A young woman just asked me the following question for her upcoming article:
How quick are you to defend people you know who have been accused of harassment? What do you say to women or men who do defend people they know?
It's a very good question. As she clearly reveals, #MeToo cannot ignore all sides of this complex issue. I immediately recalled a situation where I was compelled to believe the male in question first and foremost, ride-or-die. Here is my response:
Harassment comes in many forms. Knowledge that it will most likely exist in a multitude of workspaces and wear many, unsuspecting faces is key. I have stepped up to defend a young man accused of rape before because he confided in me his story that was about to come to light and wanted to make me aware of how much he was prepared to profess his innocence and would work to make things right. The first thing I noticed is that he may be fighting this alone. I told him immediately I was on his side. I had not known him that long, but I’ve known abusers, molesters and monsters and he was not that person. When he then told me what he was up against with the accuser I knew he had a case—we had a case if he needed me to be vocal about it. She was clearly up to no good and I was embarrassed and appalled by her behavior. You’re talking about a young man—and in this case, a young man of color—and his future. He does not have the luxury of being presumed innocent. Luckily for him, he had strength in knowing that a few of his superiors, such as myself and another colleague, had his back. He went on to a supervisory position, fully aware that even though he has years ahead of him he now sees how easy it is for him to become a target.
Now let’s take this example into a situation where the young man could have already been in a supervisory role and the young woman was a solid worker of exemplary character. If I do not have a bias—which is very important in all of these cases coming to light—I start with the facts from both sides. And then I examine any history of the behavior coupled with the culture of the workplace or industry. Usually before too much time has passed, I now have a gut feeling as to who is in the wrong and in the right. And if I can prove someone is lying, manipulating the truth or threatening the weaker party, I must warn that person this hits very close to home as I was a very young victim—a preteen—of a predator. I do not take any of this lightly and it is never okay to enforce a degree of silence of an act so vile. If we’re going to defend someone we know who has been accused, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of both parties, and ultimately—and swiftly—give our full support to right over wrong, no matter the relationship to the accused.