Why does everyone feel so sorry for men accused of being predators?
Playboy is excited about its Terry Richardson issue: 'The results are by turns sub-dappled, sassy, langurous and, most of all, revealing in the very best way.' Photograph: Rex / Patrick McMullan Co / Sipa U
It's been less than a month since Dov Charney was ousted as American Apparel's CEO after numerous accusations of sexual harassment, and now the company has rehired him as a paid "strategic consultant" – andwill let him keep his huge salary. It's also been less than a month sincethat long magazine profile reminded everyone that photographer Terry Richardson has been accused of multiple sexual assaults (two settled), and he's still partnering with Playboy magazine on a special 100-page issue – shot entirely by him.
Everyone is always pretty concerned that men accused of sexual misconduct will have their lives ruined, but it looks like these guys aren't just avoiding the many consequences of those accusations – they're actually flourishing!
Why is it – in a culture purporting to take allegations of sexual assault and harassment seriously – that victims suffer more social punishment than their accused attackers?
A week after his daughter, Dylan, publicly accused him of molesting her as a child, Woody Allen was given ample space in the New York Times to respond with his denials. Some words he used to describe Dylan and his ex-partner, Mia Farrow: "malevolence", "crazy", "spitefully", "vindictiveness" and "festering anger". Charney reportedly allowed an American Apparel employee to post naked pictures of a former employee who sued him. Over 100 film industry insiders signed a letter in support of Roman Polanski, who pled guilty to "unlawful sex" with a 13-year-old.
Just last week, we learned about Jada - a 16-year-old Houston girl who alleges she was sexually assaulted while unconscious at a party. When they shared pictures of the incident on social media, young people's first instinct wasn't to contact authorities – it was to mock the victim. Some even started to mimic the picture of the passed-out girl and tagged itwith the hashtag #jadapose. (At least more humane people took over the hashtag with messages of support, as police investigate.)
According to Sunday's front-page New York Times story about a rape investigation at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the victim was not only traumatized by a disciplinary panel that hinted her suggestive dancing could have been related to the assault; she was directly retaliated against. The woman told reporter Walt Bogdanich of "physical threats and obscenities on her dormitory door" – even "being pushed in the dining hall".
It's a scenario that's become all too familiar: young women are shamed, harassed and called whores while the men accused get rallied around. This is especially true when the accused are young, white, accomplished or famous, and the misplaced empathy makes predators' lives easier and assaults more difficult to punish.
Immediately after a guilty verdict came down in the much-watched Steubenville sexual assault case, for example, CNN reporter Poppy Harlow bemoaned the lost "promising futures" of the two convicted rapists. She failed to observe, in that moment, that the verdict didn't ruin their lives – their decision to rape did. Less than a year later, one of the rapists – Ma'lik Richmond – was already out of jail after appeal. The other attacker, Trent Mays, will serve two years.
But at least those rapists actually served time; the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (Rainn) reports that only three out of every 100 rapists go to jail. This is in large part because of how under-reported sexual assault is: according to the US Justice Department, over 60% of rapes and 74% of sexual assaults aren't reported to police. Given the abysmal way female sexual assault survivors are treated by the criminal justice system – and society more broadly – these numbers shouldn't be shocking.
When Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz reported her rape to the NYPD – after being treated shoddily by school administrators, who found the alleged attacker "not responsible" – one officer allegedly told her friend, "Of all these cases, 90 percent are bullshit, so I don't believe your friend for a second."
Given all this, it seems odd that we continue to worry about the reputations of men who are accused of sexual wrong-doings.
Until we shame attackers with the same contempt that so many people reserve for women who come forward – until we shift the disdain from victim to perpetrator – rape, sexual assault and harassment will continue to run rampant and predators will continue to attack. Because why wouldn't they?