Saturday, 8 February 2014

I believe Dylan Farrow

I believe Dylan Farrow.

Almost every time I am going to believe the victim rather than accused, when it comes to matters of rape, sexual abuse, abuse of power, and the like.  I think it's important to redress the massive power imbalance in these cases by giving more weight to the voice, the story, the experiences of the victim.  I believe Louise Nicholas too.

I understand that the way the justice system works is different.  Due to the presumption of innocence, currently it seems impossible to give anything approaching equal weight to victim and accused.  Ironically, what does serve to provide some balance are other prejudices coming in to play.  The version of the victim will be considered more believable if they are cis female, white, "presentable", middle-class, virginal/married to someone other than the accused, acted in accepted ways before, during and after being assaulted/abused.  The version of the accused will be discounted in part or whole if cis male, physically powerful, brown, a stranger to the victim, poor, shown to be non-vanilla in sexual preferences and practices.

I can form a different opinion from the verdicts the justice system produces.  I can make up my own mind.  It has no consequences for the legal outcomes if I do.

But, if I can express my belief in the victim and their story in a way they become aware of, or other victims and survivors become aware, then I'm hopeful I'm expressing some solidarity, some support, for them.  That in some small way I am helping to redress the tilt the justice system applies, on a social level if not a legal one.

Comment direction:  I am not interested in debating my central premise here in the comments below, as I believe that could be very harmful to readers.  I'll be deleting comments that denigrate victims, propose that the accused in these cases is the underdog, anything like that.  I am interested in discussion of how we make the justice system fairer in these contexts, up against the (important) presumption of innocence of the accused, and I have no easy answers on that.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Julie. Thank you.

Moz said...

I think you presaged my feelings in your final paragraph. Specifically, the justice system is not the legal system, and in many ways the legal system is ill-suited to produce justice. Directly, you can only reach a different conclusion to the justice system if you're outside it, and you're not. You're part of the community that judges both victim and accused, and acts on those judgements. More so with Louise Nicholas than Dylan Farrow, but in both cases I think you're definitely part of it.

And it's posts like this that are an important part of changing how the justice system works. The more people talk about sexual abuse in these terms, the more the justice system will treat victims better and abusers worse.

Only once the justice system changes can we expect the legal system to follow. What we're after is not a little tweak to the legal system, like admitting that rape in marriage is possible, or that fine, upstanding members of the community can commit abuse, it's recognition that forcing victims into an adversarial system is abusive. That's a radical change, so it will take significant force or a long time to shift it.

mark said...


Hugh said...

I know it's been a while since this has been discussed here, but what ever happened to the idea of requiring the accused to prove that consent was given? I remember it used to be quite popular in THM discussions in this area, although I don't remember if Julie specifically supported it. Still, it seems like a timely point to return to the idea.

Anonymous said...

i guess I write this as a survivor, and as someone who is maybe going to enter the justice system as a survivor of historic sexual abuse (I haven't quite pushed myself there yet). So if my ideas about this are unformed or hurtful to other people reading then I'm sorry - what I have to say is informed by my own circumstances and maybe my fear as well. Arohamai.

I agree with Moz that changing the system from an adversarial one is necessary. I also think that we need to radically overhaul the way we see abusers and rapists. Some people are victims, some are abusers, and some (maybe many) abusers are victims too. A system that is focused on punishing people pushes us into seeing 'victims' and 'criminals' and i think it stops people getting the help they need. People I have talked to who have been through the justice system have said they did it to make sure no-one else got hurt. People who haven't been through the system have told me it was because it would tear the family apart, or because they would be judged for hurting someone who everyone else thought was sweet-as-pie. These are arguments that play out in my head regularly!

So I guess it would make it easier for someone like me to enter the 'Justice System' if I thought the response from the justice System would include

a) A belief in the story I tell, even if it has gaps or if I am unreliable about times
b) Sensitivity to my family and privacy for other victims of the same person who don't want to tell their story and should not be forced to.
c).Support for the abuser, who needs to admit/recognise what he did.
d). Support for the abuser's family who also need to recognise what happened and make sure their children are safe
e). Consequences that don't define him fully as an abuser - it doesn't make up the sum of him any more than 'victim' or 'survivor' makes up the sum of me.
f) support for all parties to express their anger over the hurt that has happened.

It sounds a bit optimistically 'pollyanna' when I write it down like this... maybe a restorative process like this would require levels of personal honesty that people just don't want to meet. Anyway thanks for the space to articulate this.

ChundaMars said...

@Hugh: no one's ever been able to convince me that "proving" consent was obtained would work in the real world. I'd be interested in hearing how it could be achieved though...

mark said...

Awful man.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, from someone who wasnt believed and that in itself caused so many issues.

Julie said...

Anon at 8.34am outlines the kind of approach I'd love us to get to.

Having been an eye witness to something, immediately calling the police, and then realising when they caught the person concerned and took him out of the building (I thought he was breaking in to our neighbour's) that I had completely mistaken his clothing, there has to be a middle ground between

Person X is totally right about everything, or Person X is totally wrong about everything.

People do make mistakes and it doesn't make everything they ever say untrue. Particularly in regard to experiences in a time of trauma.

I also think you raise an excellent point about the baldness of the terms victim and abuser. So often the abuser has been a victim, and the victim may become an abuser too, especially without the support. I'm also aware a lot of people prefer "survivor" to victim, because of the passiveness of the latter term. I'm really open to learning more about this, so if anyone has any links please drop them in.

The proving of consent has been raised here before and I do generally agree, however acknowledge the point that we need to make it workable. I think it would be helpful to start with the idea that there could be some basic situations in which there is a strong presumption that the victim is INCAPABLE of consent, eg. unconscious, drunk to a certain level, under age, in a position of extreme deference in relation to the accused. In those situations I can imagine that there could be consent, (eg a couple could have a habit and standing agreement that one party can commence sex with the other whilst they are asleep) but the presumption would be no consent, and it would then be on the accused to prove consent.

Or would that just make the adversarial nature worse?

(And mark, I'm not deleting the comments you've posted so far, but I will be deleting further links to the Allen/Farrow situation - that's not where I want this discussion to head to).

Anonymous said...

Coverage of this blog post in the Onion,35197/

Hugh said...

@Julie: While it's true that the survivor may become an abuser, I don't think acknowledging that is helpful. It's not going to encourage any victims to come forward if they know that the justice system is going to view them as a potential abuser!