prandeamus—I didn't mean to snark. I just think that the way that the US legal system treats abuse (esp. between adult acquaintances) inordinately favors the abusers, by statistics alone. It's enough to keep a lot of people from pressing charges. I can't speak to the UK's system, but I'd be surprised if it's much better. Until this can change, I think a lot of victims feel like they're just asking for misery, humiliation, and a waste of time and money.

    Reply

  7. prandeamus
    November 26, 2013 @ 4:21 am

    I'm glad you clarified that. I understand your point. There's an interesting paradox. Many people feel the same as you do, that situations like this favour the abuser. I think that's a fair comment.

    Logically, though, it's hard to get the statistics: if someone is found innocent in law, that's the end of it – he's innocent and won't be retried under double jeopardy unless there is new evidence. He is as pure as driven snow. Even harder to refute the finding of the court in specific cases, for statistics can't be used to refute specific cases.

    Which of course is just rehashing old arguments – I know it's nothing new.

    Reply

  8. prandeamus
    November 26, 2013 @ 4:35 am

    I would not defend a theoretical abuser in the abstract. Nor would I attack one in the abstract, because in the abstract there are no facts. Everyone accused deserves a defence, and every accuser deserves a day in court – subject to open system and the presence of evidence. And yes, we are back to wishing for unicorns if we pretend that any system is perfect. I would agree with anything that simplifies and encourages people to enter the criminal justice system, and I would agree with any reforms that make the prosecution system more objective. There is vast room for improvement.

    Without evidence, I should no more believe the accuser or the accused. Evidence. Get it, value it, diligently seek it out, present it. Evidence.

    Criminal defence/defense is a specialised calling; I certainly could not do it. But I hope to God if I'm ever in court on a serious charge I'd have a defence lawyer speaking for me.

    So yes, I will defend the right of the world's worst serial accuser to be assumed innocent until proven guilty. And defend his right to be judged on the evidence. Just as I will defend the right of the accused to have their day in court. I will defend the right of any abused woman to be listened to.

    To address the articles concerns, I would not want to automatically assume all accusers are truthful. But – and to my mind this is the heart of the problem – I would not want the guardians to the justice system to assume the reverse, that women are "asking for it" or "consent was implied". They should accept the complaint as legitimate and investigate it.

    I'll take the title of the piece as polemic, not literal truth.

    Reply

  9. Froborr
    November 26, 2013 @ 5:06 am

    You're aware you're doing exactly what Philip's talking about, right?

    Reply

  10. thepoparena.com
    November 26, 2013 @ 6:19 am

    This is one of those issues that I can't really comment on objectively, because it's way too personal. Maybe it's true that false accusations are rare, but when it happens to your dad, accused by his step-sister to cover up her own wrong-doings, it doesn't feel rare enough.

    Reply

  11. Iain Coleman
    November 26, 2013 @ 6:46 am

    Our private judgements about individuals do not need to meet the criminal standard of proof. Phil is entirely right about that. The criminal standard is about ensuring that the overwhelming violent power of the state is only applied to people who are certainly guilty of crimes – and even this safeguard fails too often.

    However, there's no need to go all the way to "always believe the accuser". There are enough malicious and deluded people in the world for that strategy to fail too.

    Instead, let's try to be clear what we're really talking about. It's not private beliefs: what I might believe inside my head about any other person is of no consequence until I translate that belief into action. Nor is it physical or material punishment: no one will be imprisoned, fined or otherwise sanctioned based on my private beliefs about them (and a jolly good thing too).

    We're talking about speech. About what beliefs and opinions about a person I choose to express to others."He's a sex pest". "She's a nutter".

    Saying these things does not imprison or fine anybody. But it can damage reputations, and reputational damage is not nothing. That's why we have defamation laws.

    Crucially, defamation is held to a civil standard of evidence, not a criminal standard. Courts can decide on the balance of probabilities, not the much higher bar of beyond reasonable doubt.

    Now I'm not suggesting the people involved in these dispute should all sue each other. In practice, the libel courts are even more screwed up than the criminal courts, and victory generally goes to the side with the deeper pockets.

    However, it would be useful if we could drop the "innocent till proven guilty" refrain when we are talking about whether or not to describe somebody as a notorious harasser. The justice system does not hold us to that standard, and there is no reason why we should choose to hold ourselves to it.

    Instead, look at the balance of probabilities. Is it more likely that, say, an obscure freelance author would risk her already precarious employment situation with a false accusation against a powerful editor, or that a powerful editor would exploit his position to sexually harass obscure freelance authors? It seems obvious where the balance of probabilities lies in that hypothetical case – though of course finding out more information might change your assessment of those probabilities.

    So I don't go along with "always believe the accuser", but i am quite happy to go along with "I am confident my friend wasn't lying when she said she was groped by this creep, and I don't need CCTV and DNA evidence to prove it".

    Reply

  12. Theonlyspiral
    November 26, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    I'm with Pop Arena (Big Fan) on this. I had this happen to me in Junior High. I had to attend weekly meetings with the guidance counselor. The next year it happened again, and more weekly meetings ensured. The students supported the girls who said I had touched them, and it got so bad I had to transfer to another school.

    I agree 100% that we cannot allow predatory abuse. We need better structures to deal with this. But uncritically believing anyone is not something I can get behind.

    Reply

  13. David Thiel
    November 26, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    Agreed, to "believe the victim" by default is going too far. The default should be "always take the accusation seriously."

    Reply

  14. Spacewarp
    November 26, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    Back in the late 80s I had a very good friend (we'll call him Steve). He was about 21, outrageous, great fun, and very very gay. He lived in a shared house with a bunch of students and one day a young work colleague of mine (call him Jim) wanted to move out of his parents house and move in when one of the students left. So he did. First time away from home etc. They had a big housewarming party and the next day we went round to see how Jim was getting on, to find he had left and moved back home. The next day at work he told us that Steve had waited till he was very drunk, then helped him to his bed. Jim had then woken up in a drunken haze in the middle of the night to find Steve performing oral sex on him.

    Steve denied this angrily, claiming he would never do such a thing, and that Jim (knowing Steve was gay) had been worried about living with a gay man and had dreamt it all. Jim was adamant it had happened.

    We'd known Steve for years and we trusted him. We knew that if he said he hadn't done something, then he hadn't. It drove a wedge between the rest of us and young Jim, who continued to work with me, but stayed at home with his parents and never came out with our crowd again. I never got on well with him after that, knowing that he could come out with such a homophobic accusation about Steve. I eventually left that job and never saw him again.

    And then a couple of years later I found our from a mutual acquaintance that Steve had in fact performed oral sex on blind drunk young Jim and had lied to us all. Jim had told the truth but because we were more emotionally invested in Steve we had believed his story over Jim. OK so we're not talking a court case here, but it just goes to show doesn't it? To paraphrase Iain, "I was confident my friend wasn't lying when he said he didn't grope that homophobic little creep Jim." Except he was. And we were all wrong.

    Reply

  15. Cresta Bayley
    November 26, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    Hi,

    I know this is off topic, but I'm trying to read through your Tardis Eruditorium, and I can't get the list of posts to work. Am I the only one with this problem? Have others had this problem? I messed around repeatedly with my settings.

    Help?

    Thanks,

    Reply

  16. William Silvia
    November 26, 2013 @ 11:38 am

    My first reaction when I saw an article about it.
    1. If you're entering a large professional world, you should expect harassment, coercion, and other terrible things.
    2. The fact that the vast majority of it seems to be targeted toward women is still something we should and can fight, as are specific instances of the same.

    Reply

  17. prandeamus
    November 26, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    I'm making assertions about statistics and how hard it to gather them for a meaningful analysis.

    Reply

  18. prandeamus
    November 26, 2013 @ 11:48 am

    @Iain Coleman – I wish I was as coherent as that. Very clear.

    Reply

  19. Spacewarp
    November 26, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

    Cresta. What happens when you try different browsers, like Firefox or Chrome (or IE if you already use one of these)? Is the problem with all of them or just one? Try resetting the browser back to default.

    What happens if instead of left-clicking on the list of posts, you right-click and choose "open in new tab" or "open in new window?"

    Reply

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