What is justice anyway?

Darren Mikus, World News Editor

Originally published 4 October 2018

Usually in my column, I try to elucidate a problem, give my position with evidence to support it and advocate for it. I have done this, to the best of my ability, concerning writers in prison, genocide in Myanmar and the division of Korea. For this topic, however, I feel it is more appropriate for me to give my thoughts and ask questions, and not to espouse an opinion or advocate for a change in policy. That, I simply do not feel qualified to do.

Regarding the sexual assault accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, my thoughts are divided. That part of our brains which naturally values fairness tells me to withhold judgement on Kavanaugh until compelling evidence surfaces affirming his guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I suspect that many people feel a similar way, and do not wish to see a man’s reputation destroyed on national television unless it really is worth destroying (think Bill Cosby.)

Yet, that part of ourselves which projects empathy cannot help but support Christiney Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. I have never been the victim of sexual assault or rape, but I have been mugged and roofied in the past, and I have family members who were victims of domestic violence. All of this makes me more sympathetic than the average guy to those who have been sexually abused, given that this is worse than what I or others I know experienced.

It is my opinion that sexual assault and rape are still permissible in some circles in this country (how many people have you heard excuse sexual assault by saying “boys will be boys”?), but I do not know how to fix this problem. Is the solution to instantly believe all people who accuse someone of sexual assault? Or should all those accused be excused by the media and society only until irrefutable evidence of sexual assault is adjudicated in a court of law?

There are problems with each of these positions. First, concerning the idea that we should believe all those who claim to be victims of sexual assault, there is an obvious snafu present. It is well established that people lie in court, and there are cases where women have accused men of sexual assault for spiteful reasons. According to the National Registry for Exonerations, 52 men who were convicted of sexual assault were later released after it became apparent they were falsely accused in the U.S. since 1989. This may seem like a small number, but it clearly still happened that men were imprisoned for being convicted of a crime they did not commit. I am not saying that those women lied, but it should raise eyebrows when it is common for people to assert their uncritical support for all those who claim to be sexual assaulted, and to know exactly who did it.

Secondly, it is also obvious why it would be difficult to dismantle the “court of public opinion” and ensure that all people who are accused of sexual assault are presumed innocent unless all doubt to their guilt is demonstrated in a true court of the law. Cases involving rape and sexual assault are notoriously hard to prove to a jury, and thousands of rape kits have been known to remain in police stations untested for decades. Also, it becomes somewhat ridiculous to give someone the benefit of the doubt if dozens of people all accuse them of the same thing with no apparent profit motive.

Again, I did not intend to offer solutions in this column. I merely wanted to give my own thoughts on this question, and lay out this contradiction which we as a society must reconcile at some point in the future.