Author: Jason Manning
Sometimes people make false claims of victimhood. These could take the form of hate crime hoaxes — pretending one has been victimized by some unknown member of another social group– or of falsely accusing a particular individual of personal wrongdoing.
In The Rise of Victimhood Culture, Bradley Campbell and I address social factors that make false accusations more likely. One of these factors is institutional: To the extent agencies charged with policing misconduct are bound by rules of due process, false accusations will be rarer. Where due process is limited or absent, false accusations increase.
The reason for this is simple: By requiring a set of procedural rights that protect the accused from being falsely convicted, due process makes it more likely that false accusations will be revealed. This not only makes them a less reliable weapon against one’s enemy, but also makes them more dangerous, since exposure of the lie might lead to trouble for the accuser. On the other hand, if accusations reliably lead to punishment even when evidence of guilt is lacking, then falsely accusing others becomes a safer and more attractive option for getting back at someone.
The erosion of due process is often driven by moral fervor. The urge to punish deviants and protect or avenge innocents can lead to impatience with rules and restrictions that protect the accused. In a victimhood culture, with its extreme sensitivity to slights against anyone perceived as disadvantaged, this means the destruction of due process for those accused of offenses against women and minorities.
We see this in zeal with which the Department of Education has interpreted Title IX, a law forbidding sexual discrimination, as requiring universities to investigate and punish claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Even when legal action is possible, universities are to handle the matter themselves, and to do so using fewer due process protections than the law would provide, including a much lower standard of proof required for conviction and punishment. As we note in our book, this also leads to cases where “universities refuse to inform accused students of the details of the charges against them, refuse to allow them to ask questions of the accuser, refuse to look at evidence that might be exculpatory, and order them not to speak about the case to anyone.”
This lack of due process for the accused makes it more likely that people will handle conflicts through accusations to authorities. This is so even when the substance of the conflict has little to do with the content of the accusation. People who wish to use authority to punish someone else do not necessarily complain about what is really bothering them; rather, they complain of whatever offense it is that authorities will reliability punish. Authorities in the Soviet Union, for instance, would quickly and uncritically accept accusations of disloyalty to the Communist state. Because this was a sure way to cause trouble for one’s adversary, all sorts of ordinary interpersonal disputes having nothing to do with politics could lead to such accusations. In our book, we cite cases from the work of historian Sheila Fitzpatrick:
“For example, the wife of a biologist denounced a powerful communist in the same profession as ‘a vulgarian who pulls the wool over people’s eyes, a pitiful scientific pigmy, a plagiarist and compiler’” while “the agitprop files in Moscow contain many letters from leading actors, actresses, and opera singers denouncing the theater directors who had insulted them and failed to give them appropriate roles”…. One man served an eight-year sentence due to a complaint about “counterrevolutionary agitation” that apparently arose because his communal neighbors were jealous of the size of his family’s room (Fitzpatrick 1996:856).
With this in mind, consider a recent description of a Title IX investigation published by Ingrid Jacques in The Detroit News. It describes the case of sociologist and demographer Pamela Smock, who had a close mentoring relationship with several female students.
“A few weeks prior, while at a conference with one of the students, Smock had gently confronted the woman about a paper she had turned in for another class. Smock had reason to question whether this was her student’s work, and she was concerned.
The student did not take the conversation well.
Within a few weeks, campus police stormed Smock’s office, searching for a reported gun (she didn’t have one). And around the same time, she was informed harassment allegations were filed against her with the university’s Office for Institutional Equity, which investigates Title IX gender discrimination complaints.”
The police quickly found she had no firearm, and despite their low standard of proof, the Title IX investigation ultimately acquitted Smock of “creating a sexually hostile work environment.” But the final report did call her behavior “inappropriate,” and this led to further sanctions:
“The dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Andrew Martin, found the report “troubling” and decided some punishment was necessary. So he sanctioned her, meaning her salary is frozen, she can’t take a sabbatical and she can’t serve as the primary or sole adviser to doctoral students for at least three years.
. . . In sanctioning Smock, the Dean referenced the Title IX complaint. Even though she was cleared of official wrongdoing, there was still something he didn’t like. But neither Martin nor anyone else in the department has specified exactly what Smock did wrong — or what policy she violated.”
Smock is now suing the University for violating her rights to due process and free speech.
The article relates Smock’s side of the story, and it could be the root of the conflict was something other than the confrontation it describes. If this story is accurate, though, it shows the ease with which one can handle a grievance – any grievance – with an accusation of discrimination or harassment. Even a heterosexual woman and self-described feminist can be punished with accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination against a female student. Furthermore, she might be punished even if found innocent of that particular charge. If acquittal can still result in punishment, the validity of the initial accusation is not relevant – falsely accusing someone stands a good chance of hamstringing their career, and so is a reliable weapon of social conflict.
Those of us who did not witness Smock’s interaction with her students, or read the evidence presented against her, cannot know for certain whether she violated any university policy or did anything we would find inappropriate. But if accusations inevitably lead to sanctions, and if administrators can punish without specifying any wrongdoing, it does not matter — anyone could be punished, regardless of their innocence. Thus false accusations and false claims of victimhood will inevitably become a more attractive option for anyone with an ax to grind.
Original source: http://victimhoodculture.com/index.php/2018/03/03/false-accusations-due-process/
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