Guest Post: Common strategies to undermine victims

Elise Woodard writes:

It’s extremely common, in cases of sexual harassment or assault, for the accused (and their allies) to attempt to undermine women’s credibility in the following ways.:
(1) Remark on the fact that the woman continued communicating with her alleged assailant even after the incident. Bonus points if her communication was at any point enthusiastic or amicable.
(2) Note if the woman did not report the incident immediately. The longer she waits, the less credible her story is. (Despite the fact that most women do not report right away, for various reasons some of which are related to trauma.)
(3) Exploit any fact you know about her relationship history or her mental health history. Capitalize on the fact that she was taking anxiety medication, has a history of depression, or even a passing interest in BDSM (in cases of sexual assault).
(4) Highlight that the most horrifying details of the incident were missing from the initial report. Ignore the fact that recounting (or even recalling) these details is often degrading, humiliating, and difficult for the woman.
(5) Use feminist language or draw attention to your feminist affiliations in a patronizing way, so that you seem like you care more about women’s interests than they do.
(6) Suggest that your accuser has financial or other ulterior motives for making such a “false” accusation. Ignore how (re)traumatizing cases involving sexual assault/harassment are for the victim (though, apparently, also the accused “as can be seen … from the gap [the case] left in [Pogge’s] publication record”) and how difficult they are to win.

Pogge has not employed each of these strategies (in part because not all of them are applicable), but he has done most of them. It’s important to keep in mind the fact that these 6 tactics are frequently used to unjustly undermine a woman’s credibility. (3) through (6) have no bearing on the truth of the accusations, and a woman’s actions referenced in (1) and (2) are extremely common, in part because these incidents are often traumatic. [For anyone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed, or who has basic knowledge about trauma, (1) and (2) may be far too familiar.]

Unfortunately, these tactics are often sufficient for persuading people to suspend judgment about the case. And given standards of evidence in legal cases, suspending judgment can be effectively the same as just taking the side of the accused. Thus, given the tactics’ neutralizing power, it’s hard to not believe that they result in some sort of testimonial injustice.

Schliesser on Pogge

With characteristically thoughtful reflections.

Here’s just one:

Pogge has been an excellent mentor to many talented and accomplished women. This has been great for the profession, which, as we all know, has struggled to recruit and maintain women in the field. To recognize this, is not to deny that he has also been an awful professional colleague to other women (humans can be this imperfect); and, as the reports make clear, several of these have left the profession to our great shame. In addition, there must be quite a few witnesses (I have spoken to a few unrelated to the cases discussed in the press) who may not have interacted with Pogge personally, but who saw that he would get away crossing boundaries without anybody lifting a finger. How many more left the field in disgust (or anger)? Given that the profession is such a status hierarchy, bad behavior at the top can generate a huge pattern of exclusion. This is our generation’s disappearing ink.

For more, go here.


More on Pogge: Links

An excellent discussion of the way that the “presumption of innocence” is used in internet discussions, by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa here.

The admonition not to pass judgement about the allegations is simply the admonition to ignore them. “Don’t believe anything unless it’s been proven in a court of law.” But this is just a ludicrous epistemic standard. Do you care whether powerful men in academic philosophy are using their stature to coerce students into compromising sexual situations? Then you should be interested in credible testimony to the effect that this one has been. Don’t be tempted by the fallacious inference from it hasn’t been proven in court to you have no way to tell whether it’s true.

Eric Schliesser notices the strangeness of Pogge’s invocation of lie detector tests here.

I was baffled to read the quoted sentence in Thomas Pogge’s Response to the Allegations (see here) My gut reaction was, “if a mutually agreeable experts can be found, such an expert would be a fraudster.” It is widely known that Polygraph testing is a pseudo-science.

Philosophy Goes Pop on testimonial injustice in discussions of the case here.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. When Bill Cosby was accused of rape by 58 women, a surprising number of people leapt to his defense, delegitimizing the women’s claims altogether as hearsay. We are consistently taught to view women as liars, starting with the stereotype that women are gossips who believe whatever they are told. This stereotype pervades depictions of women who claim to have been assaulted or harassed. In fact, one police unit even called their sexual assault division the ‘Lying Bitches Unit.’ There is a tendency to believe that women are lying about sexual harassment and assault, and to find alternative explanations that exonerate the perpetrators.

Huffington Post here.

Pogge’s response, here.

Buzzfeed, discussing Pogge’s response, here.

If you’re looking for places with discussions of Pogge (including, sadly, a lot of scepticism about victims’ testimony) there are two posts up at Daily Nous, here  and here.

Here, we’d welcome discussion from those grappling with how to improve our profession.   Those who want to undermine victims’ credibility can head somewhere else.  We’ll be confining ourselves to useful discussion.