The floodgates have opened for sexual assault accusations. It’s great that our society has gotten to a point where it accepts open discussion about this topic, rather than allowing it to persist in secret.
However, how we react to allegations, and the repercussions doled out, is something I think we haven’t figured out yet.
When the news broke on Wednesday that Alabama judge and Senate nominee Roy Moore has been accused of sexually assaulting minors, most on the Right and Left were quick to denounce him. When Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler dismissed the seriousness of the allegations, things quickly devolved — somehow — into a debate on whether or not these actions were defensible (true or not).
Amid the many pundits, journalists, and politicians sharing their thoughts on Twitter, Mitt Romney's highlights an interesting element of our collective response to allegations that are this bad.
Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) November 10, 2017
This doesn’t just apply to Moore. The latest wave of sexual assault allegations caused major career damage for Ed Westwick, Louis C.K., and Kevin Spacey. Each of these men had the plug pulled from major projects in a frantic rush by executives to distance themselves.
What is so obvious is that this idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is the cornerstone of justice, but the general public’s commitment to this idea has been wavering as of late.
Romney’s wrong when he argues that proof is a requirement only in criminal convictions. This idea of innocent until proven guilty has become an American value — it’s how we dole out judgment. We can't just let anyone capable of uttering an accusation destroy someone’s life with allegations that turn out to be baseless.
At the same time, we don’t really follow through on that principle.
Politics and performing both inherently rely on trust. It’s what drives voters to the polls, and viewers to the theaters. Can Americans trust someone that is associated with claims like this? Can they feel comfortable endorsing certain films or offices while wondering about these allegations? The question becomes — should we even risk it being true?
Allahpundit made an excellent analogy about this: “If your child’s babysitter or Boy Scout troop leader had that sort of evidence against them, would you trust them with your kid?”
Fox contributor and Townhall editor Guy Benson sums up this nuanced predicament in regards to the Moore scandal.
I have deep concerns about false accusations being weaponized to destroy people.
But arguments that allegations against Moore can't be true because they didn't surface sooner prove absolutely nothing.
(Since convicted) pedophile Dennis Hastert rose to Speaker of the House!— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 10, 2017
This is the next big question we have to sort out as a society: Do we champion innocent until proven guilty or go with a gut reaction — especially in cold cases or those with little to no evidence? Due process procedures are being strengthened on college campuses regarding how schools investigate sexual assault allegations. How does due process apply to incidents like these that have come years later?
Gabriella Muñoz is a commentary desk intern with the Washington Examiner and a student at Georgetown University.