Christine Blasey Ford, Wikipedia

Trust, but verify.

This Russian proverb — pop­u­larized by former Pres­ident Ronald Reagan — is a mantra for jour­nalism. Trust sources, but check what they say.

It should be the mantra for inves­ti­gating sexual assault too.

When a woman comes forward with an alle­gation of sexual assault, the first reaction should be to believe her. Then it should be to cor­rob­orate evi­dence.

The #Believe­Women movement has sprung out of Christine Blasey Ford’s alle­ga­tions of attempted sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his high school years. But it’s proved to be nothing more than a game of identity pol­itics. Women shouldn’t be believed simply because they are women.

Sexual assault alle­ga­tions have a ten­dency to turn into a game of “he said, she said.” Erring on the side of caution and believing a woman who comes forward is the right thing. Whether they are accusing a student, a celebrity, or a high-profile politician, these women have much to lose. They risk having their names smeared and their per­sonal infor­mation leaked. Or, in Ford’s case, mocked by the pres­ident at a rally. These stakes make coming forward with fal­sified alle­ga­tions risky and unlikely.

But this doesn’t mean alle­ga­tions should be believed without question. As more infor­mation has come to light about Ford’s alleged assault, the case against Kavanaugh has become less sturdy. Ford’s story has changed several times about a number of things, including the number of attackers and the floor plan of the house in which she claims the assault took place. Many men and women — some who Ford named as key wit­nesses — have defended Kavanaugh, pro­viding written tes­timony that sup­ports his inno­cence.

For some, this doesn’t matter. Ford should be believed simply because she is a woman, they argue. But being a woman — or a victim of sexual assault — does not make someone auto­mat­i­cally trust­worthy.  

This isn’t to say Ford is lying. It appears she believes Kavanaugh sex­ually assaulted her. But a tes­timony alone, espe­cially one that is uncor­rob­o­rated and highly-dis­puted, should not be enough to condemn a man. Ford’s accu­sation should be believed when sub­stantive evi­dence sup­ports it — not because it comes from a woman.

Any­thing less is sexist pan­dering to identity pol­itics. Women are not inher­ently more trust­worthy. Men are not all liars.

Believe women, but verify what they say.

Jordyn Pair is a senior studying soci­ology and rhetoric and public address.

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Jordyn Pair
Jordyn Pair is from Milford, Michigan and plans to study Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. She has previously written for Spinal Column and The Madonna Herald, Madonna University's school newspaper. She enjoys writing, photography, and videography, as well as choir, martial arts, and blogging. She plans to pursue a career in journalism. email: | twitter: @jordynpair