See, one thing about Scofield is that for those that he cares about, he’ll do just about anything. But he’ll screw you three ways to Sunday if he doesn’t. – Alex Mahone, Prison Break
Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of articles on how people should react to abuse claims in light of such claims made by Julie McMahon against her former husband Tony Jones. The overwhelming point being made is that you should always believe the person making the claims, always believe the abused. Sounds pretty obvious, a no brainer; but there have been some things that have gotten in the way and made me uncomfortable when voicing such support; and after writing this I’m not sure they’re particularly good ones but we’ll come back to that.
From where I am, I was being presented with this; take the word of someone you don’t know over the word of someone else you don’t know. Whichever side you take, there are extending consequences. If you take the side of the accused, you’re saying the accuser is lying and you run the risk of disbelieving a victim of abuse and if they are to get support they need, and for others to speak up, people to believe them. If you take the side of the accuser, you’re saying the accused is guilty and should be punished accordingly. To punish someone on nothing but another persons word seems totally absurd to me. Both situations leave me very uncomfortable. Note the latter situation is not saying the accused is innocent, I need more than just someone’s word before labeling someone guilty which brings me to a big problem.
Evidence. Having evidence is usually absolutely great, needed and something I encourage people to get in most situations. In the vast majority of abuse cases however, there isn’t much (if any) evidence that abuse has taken place. Very often it’s one word against another which is why cases rarely get to court and even fewer result in successful prosecutions. This isn’t the argument that’s being made though, what many are saying is “why do we even need evidence? We have the word of the victim, that should be enough“. It certainly isn’t for the courts under the current system and the only way around that is to change the emphasis to guilty until proven innocent. Since that’s a huge can of worms and not likely to happen, the whole situation gets played out in social media, guilt and innocence are decided and I feel much stuck in the middle being bounced back and forth, especially since it’s been made clear that neutrality is not an option. At the moment, I need more than someone’s word, especially if I’m going to be calling for action against them.
Here’s the kicker though, if one of my friends came to me saying they’d been abused, everything I’ve put above about needing evidence and not judging on the basis of someone’s word goes out the window. It wouldn’t even enter my mind to do anything but believe them. Loyalty is something I strive for, I would do anything for them but it may work against me. If one of my friends were accused of abusing someone, I’d have it out with them but until then, I would defend them because they’re my friend. I can already hear the cries of “you’re supporting abusers” and “maintaining the status quo“. I want to be doing the opposite but my sense of loyalty would mean I defend them to begin with. That may change if I’m convinced they have in fact abused someone, but then I’m still stuck with consequence 1; disbelieving an abuse victim. If one friend were accused of abusing another, well……I’m not even going to finish that sentence.
I know whether I know someone should not affect whether I support them, but it does and has. Because I didn’t know Julie McMahon, I had no reason to believe or disbelieve her, but I had no reason to believe or disbelieve Tony Jones either. When Julie McMahon first made her allegations, it was in a comment section of an internet post. She was an anonymous username to me, one among millions on the internet. Experience has taught me to be cautious when dealing with people on the internet and those that make claims, particularly in comments sections. I’m usually skeptical and I was wrong this time, but 9 times out of 10 I wouldn’t have been wrong to be skeptical, in the same way by believing those who claim to have been abused I won’t be wrong 9 times out of 10 either. Next time…..yeah, next time I might not get more evidence other than comments on the internet.
I’m under no illusions that to many I’m not the good guy and not in the Dark Knight “being a bad guy for a greater good” kind of way. I’m not sure they’re wrong in that perception either. I know many won’t trust me to believe them when they claim to be abused, many see me as unsafe because I didn’t believe Julie from minute one; and they may not be wrong on that either. That is something I’m just going to have to live with for the moment. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I didn’t believe Julie McMahon from the outset, no matter how justified other feelings felt. I can’t ignore what people are saying about handling abuse claims, but I can’t seem to get over these hurdles regarding pronunciation of guilt either. It seems whatever side I go, I’m proclaiming someone guilty of something.
All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing, keep trying, for better or for worse.