The #MeToo movement has been a force for good. By encouraging women to tell their stories of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape, many men have been brought to account.
While the movement should be praised for encouraging women to share their traumatic experiences, there is one demand the movement makes that must end: the need to “believe all women.”
It is a sad fact of human nature that not everyone tells the truth. Some women do falsely accuse men of sex crimes. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, a review of the research found that “the prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent.” (A false report “is a reported crime to a law enforcement agency that an investigation factually proves never occurred.”)
Case in point: In 2016, Nikki Yovino told police that two football players raped her in a bathroom. Although the men were not arrested, both were expelled from school. Yovino later admitted that she lied. She didn’t want a potential boyfriend to think she was promiscuous.
Not only do some women lie, but others can have false memories. The further into the past an event occurred, the greater the likelihood of a person not being able to accurately recount what happened. A woman can sincerely believe she was victimized, but memories are not always accurate, especially recovered memories.
When a woman accuses a man of wrongdoing, there are three ways we can respond:
The first is to believe her claims. This is reasonable if the woman is a family member or friend. If you know a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted, it is natural to believe her, and you should.
The second response to a woman’s claim of mistreatment by a man is to not believe her. If a woman has made false allegations in the past, then we should be skeptical if she accuses a man of harming her. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Case in point: In 2017, Jemma Beale was sentenced to prison after she falsely accused 15 men of rape and sexual assault. One of the men charged with rape was found guilty and spent nearly three years in jail. Beale made the accusations because she wanted to get attention from her partner.
When it comes to believing or not believing a woman’s claims, there is all the difference in the world between believing someone you know and someone you don’t. Trust should be earned, not freely given. To believe all women who accuse men of wrongdoing is to be naïve and gullible.
If we don’t know the woman who accuses a man of harming her, it is often premature judgement to believe her. Unless she can offer evidence that she was mistreated, or the man has been accused by other women, the third way to respond is to suspend judgement.
To suspend judgement means that we neither believe nor disbelieve. We choose not to judge until we have considered all the facts and evidence. We hear both sides before deciding who is telling the truth.
The problem with the #MeToo movement’s demand to “believe all women” is that men are considered guilty as soon as they are accused. This can have devastating consequences if the man is innocent. His public reputation is ruined forever unless he can prove he is innocent.
Unfortunately, in a “he said, she said” situation, it is often impossible to prove that something did not happen. If a woman claims she was victimized, and there are no witnesses, there is often no way to prove that she is lying.
Hence, the #MeToo movement’s demand to “believe all women” serves to promote mob justice. Men are judged guilty in the court of public opinion, and their employer may legally dismiss them without any proof of their guilt.
By ignoring the reality that a minority of women have falsely accused men of sex crimes, the #MeToo movement is wrong to demand that all women be believed. The demand is unjust because it replaces presumption of innocence with presumption of guilt. Further, it is sexist because it suggests that women are superior to men in their truthfulness.
A woman’s claim of mistreatment by a man should be taken seriously. If what happened was a crime, it should be reported to the police. However, the truth can only be determined not by blindly believing anyone, but by doing a proper investigation.