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.