Should there be collective punishment of men?


Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry

I have a terrible confession to make: I am not a woman. As such, I need to choose my words very, very carefully. I, a mere man, dare to suggests ideas for creating a more civilised society for everyone who defends human rights, including the right of the innocent to a fair trial.

It should go without saying that I want all men who abuse women to be prosecuted, lose their jobs, and – if the crime is serious enough, with all forms of sexual assault self evidently falling into this category – going to jail for a very long time. Lesser offences may require being sacked, or demoted, given a final warning, suspended sentences or whatever — the specific punishment depending on a variety of factors.

We are clearly dealing with a wide spectrum of offences. And society needs to look at each case on its merit. If we want to protect women, and end misogyny forever, we need to identify the problem, and — where possible – rehabilitate offenders who managed to get through half a century or more of their lives assuming that women didn’t care about their sexist comments or crude flirtations. We can change this. But have to start from where we are, not where we wish we were. There is horrendous legacy to tackle, and it is endlessly regurgitated on television and radio, and in the cinema, with sexist behavior legitimised with ‘jokes’ that promote this bad behavior, rather than take the piss out of the sexists. If sexist men want to be helped to grow up and enter the twenty first century, I for one think it would be better for society to meet them half way. Let’s see if they are serious or not.

Additionally, I hope it’s not too controversial to reject collective punishment of all and every man simply because of the crimes committed by some men. When it comes to the law, we want only the guilty punished, right? Statistics about how many rape victims don’t get the justice they deserve has zero bearing when a jury is discussing an individual case.

Unfortunately, the indisputable need for all of us to listen to those telling us they were sexually abused, when this is attempted in the full glare of the mass media — rather than in a court of law or with trained counsellors from rape crisis organisations and sympathetic police officers — there is a danger of depriving the alleged rapist of due process.

Almost everyone who has spoken on the telly or radio in the last couple of weeks has found unnamed men guilty in advance of their inevitable court case. This will necessarily rule out those discussing these cases in the media of serving on a jury for these rape cases, maybe of any rape case. Whoever these men are, the only solution for both parties is for the men to be charged, and then for the media to butt out. The sub judice principle has to be applied here or no fair-minded jury can possibly be found.

Very few women hate all men. Most adult women love, or at least quite like a few of us. Women, let’s remember, have brothers, fathers, sons, platonic friends, lovers. If one of these men claims he’s been falsely accused, many women friends/relatives will at least consider the possibility that these men are indeed telling the truth, standing by them unless and until their trust is shown to have been misguided.

I can remember asking Owen Jones on twitter what he would do if his good friend Clive Lewis claimed he was being falsely accused of sexual harassment. When I used that example, I had no idea that such a thing would come to pass. But it has. I don’t personally like Clive Lewis, nor do I trust his alleged ‘Corbynite’ credentials. But I refuse to deny him due process. The allegations against him do need to be investigated, but I’m prepared to believe he is telling the truth. I extend this approach to everyone, regardless of politics or class. Far too many on the left believe allegations when the accused is someone we dislike. Not good enough, comrades. Not good enough at all.

Is supporting the right of accused men to a fair trial synonymous with indifference to women who claim they’ve been raped? Absolutely not. Women need opportunities to get justice, and society as a whole needs to come up with better means of corroborating their allegations. I am confident there are ways this can be done. But jumping to the conclusion that men should be locked up without a fair trial doesn’t help anyone.

The assumption that all accused men must be guilty is a disaster waiting to happen. This is a trap that no woman should fall into. The problem is if no woman will have her allegations scrutinised before a jury of the peers of all of us, then sooner or later someone without morals nor brains will get caught making up a story. It’s possible that quite rapidly many false allegations will be exposed due to the feeling there is zero risk in doing this. That would inevitably lead to a backlash. Sexist men would then organize a counterrevolution where the assumption was that most allegations are probably based on lies. The only way to stop that is to make sure that we are all on the same page. Better catch the guilty. But don’t punish those who have not had any chance to prove their innocence.

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