Commentary: What Men Need To Do about Sexual Accusations


The other day I was reading a Facebook post from a friend who heard about a female co-worker who was sexually harassed at their place of work.

He argued that this is not acceptable, saying, “Well, it’s not acceptable. We as a society really have to grow up and address the inherent gender inequalities and sexism that exist. Yes, that means calling it out. Full stop.”

I agree completely.

His response, while good, missed one key element – we have all heard about what women have had to endure over the years – sexual harassment, sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances.

The reality is that there is nothing new about any of this.  For years I would hear about incidents of sexual harassment and abuse and it has become ingrained in the culture, from the corporate culture to the political culture and even the law enforcement culture.

What is new is that we are hearing about this and what is new is that women feel empowered to speak out about it.  But this has been going on for a long time.

The problem that we have with a lot of these incidents is that, by their very nature, they happen in private situations where there are no witnesses.  That means there is a tendency for
skepticism.  Adding to that, the power discrepancy means that women, fearful of social ridicule, of being disbelieved, and in many cases in fear of their jobs, are reluctant to speak out and, when they do, it is often years later.

As Ken Armstrong and Christian Miller point out in a November 24 Op-ed in the New York Times: “The women accusing the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct have faced doubt and derision. Other women, who have alleged sexual assault or harassment by powerful men in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and elsewhere, have become targets for online abuse or had their careers threatened. Harvey Weinstein went so far as to hire ex-Mossad operatives to investigate the personal history of the actress Rose McGowan, to discourage her from publicly accusing him of rape.”

Thus there are many reasons for women to think twice about reporting sexual assault, but a big one is the potential for prosecution.

They note: “This month, a retired police lieutenant in Memphis, Tenn., Cody Wilkerson, testified, as part of a lawsuit against the city, not only that police detectives sometimes neglected to investigate cases of sexual assault but also that he overheard the head of investigative services in the city’s police department say, on his first day in charge: ‘The first thing we need to do is start locking up more victims for false reporting.’ It’s an alarming choice of priorities — and one that can backfire.”

In 2015, these authors wrote an article for ProPublica and The Marshall Project about Marie, an 18-year-old who reported being raped in Lynnwood, Wash., by a man who broke into her apartment.

They note: “What happened to Marie seemed unthinkable. She was victimized twice — first raped, then prosecuted. But cases like hers can be found around the country.”

They cite three instances where women were charged with lying and, in all three instances, the accusation was true and the men who raped them were identified, tried and convicted.

There is a lot of debate over the low number of false reports on sexual assaults, but I think we end up going down the wrong rabbit hole by focusing on false reports and not starting by focusing on true reports.

To me the biggest factor here is that this is really about power.  As Marci Hamilton writes in Verdict, “Each sex abuse, assault, and harassment case is about a man abusing his power over a child, woman, or man who can’t match his influence. Those in the headlines have had astronomical power over their victims, and they exploited it.”

She also argues that, because of this, we tend to trust our instincts regarding who is and who is not a predator.  But she argues that this endeavor is “foolhardy” and that the common response to these allegations – “it cannot be true” – ignores the fact that we are looking at people who “spent their whole careers persuading you that they are who they appear to be—but in reality they are not.”

She writes: “Ken Lanning, the now-retired FBI expert on child sex abuse, has explained pedophiles in a way that also makes sense for the sexual assaulters and harassers: the reason that these guys have succeeded at harming others is because they earn people’s trust–either through accumulated power or through being the super nice guy. Their trustworthiness creates the access. So the fact that you have known someone ‘forever’ and never seen them do one bad thing is basically irrelevant when it comes to those who sexually abuse, assault, or harass. What they are doing is not done on the street corner for you to see. Your instincts are wrong.”

Ms. Hamilton points out a few other key facts: first that “victims of sexual misconduct rarely make it up” and “often cannot come forward immediately.”

She writes: “They have been accused by some of fabricating their claims either for publicity or because they are seeking a ‘pay day.’”

In addition to being a humiliating event, “not something you want to announce from the ramparts,” she also points out that they often do this at considerable risk.  The perpetrators “know how to convince their victims that telling others is risky,” but also there is a clear temptation for the public to blame the victim for allowing the attack to occur.

Moreover, as she points out there is a factor of statute of limitations.  She writes: “The vast majority of these victim’s claims are well beyond the statute of limitations. This is especially true for the harassment victims, whose statutes of limitation are measured in days–180 to 300 days to be precise. They have no legal leverage at this point; they are just trying to do the right thing by telling the public the emperor has no clothes.”

Finally, I have been pondering the more existential question: are men just evil who can’t control their nether-parts?  I have come to the conclusion that no, that’s too simplistic.  This comes back to power – power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What I think men should do is speak out when they see it and support women and create a space where people feel empowered to report sexual assault, whether in the workplace or wherever.

Stop with the immediate assumption that people are making this up.  If someone comes up and tells you that so and so was hitting them, your immediate instinct is generally to find out what happened and whether or not the person is okay.  Occasionally that will be a false accusation, but false accusations are rare.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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44 thoughts on “Commentary: What Men Need To Do about Sexual Accusations”

  1. Keith O

    “The women accusing the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct have faced doubt and derision.

    Just as the women accusing Al Franken and John Conyers of sexual misconduct faced doubt and derision by the Senate Minority leader Nancy Pelosi this past weekend:

    In an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Pelosi, D-Calif., offered supportive words for Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has been accused of sexually harassing former members of his congressional staff and who reacheda taxpayer-funded settlementwith one accuser who said she was fired for rejecting his advances.
    Pelosi praised Conyers, who has denied the allegations, as an “icon,” questioned the identity of his accusers and declined to call for his resignation — all within moments of having hailed the “zero tolerance” movement against sexual misconduct as “transformative … so wholesome, so refreshing, so different.”

    1. Richard McCann

      Keith O, two errors: Pelosi is in the House, not the Senate. And she didn’t defend Franken.

      On the other hand, other Dems are criticizing her comments. Both Pelosi and Conyers are old school Dems that should step aside at this moment in history, regardless.

      1. Keith O

        Thanks, my mistake, I know Pelosi is the House Minority Leader but must not of had my coffee yet.  It just rings so hollow and hypocritical for her to attack Trump and Moore then in turn try to defend and deflect for Conyers.

        Both Pelosi and Conyers are old school Dems that should step aside at this moment in history, regardless. 

        I agree, but I hope they stay in place, they’re a couple (along with Franken) of the best things the GOP has going for it right now.

        1. Dave Hart

          Yes, Keith, it does ring just as hollow and hypocritical for the sitting president (who has his own harrassment issues) to attack Sen. Franken then in turn try to make a case that it’s better to elect Roy Moore than any Democrat opponent.

        2. Keith O

          Yes Dave Hart, it makes one wonder how the Democrats are going try and justify kicking Roy Moore out of the Senate when he gets elected when they have their own perverts in John Conyers and Al Franken.  It’s going to be interesting.

        3. Keith O

          LOL, David you post a story about sexual misconduct but only name a GOP politician when two guilty Democrat politicians have been very prominent in the news lately and Dave Hart posts his partisan response to my comment but I’m the one who’s always partisan?

          You need to look in the mirror.

  2. Claire Benoit

    Good article. I think there is just a great deal of ignorance about sexual assault and abuse among adults. The key is exactly like you said –  its an abuse of power or an exploitation of a cripppling vulnerability. One example of this can be seen with refugees from certain non-western cultures. If you take a woman and child from a country where they were victims of ongoing sexual violence amid dire living circumstances; then that same woman and child might not recognize the abuse at work when their case worker begins molesting their children and/or exploiting their parents. A family that is for the first time being sheltered, fed, and promised a life free of horrific daily threats and traumas will see their new western oppressor with a generous hand as a hero. Other westerners that see his game will see that he is really just a criminal in a clever position.

    I know for a fact these characters exist. For reasons like this – this other extreme; I think it is important to let the victims of those they entrust to speak for them decide what is fair. These are complicated crimes and they dont always illicit resentment from the direct victims. Sometimes people accept things and move on or just want to be heard and protected. Our system is too obsessed with penalizing everyone as a one size fits all. If a kids involved – go for blood. Between adults; if its a complicated situation – let people be. Courts and officials get overly involved and ruin everyone’s lives uneccesarily imho.

    1. Tia Will


      Between adults; if its a complicated situation – let people be. Courts and officials get overly involved and ruin everyone’s lives uneccesarily imho.”

      While I agree with your acknowledgment that the issue is complicated, I disagree with letting “people be”. If the consequences were trivial, or the same for all parties involved, I might agree. But traditionally in our society, we honor and respect those in power while being willing to delegitimize those who are powerless. “Letting people be” leads to women who have truly been sexually wronged having their careers destroyed, being faced with loss of friends, sometimes loss of family if their abuser is a family member. I have direct experience with the hazards of all three.


      1. John Hobbs

        ” “Letting people be” leads to women who have truly been sexually wronged having their careers destroyed,”

        I have seen this situation in civil service, too many times. When a supervisor or office manger has the ability to hold your livelihood over you, there is no “good” option. If you complain to another authority, that follows you throughout your career.

        On the other hand, I know of a mid-level manager who was in charge of a large technical and clerical staff. A woman who was on the promotional list for a senior staff position made a blatant offer of sex in exchange for his support, which he simply rejected with, “It doesn’t work that way.” and let it be. The woman made an accusation of harassment with HR and “the he said she said ended up with her getting a position in another department” and his record being stained by the capricious charge.

        If I were wrongly accused of any charge, I would vigorously rebut and refute it, but in a case of “he said, she said” the court of public opinion is likely to favor her, right now.

      2. Claire Benoit

        Yes of course Tia; by letting people be I mean if a victim does not want to be bothered with the past he/she should have their preference respected. Being forced to go through a very degrading trial that usually either fails to convict or else deals heavy handed sentences beyond what the victim might agree with – serves no one.

        Victims should have a lot more say in how their cases are treated than they do.

    2. Dave Hart

      Claire, the emphasis in your statement,

      Between adults; if its a complicated situation – let people be. Courts and officials get overly involved and ruin everyone’s lives uneccesarily imho.

      is, I hope, between EQUAL adults.  There is no question that where there is equality of power (in every sense) what happens between adults is their private business.  But the allegations that come before a court are rarely, if ever, between equals.  It is the the imbalance of power that creates the problem.  Yes, even between husband and wife. It is harassment when the imbalance of power that leads a person to decide that they can dismiss the effect of their actions on another or that the other’s personal dignity doesn’t need to be taken into account. Harassment is so destructive that it is appropriately in the public sphere.

  3. Claire Benoit

    One warning people should always listen carefully for is when someone has an overly simplistic view of “evil” that they openly express while being otherwise very secretive. These stupid new age taglines that get abused by the worst kind of people like “evil doesnt exist” or “I do more good than harm.”

    If someone says something like this to you and you’ve always had a rather ill vibe from that person. Be careful because they probably have a world of evil up their sleeve that they have already justified in advance. Get out the way.

  4. John Hobbs

    “One warning people should always listen carefully for is when someone has an overly simplistic view of “evil” that they openly express while being otherwise very secretive.”


  5. Alan Miller

    Stop with the immediate assumption that people are making this up . . . false accusations are rare.

    I have no idea if they are “rare” or not, or by what measure you make such a claim.  What is painfully true is that women who falsely alledge hurt none more than other women.  Rare or not, when this does happen, it makes the news and is scandalous.  One example that comes to mind is the woman who claimed she was raped in the Death Star several years ago.  Suspicious police grilled her until she admitted she made it all up.

    1. Howard P

      We’ll have to see how your view may be changed, if/when you are falsely accused.

      But, we now know that if you are, you assert we should believe the woman.  Not you.   Until you have proved your innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        That assumes that falsely accused is a reasonable possibility. There is little evidence to support that which is part of the point I was attempting to make in this. By focusing on false accusations, you cast an air of suspicion on people with legitimate grievances.

        1. Howard P

          I stand corrected.  If accused, the standard should be presumed guilty unless proved innocent.  Got it.

          It is not reasonable possibility that anyone would make a false accusation.

        2. David Greenwald

          No.  But the standard is not to presume false accusations either.  It seems like from reading on Matt Lauer that they conducted a two month investigation, found substantial evidence and corroboration and acted accordingly.  That seems to be a reasonable appraoch – no?

        3. Howard P

          I never said anything about,

          But the standard is not to presume false accusations either. 

          I’d make no presumptions… would ‘fact-find’, with no presumption… but you rebutted my post, saying,

          That assumes that falsely accused is a reasonable possibility.

          In the one incident I am aware of, the employee was being sexually harassed… by a fellow female in her work unit.  A male, in a different department, is who she accused, as she could apparently not deal with the same-sex aspect… fortunately, during the interviews as part of the ‘investigation’, there was repeated laughter from those interviewed (almost all women who knew and worked with the male), that the male had done anything, in the slightest, that would justify further investigation.  That really happened.  Fortunately the male knew nothing of the ‘charge’ until the investigation concluded, “no way”.  The harasser was discovered, confronted, and was allowed to resign in-lieu of termination… no ‘record’, so she was free to do it again…

          Had the HR folk presumed that it was only a matter of documenting proof of the allegation, things could have turned out much differently…

        4. Alan Miller

          A male, in a different department, is who she accused, as she could apparently not deal with the same-sex aspect… 

          And what happened to the false accuser?

        5. Howard P

          No action against false accuser.  She was a “victim”, after all.  She truly was a victim, just not of the accused.

          The accused, if anything had happened against him (it didn’t) would have had little/no recourse.  Since he was completely cleared, no point.

          He made a point of not interacting with her, unless other women were present.  Little interaction was needed, as their previous interaction was very minor.

        6. Howard P

          Part two response to Alan’s 7:10 post…

          The accuser subsequently got private counselling, and resigned in “good status” and moved out of state, accepting another job opportunity.  About 6 months after the resolution of the “incident”… the actual harassment, by a female co-worker, reportedly took its toll…

      1. David Greenwald

        The exception doesn’t prove the rule.  The problem with the Duke  Lacrosse team was failure at the due diligence and investigation level.  I am not suggesting that we assume all allegations are true.  Again I think the Matt Lauer investigation was a reasonable approach.

        1. Howard P

          Hmmm… who was scandalous?  The team?  The accuser?  Those who investigated and/or leaked (published?) the allegations, investigation to the press, before it was complete?

          The fact of the matter is that there is little/no recourse for those falsely accused, even if their lives were disrupted, reputation tainted.

          Several elements above are as real as they were 10 years ago. Real time.

    1. Howard P

      I say nothing of him, except probably (over 50% chance) he is a scum-bag… guess you think the male I described in my example was guilty as hell, and deserved to be fired when the first allegation was made.  Got it.

      Less than 24 hours of fact finding, no charges, no trial, no conviction… GUIlTY, GUILTY GUILTY!!! And you agree in the ‘verdict’.

      IF, and a truly big IF (not likely at all) Lauer is not guilty of the allegations (I say again, extremely unlikely), he would have little/no recourse.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        They did a two month investigation into Lauer, so I’m not sure where you are coming up with “less than 24 hours of fact finding” and the other problem is that in most of these cases there won’t be a trial because there (a) hasn’t been a crime and (b) statutes have run

    2. Howard P

      You seem to say, the woman is always right… got it…

      No room for facts. No need for fact-finding… No need for investigation. The media will handle the ‘facts’ and consequences/punishment, which is always deserved. Got it

  6. Claire Benoit

    Dave I apreciate your kindness. I am definitely someone who needs sleep

    Yes I agree and know firsthand that sexual exploitation doesnt happen among equals. What I meant by my statement is that the courts serve no one when they disregard the differences in how different people heal.

    Some people find vindication to be gratifying. I seldom do and im sure Im not alone. Generally if Ive had a bad experience, I like to be able to leave it and its baggage where its at. I would derive ZERO pleasure from seeing someone who hurt me answer for their crime. I probably would rather not see them at all – ever. And I know a lot of women feel this way. Someone said benefit of the doubt is given to the women willing to « face their abusers ».

    I guess thats a fair condition to the person who desires to have him/her penalized. For those of us inclined to detach and move on this is at its very least an annoyance. Why waste a courts time and resources agitating victims??

    false accusations are RARE. In my own situation I have always kept a lot to myself until I was forced (by absurdities) to share as a measure of self defense and explanation.

    I think the best thing men can do to effect some needed changes is to stop identifying with jerks just because they share anatomy. I just cringe when decent human beings feel obligated to defend themselves for the actions of bad apples with whom theyve got very little in common with.

    its a human glitch. Weve each got these superficial markers that say little of our individual character. And yet we take offense/credit/blame for others with skincolor/organs like ours.

    Some people are liars. Some people exploit vulnerabilities. Some people lie, exploit, and abuse and then craftily direct attentions to the reaction of their victims as « evidence » to discredit them. The latter is what often happens to victims of sexual violence.

    People allow these superficial distractions to blind them. Im sure youve seen the movie A Time To Kill. That scene where the attorney details to a jury the awful crime committed against a little girl – it wasnt until he ended his story with « imagine the girl was white » that the jurors (most white) were able to understand. People are self interested by nature and too detached from each other by things that are wholly irrelevent. Thats the root of a lot of problems imho.

  7. Claire Benoit

    I also think people are a bit naive in the faith they put into systems that have never been and cannot be foolproof

    There are plenty of « victims » who have faced their abusers in court only to have courts fail them miserably – sometimes at the cost of their lives. Smh.

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