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Jewish World Review March 4, 1999 /16 Adar 5759

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
JWR's Pundits
Tony Snow
Cathy Young
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Do even known-liars deserve
the presumption of innocence?

( JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT the Clinton scandals couldn't get any more surreal, the president now stands publicly accused of rape. Most people admit that at the very least, the charge may well be true. And it's treated as just another story in the news.

One thing this story has done is elicit the toughest yet response to the President's woman troubles from the organized feminist movement. National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland issued a statement strongly implying that she believed Broaddrick, referring to her account as "compelling" and urging Clinton and his defenders not to attack her. Yet NOW clearly doesn't want to cut him loose: Ireland ended her statement with a call to "stop wasting time on unprovable charges and start working to improve the lives of women."

Patricia Ireland
The statement manages to be too harsh and too lenient at the same time. Too harsh because it basically forbids Clinton to defend himself, equating any claim that Broaddrick is lying or that she consented with "nuts and sluts" tactics. Too lenient because, after endorsing Broaddrick's credibility, it asks the country to just move on. True, nothing can be done legally now. But if you believe the President of the United States is probably a rapist, shouldn't you be marching on Washington demanding his resignation --- or at least an explanation?

Of course, the charges are unprovable, and barring some new revelations, we'll never know what happened. The he said/she said scenario is complicated by the fact that "he" has below-zero credibility. We may ask why Clinton is not protesting his innocence; we also know that if he did, it wouldn't mean a thing. And this is troubling in itself.

But when it comes to a charge as heinous as rape, even a known liar deserves the presumption of innocence. Clinton's critics talk about a "pattern"; but even other women who have accused Clinton of unwanted advances have said that he stopped when he was rebuffed. And to cite the consensual if tawdry affair with Monica Lewinsky as part of the pattern is a curious reversal of the old notion that a woman claiming rape was likely to have been willing if she had an unchaste past.

Many have pointed out that 21 years ago, a rape victim -- especially one involved an adulterous affair, as Broaddrick was -- faced disbelief and opprobrium if she came forward. Unfortunately, that mentality has often been replaced by the equally prejudiced and sexist attitude that "women don't lie" and that to challenge an accuser's credibility is an affront.

It is important to remember that women are human. When given power -- and to make an accusation of rape can certainly be a source of power -- they are as likely to abuse it as men. In the words of Columbia University law professor George Fletcher, "It is important to defend the interests of women as victims, but not to go so far as to accord women complaining of rape a presumption of honesty and objectivity."

Just as many conservatives have jumped on the bandwagon of the sexual harassment crusade in their anti-Clinton zeal, many are now making the mistake of picking up the "believe the woman" banner. Meanwhile, the feminists are intent on seizing the occasion to further their political goals.

The NOW statement asks Clinton and Congress to pass the new Violence Against Women Act (which contains some good programs but also confers vast benefits on any woman merely claiming abuse) and expand hate crime laws to include gender (which would turn virtually every rape or domestic assault into a federal hate crime). Indeed, Ireland seems to suggest that as long as Clinton supports these programs, feminists will support him. Daphne Patai, author of the recent book Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Politics of Feminism, regards it as "a form of blackmail."

So the most likely result of the rape charge is that Clinton will be under more pressure to prove his feminist credentials. Which is somehow a fitting conclusion in this surreal new world.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.


©1999, Cathy Young