The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper


We’re Going On A Witch Hunt

In the courts of social media everyone is guilty

A few hours before I sat to write this I saw an article on my newsfeed that Louis C.K. has been accused of masturbating in front of or asking if he could masturbate in front of up to five women. At first I was shocked, ANOTHER celebrity revealed to be a deviant. Then I was less-shocked, another celebrity revealed to be a deviant.

Logically I did the only thing any one does when they see an article like this on social media – I clicked to read the comments section. I was surprised by what I had seen. There were people in the comments who were making several brash remarks, such as; ‘Oh great another one.’ and quite simply (in the Louis C.K. case) ‘I can’t stand this guy anyway’.

From all these stories that I have encountered, much like everyone else, over the last few years, in the media about male celebrities being uncovered with incidents of sexual assault lurking in their past one thing remains the same; social media marks them as villains straight away. With Operation Yewtree dressed as Matthew Hopkins, they are ready to point a finger and declare ‘witch’ loudly to the angry mob who are waving pitchforks and torches.

Regarding Kevin Spacey’s alleged assaults on men, Netflix will no longer work with Spacey on ‘House of Cards’ and axed him from any future products – they were protecting themselves from a ‘toxic asset’. In the terms of Welsh MP Carl Sargeant, he lost his seat in his constituency and proceeded to kill himself – the act of a guilty soul some may argue – or the last act of a broken man. Carl Sargeant was not found legally guilty of his alleged crimes; he had not even been told the nature of his dismissal from the Labour Party by the time of his death. Instead his family had to find out at the same time the press found out – the trial by media had begun.

Alternately, when looking at the case of Brock Allen Turner, a Stanford College student on a swimming scholarship, he was found guilty of three felonies including sexually assaulting a twenty-three year old student who was unconscious outside of a fraternity house with the intent to rape. The judge, in his ruling, granted that glowing character references and a clean criminal record meant that he thought that Turner should only spend four months in prison as opposed to the full fourteen years for the crimes that Turner had committed. This sparked controversy with many people arguing that Turner should have gotten a longer sentence.

Turner’s father defended his son’s actions in court, stating that his son should not have to go to prison for ‘twenty minutes of action’. Surprisingly enough lots of people came out in the comments section of the internet and on social media and argued that Turner should not have had to go to jail in the first place. Some people claiming that the ‘alleged victim’ should not have ‘been under the influence’ despite the assault taking place in public and had witnesses who attested against Turner. People also commented saying that Turner’s athletic career should not suffer from a ‘mishap’ as though sexual assaults come between leaving an umbrella in a restaurant and accidentally swearing in front of a toddler in the supermarket in the scale of ‘somewhat unfortunate mistakes’ – which is disgusting.

On the complete polar opposite we have informative sources such as The Daily Mail showing us a collage of photos of women stood next to and posing with Harvey Weinstein before declaring that the women ‘asked for it’. Whole articles explaining how Weinstein could have misread what was happening and thought that these women wanted him only to regret it later.

When it comes to sexual crimes, assaults and harassment the media delivers the same narratives to our breakfast tables side by side; MEN ARE SEX PESTS and WOMEN ARE TO BLAME FOR ‘HIS’ ACTIONS. Headlines like these are both damaging, as a society we are both victim blaming and slut shaming women who have reported these crimes while finding men guilty of crimes without enough evidence for a court case.

Obviously, victim blaming does nothing but take the actual concern off of the perpetrator of the crime and every allegation should be taken seriously, however what we really have is a ‘he-said-she-said’ situation. In a court of law they can unfortunately not do too much with that information, that does not lead to people who commit crimes going to jail.

It is clear to see the knock on effect of events like the Jimmy Saville scandal, victims hearing of how people came out of the shadows to announce themselves as victims of acts performed onto them by a perverse individual became inspired to stand up for themselves.

We are told it is dangerous to say things like ‘boys will be boys’ and that enforcing gender roles onto children is generally not an okay thing to do. However I fear that, as a man, being told that all men behave like these select few is damaging to society the same way that saying a woman ‘asked for it’ is damaging to her story as a survivor of assault.

When these news stories appear and the legal system is limited in what it can do due to a lack of evidence for a ‘fair’ trial, it is up the media (both old and new) and in turn the audience of that media to decide it seems.

Comment sections start to resemble courtrooms from 1692 with people feeding the hysteria and start to suggest possible others to have performed such deeds in the past – occasionally people say things ‘let’s hope that *insert celebrity name here* doesn’t turn out to be involved’ as though they could save them.

One issue with why this may seem overwhelming is the globalisation of these claims, we are hearing about a lot of victims and a lot of offenders in a short amount of time. People have given interviews in horrific details about what happened to them and we are left with all this information and not a formal way to process it. The police can look into these allegations and claims but the buck stops there, leaving people angry and turning to social media to release.

We need to change how we view sexual assault and rape. There is still a stigma attached to these crimes that means victims do not come forward straight away all the time, and when they do they are often dismissed and played down. How these crimes, like driving under the influence, are reported and in fact handled by the judicial system is greatly different when it comes to celebrities. They seem to enter a form of reality television, Judge Judy genre of legality with jail sentences that sound more like ill timed jokes rather than a summary of their crimes.

On the other hand from celebrity court, in real court women are often talked down to about what had happened to her and the defence lawyer will ask questions along the lines of; ‘how much did you drink that night?’ and ‘maybe you shouldn’t have laughed at my clients joke after he got you a drink?’ Real court takes no prisoners in who it claims is at fault in these events.

In the stories regarding the male celebrities we are not really seeing people question the authenticity of the claims if it is said by a fellow celebrity. With Harvey Weinstein, when his former intern Paula Wachowiak came forward people accused her of lying about the events she described.

Similarly when Kate Leaver, using the trending social media campaign #METOO, took to Twitter and announced that she was the victim of sexual assault by a man who she named in her tweet who, at the time, worked for GQ and The Spoon, he has since been let go from both. The aftermath was not what Leaver had expected, writing for The Pool she said; ‘Several men on Twitter have lectured me about my decision to drink alcohol in the presence of someone I didn’t know that well. One said, and I quote: “He can’t be held responsible for your decision to meet him.” I should say now that women so rarely lie about their experiences of harassment and assault it is statistically negligible. It is not a publicity stunt, an act of greed or a selfish ploy. I am exhausted that I even have to point that out and, frankly, I don’t know what sort of perverse glory these people imagine women like me expect to grab from speaking out.’

The people who commit these crimes have to live with what they have done, especially when they have been exposed by their victims for the world to see. This monstrous parade of sex offenders doesn’t seem to be ending and the pitchforks and torches seem to be out to stay, we can’t go over it and we can’t go under it but maybe if we can only go through it we will learn a thing or two to better ourselves about these dangers.

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