Sunday, August 31, 2014

Victim-blaming vs the presumption of innocence; or Anita Sarkeesian and the benefit of the doubt

Sarkeesian gave me more to say when she tweeted,
Over a thousand people have retweeted that, which may mean a thousand people have accepted this redefinition of "victim blaming".

The original definition of victim-blaming was simple: it meant blaming the victim for what happened to them: "You shouldn't have worn that skirt, walked down that alley, trusted that person, etc."

But "the benefit of the doubt" only means accusations should be taken seriously. It does not mean we should assume anyone who claims to have been a victim is telling the truth. Humans sometimes lie, and sometimes are mistaken. The presumption of innocence always matters.

If you're a binarian, you believe someone or you don't. The rest of us live in a world of infinite possibility. We give our trust knowing it may be broken.

I give Sarkeesian the benefit of the doubt. I have no reason to believe she's lying. I want the person or people harassing her to be found and prosecuted. But if, as sometimes happens, it turns out that person is an ally of Sarkeesian's or Sarkeesian herself, I won't be surprised. I'll only be sad.

Related: Hoax hate crimes: cheaters, Munchausen syndrome, and social justice warriors