"Here is a list of rights which I think every single person who claims they have been raped or sexually abused should be entitled to:
1. The right to anonymity. The complainant in this case arguably waived this right when she posted on an account which was connected to her Facebook profile. However, people who took steps to verify her identity, and then spread her name around the Internet, acted in a way that made it impossible to realize this right. Everyone should have the confidence to talk about what has happened to them without intimidation, fear of reprisal or victimization.
2. The right to be believed and taken seriously. Drawing on evidence of previous behavior by this woman, including apparent long-running patterns of lying on the Internet, many commentators were quick to judge her as unreliable. Often it is the most vulnerable people (such as those with serious mental heath problems) who are treated as unreliable witnesses.
3. The right for complaints to be properly investigated. People will understandably argue that anyone in a position similar to the one which this woman was claiming to be in, ought to have gone to the police and pursued so-called proper procedures to redress her grievance, instead of posting about it on the Internet. But we need to remember why so many people do not see the police and the justice system as capable of administering justice. Even if your case is one of the minute number which make it to court, who really wants to be subjected to an aggressive and humiliating cross-examination? So there are very good reasons why a victim would not want to go to court.
This does not, however, excuse the use of the alternative: Trial by Internet. We are simply not competent to investigate something of this level of severity, complexity and sensitivity. We have only partial evidence at best. We don't even have a witness statement. Nor do we have the expertise, experience or resources to carry out a proper investigation let alone act as judge, jury and executioner.
There is a contradiction at the center of all of this. On the one hand, people are claiming that they do, after all, believe “genuine” victims and that they would never approach a “genuine” rape claim with the incredulity which they expressed in this case; they would never doubt the story of a “genuine” rape victim or victimize her further. They would never rubbish her account altogether. They would always believe a “genuine” victim.
At the same time, many of those people are claiming that, by lying, this woman has done irreparable damage to the plight of “genuine” victims and has made it more difficult for them to be believed. Are they not then admitting that sometimes “genuine” victims also present in a way which makes certain people question their reliability? On what basis are “genuine” complainants discredited if not via the same bullshit lines of questioning and tactics employed by you in this case? You are now condemning this woman in the strongest possible terms for what she has supposedly done for the cause as a whole. But you too participated in the same problematic lines of enquiry, relying on hearsay and stereotypes about the appropriate behavior of abused victims.
If the claims are indeed untrue, then I am even willing to go as far as to say that Conor Oberst has suffered quite a grave injustice, he has been wronged. His rights have been violated even. But he has not suffered a miscarriage of justice in any sense of the term. He has not been put on trial, sent to prison or lost his civil liberties. His reputation may never recover fully (if that is even a quantifiable or knowable status) but it will be more or less restored.
If the question is: how can we obviate future injuries against men like Conor Oberst? Then the answer is: by treating all rape claims as legitimate until they have been properly investigated and by following principles of natural justice. Of course, Rape Culture and its powerful anti-women narratives are impeding proper, rigorous and fair investigations because very few people want to come forward only to be abused again in the witness box. This is unfair for victims the world over. But it is also unfair for those who may be wrongly accused and are entitled to a fair hearing. It is not just the rights of victims at stake but the very possibility of justice.
People deleted their Bright Eyes fan sites. Fans disowned him. Some people genuinely believed him to be a rapist. I'm not going to argue against them because I fully understand and respect the reasoning behind their bold faith in the claims of a complete stranger: they would believe any complete stranger, almost without hesitation, if she spoke out about abuse. But these people wouldn't be in a position where they feel they have to believe every single rape claim if they had trust in the system to deliver justice, and trust in the rest of society to realize – and even transcend the need for – the three rights which I set out above. In other words, if everyone had parity of esteem and participation in the justice system, and the society which it serves, then there would be no underdog to root for. So contrary to what many music fans are now angrily declaring, it is not Feminism which is to blame – it is Rape Culture.
We need to be able to imagine a social order in which Rape Culture no longer persists and then we need to start working towards it. We need to be able to imagine a future where it doesn't really matter when someone makes a false rape accusation because we will be able to treat it for what it is: an aberration. But right now, there's not a huge difference between how this woman was treated and the treatment of these “genuine” victims you all keep comparing her to.”