Monday, June 28, 2010

The I Don't Understand Fallacy

So far most of the commentary I've read in coverage of the allegations of sexual assault against Al Gore reveal little about the case itself and instead reveal how different people commonly filter these types of allegations.

As I highlighted in my previous post, so-called logical reasons given to doubt the accuser are often illogical. The illogic is grounded in bias rather than sound analysis.

This morning there is an article in Women's eNews written by Wendy Murphy which presents another logical fallacy. This one against those whose allegations are believed. The article begins with:

I'm as fierce an advocate as exists for crime victims, but I'm having a tough time figuring out how to feel about Al Gore being publicly accused now of committing a sexual assault in 2006.
The article goes on to speculate in order to eliminate a lack of understanding. The problem with this speculation is that it is an invalid substitute for evidence.

Several of the claims Murphy makes about people's responses to this case are not correct. She wrote: "The most interesting issue for me, however, is the way nobody seems to be calling woman a liar." and "But Gore isn't even denying the woman's claims, much less calling her a liar."

However, it only takes a few minutes on the Internet to find people who call this woman a liar and Inside Edition has the following on its website dated June 25th.

We're learning new details from Al Gore himself about the night a masseuse claims the former Vice President sexually assaulted her. A source tells The Washington Post that Gore confirms he got a therapeutic massage inside his hotel room, and that it was likely from the woman now making the shocking allegation. Gore was staying in a suite at the Hotel Lucia in Portland, Oregon, in 2006, and the source told the newspaper, "Gore remembers getting a massage without incident and the therapist leaving on good terms."
I read this as a denial from Gore even if it comes through an anonymous source. Since this case wasn't investigated by the police, many people are assuming that means the allegations are false so how a denial is framed is likely to be based on opinions about how that response will be assessed by the media and the public. For those who are famous enough to be covered by The Daily Show, the choice of response might factor in whether the response would provide inspiration for a humorous clip.

Murphy isn't positioning the woman as lying about Al Gore's actions in 2006, but is instead using her lack of understanding of the woman's decisions after she left Gore's hotel room as a justification to speculatively fill in the blanks and then to judge this woman based on Murphy's own speculation.

If the woman wanted money from Al Gore, should we care that she was victimized? Her lawyer said she was proceeding "civilly" when she refused to be interviewed by cops back in 2006, which indicates she was planning to ask Gore for money. What became of that civil case?
The first problem with Murphy's questions is that they ask us to fix opinions of this woman in our minds without knowing if this woman wanted money from Al Gore. Once our opinion is fixed about whether we should care that will taint any later assessment of the original "if."

The bigger problem is that they position sexual assault as tolerable if the victim responded in a way which doesn't fit the proper victim mold. Part of this proper victim mold is for victims to completely trust criminal investigators and prosecutors despite evidence that those they are supposed to trust are not always trustworthy.

What does it say about us as a society if there are conditions where we should not care if someone was sexually assaulted? This attitude is jarring when it is compared to how our society in general views those on the sex offender registry. We say we are opposed to sex crimes but too often we as a society fail to live up to our claims.

When our criminal justice system has a track record of doing a lousy job of responding to allegations of sex crimes against those who are famous it is logical for sex crime victims to look for other ways to respond to this type of crime both for themselves and for the benefit of potential future victim. Yet repeatedly these other avenues of response are treated as if they are legitimate reasons for condemnation or apathy.

The assessment of allegations and alleged victims must be based on credible evidence and not based on filling the blanks in a case where we don't understand major element until we can come to some firm conclusion about all those involved.

The reality is that many cases which involve the famous and the non-famous leave us with plenty we don't understand. We need to accept this until there is credible data to fill in the missing pieces.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:55 AM   5 comments links to this post


At June 28, 2010 12:21 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

To date all the mainstream media articles concerning the fact a woman has charged Gore with sexual assault are speculative and utterly void of any factual evidence.

Even the Womensenews falls into this trap of speculating how and why this woman did not pursue her charge against Gore but instead withdrew.

We should not therefore be surprised when so many cases concerning male sexual violence against women are dismissed as fabrications when even women's media instead of presenting the facts, engages in speculation.

Myths concerning women's supposed innate non-creditability abound and always the focus is on the female survivors never the men who are charged with these crimes. This is why so many male rapists continue to be acquitted and why male sexual violence against women is endemic - because our society refuses to believe women but instead believes all men are innately credible and never, ever lie.

At June 28, 2010 2:49 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Great to see you back Marcella, I've missed your thoughtful analysis! Hope the move and unpacking was/is relatively easy.

Anyway, isn't it strange how all the speculation is always one-way? It's always "here's a thousand reasons why men never rape and this man in particular could never rape". Speculators never delineate the extremely common rape permission myths, instead they just repeat those myths without conscious thought.

At June 30, 2010 4:58 AM, Blogger Ethereal Highway said...

There are many reasons a woman might not persue criminal charges. When someone is sexually intimidated or assaulted, it is very, very psychologically and emotionally stressful. I wish speculators would keep this in mind. It is so very hard to come forward at all and sometimes it takes a lot of time and support to be able to do so.

At June 30, 2010 5:39 PM, Anonymous Social Worker said...

@Mandrea & Ethereal:

Seconded on both.

Welcome back, Marcella!
And I've found it is MORE the case than not for a victim to not come forward, at least not without some type of supportive network.
Sometimes just moving forward with a semblance of a daily routine is success.

We don't know what really happened here, which just shores up the point that without more factual information, the rest is speculation.

Hope YOUR move was smooth and joyful, Marcella.

At July 01, 2010 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seconding the comments about men who could never/would never because of who people think they are, who they appear to be in society, or who their friends are. I am aware of a man who is the CEO of a well known charity organization who is an abusive male, and rapist. I had to shut up because he threatened to have my daughter taken away from me. And I wasn't even an angry victim. Nice, huh? These hypocrites make one loose all faith in humanity. But he looks really good in public!


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