Froma Harrop: When believing all women leads to evil
Summary: Any man walking on Earth could be accused of a "possible sexual assault." And what qualifies as sexual assault is not always clear. It sure isn't affectionately nuzzling the back of someone's head, a habit Biden wisely dropped.
The hashtag #BelieveWomen stemmed from an era when women claiming to have been sexually assaulted were broadly dismissed. That is, if you ignore the history of white women falsely accusing black men of rape. Those women were largely believed and the accused often summarily tortured and hanged by the neck from a tree.
Ida Wells, an African American journalist, exposed the racial terrorism in her 1892 book "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases." She just received a Pulitzer Prize 89 years after her death.
Between 1881 and 1968, 3,446 black men were killed by lynching, a number drawn from the Tuskegee Institute archives. Almost a quarter of lynching victims had been accused of sexual assault, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
A scholar, Wells didn't ignore the reality that some rapes happened. She held, rather, that many such charges followed the discovery of consensual relationships between black men and white women — of which there were many.
Regarded as a vessel of Victorian purity, a white woman's word was rarely doubted. That made legal proceedings unnecessary in the minds of the racist mob.
Wells cites the case of a Mrs. J. S. Underwood, a minister's wife in Elyria, Ohio. Underwood claimed that during her husband's absence in 1888, a man forced his way into the house and violated her. The woman identified William Offett, a black married man, as the attacker.
Offett at least had a trial. He testified that Underwood had invited him in. He was found guilty, however, and spent 15 years in jail before Underwood, feeling remorse, owned up to her lies.
She confessed that she met the "polite" Offett at the post office and told him to call on her. When alone, "I sat on his lap," she said, and after their first sexual encounter, she "had no desire to resist."
Some women made false charges only after their relationships were discovered. Underwood expressed fear of giving birth to a black baby — and that neighbors had spotted her interracial relationship.
The reality behind such allegations then and now is that some women are actually raped; some lie; and some charge rape under murky circumstances. Mental instability can also play a part in the telling of what did or did not occur.
This is not to say that women's charges of sexual abuse shouldn't be investigated, just that it is intellectually squalid to automatically believe them without adequate evidence. Thus, whether or not you "believe" Tara Reade's story that Joe Biden digitally penetrated her is irrelevant.
It doesn't ring true to me. Reade's gushing about Russian President Vladimir Putin's virility and her working with a left-wing journalist to time her charges to do maximum damage to Biden are just two flapping red flags.
When some women tell others of an imaginary violation or greatly exaggerate the offense, what good is the attesters' corroboration? Can anyone doubt that "corroborators" could be found in the lynch mobs?
It unnerved me to read a column in The New York Times suggesting that Democrats consider replacing Biden as their candidate. While allowing that Reade may not be telling the truth, Jennifer Senior wrote, "In an ideal world, the Democrats would not have nominated a candidate whose history included guerrilla-nuzzling women and a possible sexual assault."
Any man walking on Earth could be accused of a "possible sexual assault." And what qualifies as sexual assault is not always clear. It sure isn't affectionately nuzzling the back of someone's head, a habit Biden wisely dropped.
Born of good intentions, this #BelieveWomen business has gone rancid with opportunism. And that only detracts from the trauma of genuine victims, whether they suffered rape or were unjustly accused of it.
Froma Harrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.