Kimberly Kessler Ferzan (University of Pennsylvania)
1 March 2020 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 GMT
In many respects the #MeToo movement was a resounding success. In the span of a few months, powerful public figures were held to account for past acts of sexual violence and predation. While in some respects, saying, “me too” indicated that far more women were victims of sexual abuse writ large, often, the “me too” was with respect to a single perpetrator. That is, what caused many heads to roll was not that a woman accused someone, but that many women accused someone. Without discrediting all the good that has been done by the #MeToo movement, this paper explores the potential evidentiary impacts of the narratives that have been created. Specifically, with respect to accused perpetrators, will we be too eager to allow evidence of one bad act to make it likely that someone committed another? Will “once a rapist, always a rapist” be our mantra? And does the empirical evidence truly support this? Or should our understanding been cabined into particular sorts of cases where individuals can exploit opportunities due to the positions which they occupy? Equally troubling, on the other side of the coin, is whether this will disvalue women’s testimony. One might worry that what we have learned to do is to believe these women but not to believe any individual woman. We have never required that a bank robber had to rob a second bank before we determined he robbed the first one, and yet, what Cosby, Weinstein, and others have led us to expect is that in instances of sexual violence, we will find a second crime so that we can believe the victim that the first crime was committed.
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