How we can protect #MeToo from allegations of 'mob mentality'

Any revolutionary movement that challenges the status quo generally faces the burden of addressing many factors within it that make it less 'palatable' to those in power.

 |  4-minute read |   12-10-2018
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For the last week or so, social media has been set ablaze as #MeToo hit Indian shores. Countless survivors of sexual abuse and harassment have come forward with their stories, giving courage to many others to share their own. The alleged perpetrators of abuse have generally been powerful men in industries like media, comedy and film.

This has been long overdue.

Survivors of such abuse have historically found it extremely difficult to report it, given how little support they receive. Even now, in 2018, the credibility and intent of survivors is repeatedly being questioned from many quarters, even as others corroborate their accounts. This reeks of how deeply misogyny is ingrained in our society, despite it being apparent that most survivors who speak out about their experiences have nothing to gain from it except, perhaps, some closure. Since so many harrowing accounts of abuse have been circulated, there is, understandably, a lot of outrage against abusers and the entrenched power structures that protect and abet them.

These structures also ensure that abusers are rarely ever brought to justice through legal channels and thus continue to live their lives — comfortably — without facing any consequences for their actions.

This makes #MeToo, a parallel channel that ensures that abusers are exposed, an absolute necessity.

aib_101118065909.jpgSeveral AIB members have been hit by allegations of sexual misconduct. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

However, the movement’s nature is drawing flak from many with accusations of “mob mentality”. This misses the very point of #MeToo, as the movement is a declaration that the system has always supported the abusers, not the survivors, and the only way to get any remote semblance of justice is to go outside the system.

However, any revolutionary movement that challenges the status quo generally faces the burden of addressing many factors within it that make it less “palatable” to those in power. This runs the risk of diluting the movement and hanging those who need it the most out to dry. To protect #MeToo from allegations of mob mentality, which could take away its credibility, there could be some guidelines one can follow.

Of course, some de facto guidelines already exist.

Alleged abusers defending themselves with claims of vague mental illnesses are rightly considered problematic as they’re effectively attempting to twist the narrative to paint themselves as the victims and refusing to take responsibility for their actions. Friends of alleged abusers coming out with character certificates for them are to be disbelieved, since they miss the crucial point that people can be nice to their own friends and still be abusive to others.

What is also needed, though, are guidelines for alleged abusers to defend themselves in an acceptable manner.

This is an extremely sensitive issue, since abusers have long enjoyed the privilege of being considered innocent until legally proven guilty — a principle that clearly does not seem to work when it comes to issues of sexual assault and harassment.

However, even as we strongly and rightly stand by the principle that we should always believe the victim, it would help if there were guidelines for acceptable ways in which the accused could defend themselves.

sexual-assaut_101118070206.jpgPutting question marks on the complainant’s character should be seen as blatant attempts to victim-blame. (Photo: Reuters)

A principle that needs to be established is that the onus to prove their innocence is on the accused. Appeals to emotion and claims of always striving to be “a good human being” should not be acceptable at all — putting question marks on the complainant’s behaviour or character should be seen as blatant attempts to victim-blame and deflect attention from the issue.

The accused, or a third party wishing to prove innocence, should come forward with concrete evidence and verifiable testimony that proves that the complainant’s account contains serious fabrications (not minor instances of misremembering certain events). The accused should also be open to face inquiry and make continued attempts to prove their innocence with the understanding that the onus of doing so is on them, rather than waiting for things to blow over.

If someone accused of sexual abuse is able to do these things, perhaps we should also be cognisant of the fact that when the number of survivor accounts is as high as has been in the last week, it is only statistically natural that one or two of them may not check out in terms of facts. This does not amount to doubting victims or believing that #MeToo is in any way responsible for such an account.

It is simply an acceptance of the reality that on occasion, such anomalies do occur.

With a few guidelines, a movement as vital as #MeToo can be protected from those trying to derail it.

Also read: The tragedy of Indian comedy: Why we can't afford to laugh at your jokes anymore

 

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