By RAYA STEIER
I was invited to participate in a discussion on #MeToo that was broadcast live on NDTV a few hours ago. Throughout the segment my connection to NDTV was disrupted, hence I was barely able to speak, counter-argue or respond. If you’re interested in the things I wanted to say but was unable to- read on. Thanks for having me NDTV.
1) “Innocent until proven guilty” is a standard for the jury and judges in a courtroom. It is a doctrine in *criminal law* not a standard that extends to society. As thinking members of civil society we are free to form our opinions, make our deductions and process facts and evidence available to us to arrive at our own conclusions. We should be free to express our thoughts and our conclusions, bolstering public debate without fear of persecution. Shutting people down using the above slogan is a form of thought policing that is detrimental to people’s engagement with the law, with our own society and with jurisprudence. Applying this doctrine to civil society is to also say that a court’s decision is always right and any opinion to the contrary is unwelcome, a dangerous assumption disproven countless times.
2) A call for due process in response to accusations of sexual harassment on social media misses the point. The accusations exist, as Ms. Nundy pointed out, as a form of civil disobedience against the failures of due process and the failures of cis Brahminical patriarchy. A list would not exist if due process fulfilled it’s promises. If due process works so well, why are rapes and sexual assault grossly underreported? Why are women choosing to out their harassers on social media if due process is as accessible as some claim it is? Due process is not sacrosanct, and advocating that we follow it unquestioningly, punishing those who dare question it is symptomatic of a desire to maintain the status quo knowing full well that it does more harm to victims than help. All in all, it’s quite weird to advocate for the sanctity of due process in a country where marginalised Dalit and Adivasi women are often turned away, taunted and even beaten when they try to report a rape to the police. When access to justice is so poor, talks of due process are a deliberate diversion.
3) An issue rarely addressed is the phenomenon of gaslighting. During Kavanaugh’s hearing, K’naugh claimed he was *certain* Dr. F was assaulted… but by someone else, not him, by someone else. Several times, republicans senators said Dr.F may have misunderstood her own assault or was mistaken- such doubts were cast on her ability to recall. Classic gaslighting tactics like these are used to re-traumatise and intimidate victims, not just by members of society but by the adversarial process of the judicial system aka due process itself. The Gaslight-y nature of due process is one of the key reasons women don’t report or come forward. The state is the champion of all gaslighters— to this day they deny mass rapes Kunan Poshpora, they deny Manorama’s murder, they deny human rights abuses in parts of India they repeatedly call ‘integral’, they deny Rohith’s death was an institutional murder. What good can due process do when India’s police force denies killing people in fake encounters? Are we to believe these institutions protect us? We are not fools.
4) As an anti-carceral feminist and lawyer I do not think capital punishment or cutting off people’s dicks are solutions to sexual assault because they do not lower recidivism. Instead they increase stigma around those crimes, further demoralizing victims. Violent tactics are used to intimidate victims from reporting and pursuing their cases in court as perpetrators fear severe sentencing. So they may use all means necessary, possibly even murder, to avoid penalty. In a better world where a govt. is invested in healthcare, I would strongly prefer truth and reconciliation coupled with community service and counselling. As a survivor myself I would prefer justice to be survivor centric. Instead of focusing on what we should do to the perpetrator focus instead on what we can do *for* the victim. More jail time does no good to recidivism and neither does it pay the victim’s healthcare bills.
5) I was asked if the List I made last Oct helped people. I do hope it brought closure to the folks who helped add names to it, and I do hope it encouraged more folks to commit civil disobedience and out their perpetrators. If we do not disrupt brahminical ‘claste’ patriarchy, no one will! I urge everyone to listen to women, listen to survivors, *listen to marginalised women*, listen to people’s experiences before foaming in the mouth screaming “due process!”. Under the present system, since direct evidence is equated with credibility, while resisting this, I strongly encourage everyone to maintain paper trails, save screenshots in your hard drive, record all phone calls with an app like I do, video record every conversation of significance. When the odds are stacked against you, do what you need to survive. Surveil the fuck out of perpetrators. Surveil and expose not just the perpetrators but their enablers as well.
It’s a brave new world.
(Raya Steier is an Attorney; she lives in California, US)