Similarly, when a person seeks out a close friend or attorney or priest or therapist to say they've been falsely accused, they ought to be believed, absent red flags, and supported insofar as they seem to be earnestly trying to prove their innocence.
In stark contrast, detectives, prosecutors, campus tribunals, and journalists are charged with searching for the truth. They ought to be attentive, respectful, and sensitive to accusers as they tell their stories–and to be clear that their obligation to think critically about all alleged facts and to verify details doesn't imply that they find the teller unreliable. Fact-checking even credible-sounding claims is just what members of these professions do when serious charges are levied, both to do their jobs ethically and because society benefits from classes of people who labor to establish what is known. This is no more objectionable than insurance companies taking a close look at all fires, though few people intentionally burn down their own house, or the TSA scanning all luggage though almost no one has a bomb. Seeing skeptical questions as standard due diligence can take the sting out of them. Casting journalistic norms as "mistrusting victims" does victims a disservice. They erroneously believe they're being singled out for mistrust.
What about the public? Ideally, people would be broadly aware that rape allegations (like allegations of most other crimes) are true far more often than false, prompting political support for reforms to increase our understanding of how often rape happens; to reliably punish perpetrators; and to reduce the number of victims.
Yet that general response should be paired with a reticence to jump to conclusions en masse in individual cases, especially when we hear about them third-hand. With time and investigative journalism, criminal trials, or civil suits, the public can, at times, reach informed conclusions about allegations. But there's little to gain from a rush to judgment when a Conor Oberst or Bill Cosby is first accused, and much to be lost if a mob reaches the wrong conclusion.
Maxwell doesn't seem to fully recognize these costs. She writes of false accusations:
The accused would have a rough period.
He might be suspended from his job; friends might defriend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching his shows, consuming his books or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. But false accusations are exceedingly rare, and errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.
This dramatically understates the potential harm. One can find suicides prompted by false accusations (as well as by prosecutions of allegedly false accusers). Emily Yoffe documents how a dubious allegation of rape and a wildly unfair judicial process wreaked havoc in the life of a University of Michigan student. It doesn't require much empathy for those who are falsely accused to realize that their travails are more traumatic than losing Facebook friends and a few weeks at work. In the most serious cases, innocents face criminal charges, like the Duke lacrosse players, or are sent to prison for rapes that they did not commit.