Several of my peers have opted not to write about the allegations of sexual assault against former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. Some of them feel they don’t have enough facts. It’s true, we don’t know have all the facts but there are some things that those who are writing about the story need to better understand.
Salon posted a troubling piece yesterday with the headline, “3 reasons to doubt the Al Gore sex assault story.” Reason number three is the classic “other-people-have lied-about rape before.” The fact of the matter is: people sometimes lie about attempted robbery and murder too but those stories and statistics are not used to cast doubt on accusers of those crimes. Yet statistics about false rape allegations are not only raised when someone is accused, they are often held up as evidence that the accuser is lying. Those of us with roots in Boston remember Charles Stuart who in 1989 lied about someone shooting him and his pregnant wife. The incident sparked a media storm and heightened racial tension in the city. But it doesn’t resurface as evidence in the same way the Duke lacrosse rape story does whenever there are high profile accusations of sexual assault.
Then there was this horrible piece in The Washington Post which quotes liberally from the police report. The author, Alexandra Petri, repeatedly mocks the accuser even writing at one point, “There are hundreds of jokes to be made here.” The fact of the matter is: women who are sexually assaulted are too often mocked and shamed in the court of public opinion. Is it any wonder a victim might choose not to bring charges against their attacker?
The Daily Caller ran this headline about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough’s tweets on the topic, “Scarborough: Gore sex scandal is just hot air.” The fact of the matter is: Getting caught having sex with a consenting adult who is not your spouse is a sex scandal. What Gore’s accuser alleges in her statement to the police is more than a scandal.
And then there are the commenters. At Salon, one commenter refers to Gore’s “dallying.” Again, dallying is consensual. This story alleges force. Another observed of Gore, “he just doesn’t give off those sleazy perv vibes that triggered my alarms.” Rapists don’t always look and act a certain way. There are the commenters like this one who wrote, “I doubted the allegations, especially since real sex could be had for less money than the $540 Gore was paying his masseuse for a bellyrub.” Reminder: rape is not about sex. It is about violence and control.
And finally, there are the commenters and commentators who imply that an accuser who pursues civil action but not criminal action must just be a gold digger. The fact of the matter is there are many legitimate reasons a victim of sexual assault might choose that route. Read Jaclyn Friedman’s article, “Why the Charges are Civil (and Why That Doesn’t Mean She’s a Lying Golddigger)” to understand some of them.
So, while I understand the hesitancy to cover this story, those who do cover it should make an effort to understand rape culture and extend the same courtesy – considering someone innocent unti proven guilty – to both the accused and the accuser.
UPDATE July 1, 2010: This investigation had been closed but Portland Police anounced they have reopened it.