One piece of current legislation going through Congress is the Safe Campus Act (congressional record here). The point of the legislation is to provide meaningful due process protections for both the accused and the accuser. Sexual assault is a serious crime, and should be treated as such, not litigated in kangaroo courts. The bill requires TRAINED law enforcement professionals to be involved in the proceedings. It ensures the right of both parties to hire lawyers, and to cross-examine witnesses. In short, it ensures due process. And due process, my friends, is a central tenet of liberalism … underpinning the ideal of “equality before the law.”
So liberals should be happy about this, right? Except they are NOT …
These progressives instead have thrown a fit, showing their true Illiberal colors. For example, Gawker published a piece about how the bill was “bullshit.” The Huffington Post decried it as a terrible idea promoting “victim blaming”, calling all the bill’s sponsors “misogynist” and the like. You know something is challenging the dominant cultural narrative when such shaming language is pulled out. You can see The Atlantic for a more balanced story, though they still prefer the very similar Campus Safety and Accountability Act which does many of the same things as the Safe Campus Act but with less due process protections for the accused.
More broadly, it’s interesting to see more and more people being publicly accused and convicted in the court of public opinion, long before any real evidence is provided. Everyone from porn star James Deen all the way to Keisha’s producer Dr. Luke. The growth of social media and outrage culture have led to virtual mobs on Twitter and Facebook, only now they use tweets and post-likes instead of pitchforks and fire (for example Laura Kipnis, or Justine Sacco, or famed scientist Tim Hunt, or Paul Nungesser of Columbia Mattress girl “fame”, or Jon Ronson’s book). Now perhaps those people are guilty, who knows? Certainly I don’t. But the thing is, NEITHER DO YOU. It used to be that the principle of Innocent before Proven Guilty held strongly in the United States, a part of our Liberal heritage. Perhaps we have forgotten.
Any true classical Liberal knows that due process and free speech are the critical principles that allow for this great democracy and free society we have. They guarantee that we can’t be silenced merely for stating an unpopular or offensive opinion, and that we can’t be burned at the stake merely for being accused of a crime. The Safe Campus Act is a good step in re-asserting those true liberal principles.
Some may say: “but sexual assault victims suffer because of stigma and shame, victim-blaming occurs, and rape is already difficult to litigate …”
Which may be true, and we should work to improve those things. But violating people’s due process rights is NOT a solution. Assuming that anyone accused is “guilty before proven innocent” is NOT a solution. No real liberal would ever advocate those things. It would be the equivalent of returning to medieval witch hunts. It’s the whole reason our ancestors left Europe.
“Those who would trade freedom for security, deserve neither” – Benjamin Franklin