Thursday, October 24, 2013

COTWA was wrong about the Ohio University video sex act

We try to speak for the wrongly accused at this site, and an important part of that mission is to insist that rushing to judgment and assuming the guilt of the presumptively innocent without sufficient evidence is wrong by any measure. We are stranded in an era where, especially when it comes to alleged sex offenses, it is common to assume guilt based solely on an accusation. Women's rights activists preach that people should "always" believe the putative victim (they always leave out the word "putative"). To us, this is both misguided advocacy and a reprehensible affront to the rights and dignity of the presumptively innocent. Instead, the goal should be to be fair to both the accuser and the accused, and to treat both with dignity, without assuming either one is lying or is a criminal.

We stand guilty of the very thing we preach against. We have let down a presumptively innocent young man who is accused of sexual assault in connection with a public sex act caught on video near Ohio University's Athens campus. The woman involved in the sex act said the video actually shows she was raped. We acted too quickly and improperly relied on sources we thought were reliable and assumed it was a sexual assault.

We have had an opportunity to look into the matter with the care we should have exercised before we posted about it, and we simply cannot say that the video depicts a sexual assault.  We should not have assumed it does. Among many other things, Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said: "You could view that picture and certainly suggest that a sexual assault took place. You could also suggest other things." According to Gawker, a reliable source said, "the video shows both parties actively participating, and they both acknowledge that they are being filmed and observed." And: “Another source told the site that the photo’s subjects ‘posed for pictures with each other and with several bystanders after they were finished.’” Investigators urged people not to do the very thing COTWA did:  rush to judgement.

It is one thing for women's rights advocates to let  this young man down. They have an agenda, and their musings on these issues are notoriously biased and often wrong. It is quite another thing for COTWA to get it wrong.

And make no mistake, we were very wrong to assume it. We owe the young man, his family, his friends, and the community of the wrongly accused, a sincere apology. The offending post has been removed. We are questioning our own judgment in having posted it, and we will strive to be more careful. If we can't do better than that, we need to think about retiring the blog.

Without a staff, and without editorial controls, we make mistakes more often than we'd care to admit. We have received notes from readers who pointed out our error, and we thank them.

Our apology can't make things right. We hope our actions can.