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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ilogical Reasons To Doubt Al Gore Sexual Assault Allegation

In an article titled 3 reasons to doubt the Al Gore sex assault story published by written by Steve Kornacki we are given the following list of reasons for skepticism:

1) The Portland police declined to investigate the woman's claims any further after she made her statement, citing a lack of evidence.

2) The allegations were apparently known two years ago to at least one Portland media outlet -- the Portland Tribune, a weekly paper that declined to report on them. The paper's editor tells Ben Smith that the allegations didn't meet the "test points" that the paper uses to determine whether a story is likely to be true.

3) We have seen plenty of cases of baseless (if vivid) sexual allegations against celebrities before. Tucker Carlson was once accused of rape by a woman he'd never met, for instance. Something similar happened with magician David Copperfield last year, too. (Plenty of celebrities have been guilty of sex crimes, too, of course.)
This list is analytically meaningless but it and other similar lists are so common that too often these reasons are treated as if they really were logical tools of analysis when they are nothing more than popular justifications for baseless doubt.

Kornacki wrote earlier:

Who knows what, exactly, to make of the news that Al Gore has been accused by an Oregon masseuse of making repeated, unwanted sexual contact with her back in 2006?
Unfortunately his list doesn't provide any credible help in answering this question.

Item number 1: The failure of a police department to investigate an allegation of sexual assault is meaningless at determining the authenticity of the original allegation and therefore is meaningless at providing a reason to doubt the original allegation.

This outcome is pathetically common even when the person accused isn't someone famous. If there is no forensic evidence the decision of whether to investigate can come down to a quick guess about the credibility of the person making an allegation versus the credibility of the person accused.

Credibility most often relates to what biases investigators or jurors cling to. For example, even though there is plenty of research which shows that most victims of sex crimes don't call 911 immediately, the failure of a victim to take this action is often positioned as undermining that victim's credibility. There are good reasons for victims of sex crimes to be skeptical of investigators, but too often actions which can be described as lack of cooperation are falsely positioned as casting doubt on the original allegation.

Not investigating "because of lack of evidence" is too often treated as if it is the same as "because of credible evidence that allegation is false." Treating these as equal shows inexcusable sloppiness.

Item number 2: Media outlets are not trained sexual assault investigators so their decision not to print an allegation against someone not charged with a crime is meaningless. Because of liability issues the media needs to have a standard for what they will publish, but a choice not to publish is not credible evidence related to the original allegation.

Item number 3: This one is canceled out at the end by Kornacki himself. He wrote, in parentheses: "Plenty of celebrities have been guilty of sex crimes, too, of course."

The fact that there have been both false and true allegations of sexual assault against celebrities tells us nothing about a particular allegation which has not been proven false or proven true. The reality is that something which tells us nothing cannot be a logical basis for skepticism. Yet Kornacki fails to recognize this basic logic.

An item not mentioned by Kornacki is that those who accuse celebrities of sex crimes are often subjected to the presumption of their guilt and to the denial or minimization of the reality Kornacki only acknowledges in parentheses. Being a celebrity doesn't make someone incapable of committing a sex crime yet far too many people act as if it does just that. When a celebrity is accused the number of people who pose a threat to the accuser goes up substantially.

Some who presume guilt of alleged sex crime victims can go so far as to enact physical violence against the person who made the allegation. A man named Patrick Graber offered to murder Kobe Bryant's accuser for $3 million. While the prosecutors justified a plea deal which dismissed the original charges because they didn't believe he planned to commit the murder once he had what he believed to be the $1 million down payment they don't know for sure what this man would have done for an additional $2 million.

All this means that nothing Kornacki cites eliminates any reason to doubt Al Gore's innocence. However, the one-sided doubt presented by Kornacki implies just the opposite.

Meaningless lists such as given by Kornacki do nothing to help evaluate the authenticity of allegations but they can help people rationalize seeking out those they envision as false accusers. Death threats are far too common from people who think of themselves as upholding innocence.

Those who are willing to make these kinds of lists must also be willing to accept responsibility for casting baseless one-directional doubt.

Update (7/31): The Portland Police Dept. has announced that there will be no charges filed against Al Gore. This announcement and the reasons given for it have been mistaken by some to mean that the woman who made the report has been proven to have lied to the police, meaning that this is a proven hoax. This is false. "Lack of credible evidence," means just that.

Those who twist this into something more are promoting a false claim. Too often this includes the police and prosecutors who make claims which go beyond the evidence. People who seem to never forget "innocent until proven guilty" and who are concerned over the taint of unproven allegations sudddenly seem to have never heard of either of those concepts. The pervasive bias about false reports causes many people to read more into the evidence than is actually there.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:51 PM   3 comments links to this post

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Carnival Delayed

The edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence originally scheduled for June 15 has been postponed to July 1.

The process of moving is more disruptive than I'd anticipated.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:42 AM   2 comments links to this post

Friday, June 11, 2010

Carnival Deadline Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night at 11 pm is the next deadline for the Carnival Against Sexual Violence so please take a few minutes and nominate a post you've written or a post you've read.

For anyone unfamiliar with blog carnivals, this terminology is used for collections of blog posts with different carnivals focusing on different topics. You can learn more by reading the Carnival FAQ.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:26 AM   1 comments links to this post

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Help Me Clear Out Books Before Move Complete

I'm beginning the process of moving and have extra copies of my novel Cherry Love which I'd rather give away than move. The only required cost is shipping. For US addresses that's $4.90 Priority Mail for either 1 or 2 books. If you are outside the US please contact me privately to determine shipping costs.

The retail price is $11.95 each. This is an autobiographical novel which highlights how a family friend turned boyfriend could become a rapist while telling himself and her that he's just a normal guy.

The only way to get the money to me before my move is complete is to use PayPal (if you send money from a credit or debit card you need to pay the fee). Payments need to be sent to The books will be mailed at the latest 7 days after payment recieved.

Regular blogging will resume when I'm unpacked and settled in my new home.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:49 AM   5 comments links to this post

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 95

Welcome to the June 1 edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence.

Quick FYI for those unfamiliar with blog carnivals and who wonder about this terminology, the term refers to collections of related blog posts. Check out for more information.

I'm now on Twitter as Abyss2hope so if you Twitter please follow me and then let me know you arrived from this blog through the @ reply or DM.

Thank you to everyone who nominated a post or who wrote a post against sexual violence whether it was nominated/selected or not. Nominations that came in after the nomination deadline will be considered for the next edition of the carnival.

If you support the purpose of the carnival, you can help get the word out about it and all of the posts included in the carnival.

Here are the selections for this edition of the carnival against sexual violence:


In Nun excommunicated for allowing dying patient to have an abortion posted at Feministe, we get a discussion about the response to the agreement by a nun on a Catholic hospital's ethical board that the hospital could perform an abortion to save a patient's life.

In Are you a sex addict, or merely a dirty slut? posted at Hoyden About Town, we get a discussion about how often celebrities who admit to numerous sexual encounters are labeled sex addicts if they are men.

In Some College Students Earn "F" in Respect for Women Teachers posted at Ms Magazine Blog, we get a discussion of the role bias plays in how some students view certain professors.


In Boys Aged 10 and 11 Convicted of Attempted Rape as Apologists Deny Assault Was Possible posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion of various responses to the way 2 boys were treated by the criminal justice system.

In Shiny happy rape culture posted at Penny Red, we get a discussion about what led to a proposed law in the UK to grant anonymity to those accused of rape unless or until they are convicted.

In Defense Attorney Claims Convicted Rapist “Didn’t Realize” the Severity of Rape posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion about how even when a rape is proven in court that there is support for not holding all rapists fully accountable.

media watch

In Melanie Phillips talks shit, again posted at Too Much To Say For Myself, we get a discussion of a response to the proposal in the UK to grant anonymity to those accused of rape which wrongfully equated the acquittal rate with the rate of false allegations.

In Miss D.C. Talks Groping; NBC 4 Is Shocked and Confused posted at The Sexist, we get a discussion of an interview of Jen Corey who talks about public sexual assault.

personal stories

In Her name was Lurline. posted at Speaking Out., we get a discussion about the sexual assault of a 82-year-old relative and the various responses which are far too typical.

In We’re Not Keeping It in the Family Anymore posted at Peace X Peace, we get a discussion about how more women are refusing to accept demands that women don't speak up about the violence inflicted on them because that violence is described by others as a private matter.

raising awareness

In Backhanded Enhancement of Sexploitation posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss how often statements against sexploitation reinforce the problem by normalizing troubling behavior toward children who have been sexualized.

In What's Birth Control Sabotage and Why You Should Care posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion of a court ruling in Canada which classified birth control sabotage as a form of sexual assault.

In In Which Rape Makes Me Angry posted at FWD/Forward, we get a discussion about sexual violence with an emphasis on assaults against people with disabilities.

In Dear Pope: Check This Out posted at FaithTrust Institute, we get a discussion about how leaders of organizations respond to allegations against someone within their organization.

In Positioning Man Who Raped A Woman As A Victim posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss a comment which excuses a rapist who did not verify that the person seeking a rape fantasy was the woman pictured in the ad prior to attacking her.


In Grief Need to be Seen posted at rmott62, we get a discussion about the pressures to keep grief hidden in order to be accepted while speaking out against the violence in prostitution.

In Vintage Victim-Blaming: Feminism Causes Rape, and Other Crime Prevention Tips posted at The Sexist, we get an analysis of a 1977 statement by the Venice, Florida police chief and how many of those old claims continue to be made.


In How Can Sex Ed Prevent Rape? posted at Scarleteen Newswire, we get a discussion of a question which many people don't consider when they consider sex ed.

That concludes this edition of the carnival against sexual violence. Thank you for taking the time to visit this carnival and thank you to the authors of all the posts included in this edition.

To nominate a post (your own or someone else's) to the next edition of carnival against sexual violence, use the carnival submission form. If you have any problem with the form, please let me know so your submission can be considered for the next edition.

Links to everything related to the carnival can be found on the blog dedicated to this carnival,

Marcella Chester

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:01 AM   0 comments links to this post