How To Treat Rape Accusations

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Over at Ms. Annie Shields has a post entitled "Apologizing For Roethlisberger" in which she takes several us to task for not taking the rape allegations seriously:


When an athlete is accused of sexual assault there's usually no shortage of voices expressing doubt about the allegations. This case, however, is different. Now that Roethlisberger is at the center of his second sexual abuse scandal in nine months, commentators have been forced to revise their typical skeptical responses. As it turns out, the classic approach of discrediting or blaming the victim doesn't play as well the second time around, so, instead of maligning the quarterback's 20-year-old accuser, many in the media have simply ignored her...

These columnists' responses to Roethlisberger's newest scandal betray that they don't take these kind of allegations seriously, even the second time they are made. Rather than dealing with the quarterback's alleged sexual misconduct, they criticize him for partying, as if that's what the police investigation will be about. They do not denounce the alleged sexual assaults, because they try not to acknowledge them. And since they can't as easily get away with vilifying the second accuser, they dismiss her entirely.

I think I have some sense of why this whole conversation might be frustrating. Rape has a psychological element that thrives on shame. In our justice system the burden is always on the accuser, but that burden falls especially hard when there are significant disincentives to reporting the crime, and testifying about it. Sexual assault is humiliating, and no one really wants to relive that humiliation. Moreover, I think getting accused of sexual assault twice raises some basic human suspicions. 

But that said, I'm not exactly sure what to do here. I think we all find the presumption of innocence to be essential. With that in mind--What, specifically, should we be saying? How should we be talking about the anonymous accuser? What, specifically, constitutes taking alleged sexual misconduct seriously? Should we really be in the business of denouncing "alleged crimes?" Was the rush to condemn in the Duke Rape Case excusable?

I'm tempted to say that it's a mistake to talk about it all. But presumably that still means we're "ignoring" it. So what really should we be doing here?
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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