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.

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