This past week, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned after a scandal emerged regarding allegations of domestic abuse from his two ex-wives. An article by The New York Times reported Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Joe Hagin, deputy chief of staff for operations, knew about the accusations in late fall. In response to the resignation, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Peoples (sic) lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Amid the sentencing of Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, there will be an investigation regarding “reports and accusations that Michigan State officials and coaches were told of Dr. Nassar’s behavior years before it became public, yet did nothing to stop him from treating athletes.” According to an article by The New York Times, multiple victims shared their experiences with trusted university officials but were ignored or not taken seriously. Nassar’s reputation protected him from facing accusations for years.
If you Google the question “who knew about Harvey Weinstein?” you will find a few pages worth of headlines and articles reiterating the claim that everyone in the industry knew about Weinstein’s behavior, even before The New York Times broke the story, even before The New Yorker published their investigation with accounts from multiple women. Women in the industry used whisper networks — informal communication channels used to share stories — to warn each other of predators who might run in the same circles. Actress Jessica Chastain tweeted, “I was warned from the beginning. The stories were everywhere. To deny that is to create an environment for it to happen again.”
I know that one of these things is not like the other. Nassar has been sentenced, Weinstein resigned from his company’s board and has been pushed out of the industry. Porter is just facing allegations and no investigations have been done; we only have the word of the women.
There is an interesting pattern here. These are just three examples of numerous instances in which people knew about the wrongdoing of reputable men and failed to speak out or step up. The careers and lives of Weinstein and Nassar were prioritized over the harm they continued to cause while they were left unchecked. Porter was given a privileged position in the White House despite the FBI’s report on his abusive background.
From vulnerable young men and women in the film industry to children hoping for treatment for their athletic injuries, the victims were supposed to be protected, whether by agents, coaches or other authorities. None of these men were operating in total secrecy. But those who had the knowledge and power to intervene did nothing; they didn’t even seek to impose consequences until the accusations became widely known. Maybe it was a desire to not rock the boat, or denial that someone they knew could behave in such a way. Maybe it was belittling the trauma of the survivors of harassment, assault and abuse.
Due process hasn’t gone anywhere. I don’t intend to advocate for the abandonment of due process or the notion of innocent until proven guilty. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that the people who are victimized by the justice system, the ones whose lives and careers truly are ruined by falsehoods, are not the people the president is talking about in his tweet. A powerful, white man who held a position in the White House would not lose everything should it come out that the accusations are false.
Some people will leap to defend men who have been accused. But we often don’t extend the same benefit of the doubt to the victims, often (though not always, by any means) women, who are speaking up. The individual accomplishments of the man are considered — his job, his success, his charm, etc. — are often presented as some sort of evidence for why he couldn’t possibly have committed the crime of which he was accused. But while this is happening, the accusers are being grouped into a cruel category: women who are lying, who are exacting revenge, who are just looking for attention. Speaking up often brings a slew of hate. Not speaking up right away comes, too, with its own problems. If they didn’t come forward right away, that’s cause for suspicion.
There is no right way to be a victim. Accusers are othered; speculations are made regarding what might motivate someone to ruin a man’s life, and the notion that they are simply telling the truth, hoping for justice or to prevent further action, can be found near the bottom of the list. Who are victims supposed to trust, if they are not protected by a system put in place to care for them, or if they can’t count on someone with power and knowledge to stand up against what is obviously wrong? What are victims supposed to do, when their names and lives and dragged through the mud while their abuser is defended in the name of due process?
Danielle Colburn can be reached at email@example.com