Updating the cliche that it's better to let '10 guilty men go free'
The old liberal cliché that it's "better 10 guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer" has been upended in recent years — at least when it comes to accusations of sexual assault.
The cliché has been replaced by: "It's better 10 innocent persons suffer than one guilty escape."
The push to reduce campus sexual assault has bred this new sentiment, as policies purporting to make colleges and universities safer actually increase the likelihood that innocent students will be accused and punished. The new policies broaden the definition of sexual assault while narrowing the definition of consent, and remove due process protections for accused students while severely limiting what constitutes "evidence" in their defense.
We can see the destruction of the above cliché in last month's Washington Post survey on campus sexual assault. Students were asked whether it was "more unfair" for an innocent student to get kicked out of college based on an accusation or for a guilty person to get away with it.
Forty-two percent of respondents (including 49 percent of men but just 36 percent of women) said that it was "more unfair" for an innocent student to be expelled. Conversely, 49 percent of students (including 42 percent of men and 56 percent of women) said that it was "more unfair" for the guilty to get away.
The question itself is absurd, as both options are terrible. No one should be playing "victim Olympics" — deciding whose victimhood is more legitimate.
As a matter of principle, innocent people should never be falsely accused, and rapists should always be punished — and hopefully removed from the population rather than simply expelled from a university. That isn't such an extreme idea. But in the current culture surrounding campus sexual assault, it is. Point out the holes in an accuser's story? You're a "rape apologist." Suggest that accused students be granted their constitutional right to due process? Get ready to be accused of being "pro-rape."
Even the old cliché has its problems, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out in his 2012 book The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas."If it were an absolute principle, we wouldn't put anyone in prison, lest we punish an innocent in the process," Goldberg wrote in the Washington Post while promoting the book. "Indeed, if punishing the innocent is so terrible, why 10? Why not two? Or, for that matter, 200? Or 2,000?"
But the basic concept is that it is wrong to destroy the lives of innocent people in the name of progress — perhaps we can debate how much worse it is than letting someone evil continue to harm the public. College campuses currently call it justice when they expand the definition of sexual assault, limit the definition of consent, and remove the ability of the accused to stage a defense.
To the broader society, that is an abhorrent notion. Because if that's what is needed to achieve justice on a college campus, why isn't due process being attacked in general? If due process and evidence are impediments to true justice, then America should do away with them.
Except that due process is not an impediment to justice. It's an impediment to hasty judgment — which is another way of describing the current witch hunt being conducted on college campuses across the country.