Guilty Until Proven Innocent

It’s rather difficult to believe this news report, and I assume it’s going to be debunked or discredit fairly quickly.  Of course the terrifying possibility is that it won’t be, that this allegation that seems completely inconceivable will stand because nobody is willing to question this woman’s interpretation of events.  Her original Instagram post has since been deleted, which leads me to think the allegation is suspicious.  In a fuller transcript of her Instagram post, she alleges former President George Bush Senior “sexually assaulted” her during a photo shoot several years ago, while his wife and others looked on and warned her not to stand next to him.

What constitutes sexual assault?  What sort of touch justifies calling out someone for sexual assault?  Anyone can say anything about any other person online, but what does that mean?  How is someone held accountable for what they say?  What was the touching President Bush was doing?  What constitutes a “dirty joke”?

I’m not aware of anyone ever alleging any improprieties from President Bush, at any point in his life.  Which leads me to two interpretations aside from sexual assault.  One is that since President Bush suffers from Parkinson’s disease, his motor skills were impaired enough that he accidentally touched her in an inappropriate manner.  Parkinson’s might also explain a poor choice of a joke.   The other possible explanation is that Ms. Lind took offense at a touch or a joke that were not actually intended to be offensive, and would likely not be seen as offensive by the general public.  Both are very plausible explanations that certainly don’t constitute sexual assault.

I should think that women would be among the first to want to clarify what is serious enough to be called sexual assault, and what is not, even if lesser words or actions are still not appreciated.  I would think that women who have suffered actual sexual assault would want to take Ms. Lind to task for equating her allegations of (if true) at worst, impropriety, with the very real damage others have suffered from the words and actions of someone.

Is an unwanted compliment sexual assault?  Is telling a joke that someone doesn’t happen to care for sexual assault?  Is asking someone out when they don’t want to be asked a form of sexual assault?  Should intention be factored into the definition at least as heavily as interpretation?  These are all important things for us to think through but are easily lost in the blaring headlines.   Sexual assault should not be tolerated, but we need to carefully define our terms to make sure we aren’t reclassifying and even criminalizing behaviors that shouldn’t fall into that category.




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