Maybe it’s because there isn’t much compelling news about this last couple of days but the spotlight has, again, swung onto the sexual misbehaviour issues that seems to permeate every aspect of our lives these days.
So are we - mainly the men of our species but not exclusively so - inherently prone to sexual misconduct ? If we look at parliament, large public institutions, corporate entities, the church, schools, etc, etc, stories emerge and escalate every day of behaviours, acts, expectations of right and indifference toward ‘victims’ of unwanted attention. That can range from paedophilia through to teenage experimentation and onto adult acts of indecency or inappropriate words and touch. It also raises the rival question of exactly how ‘real’ some of these accusations are and the weight of evidence that is available to prove or disprove an individuals innocence. In Britain’s concept of the Rule of Law, innocence is inviolate unless proven otherwise, ergo, the legal approach here has to make a case for the prosecution with not just a plaintiff but also a substantive bank of evidence and corroborative testimony that can be upheld through a court process. But there are growing numbers of examples where this right is not being exercised by the authorities so keen as they are to be seen to be tackling ‘the problem’ vigorously.
In recent days we have, fortunately, had a very misguided CPS sexual misconduct case against a young man thrown out due, not to the diligence of due process, but due to the integrity of a prosecution lawyer who observed that crucial evidence that would indicate the young mans innocence had been deliberately withheld by the police. So, in this particular instance, we have both the police and the government’s own legal arm conniving with each other to gain a win against a wholly innocent defendant whilst knowing that there was a bank of suppressed evidence that could exonerate him. This is shameful in the extreme. But what does it really tell us ? It should be telling us that many of our institutions are so driven by performance targets, so squeezed on resource as to need to manipulate evidence and become so corrupted by this concept of achieving ‘performance’ that they are prepared to break the law merely to get a tick in the box and make statistics look good. It should also tell us something about the shortage of integrity in some of our public servants and the manner in which public institutions are run and the self interest that consequently emerges from such a culture. It should finally tell us that a proportion of plaintiffs about sexual misconduct are simply fantasists who concoct lies and untruths about whatever they imagine might have happened and who are prepared to see an innocent defendant imprisoned, ruined and destroyed by their mischief. That these plaintiffs can retain their anonymity is wrong. They should be publicly named and marked as unreliable in our society and pay the price of their folly.
But, of course, there are many cases of sexual misconduct that are legitimate. What puzzles me is how there has become such a tsunami of accusations over recent years after decades of such behaviour remaining dormant. I don’t say that to justify anything but it is extraordinary that in, say, the last five years we have seen accusations of such a large number of individuals in both public and private life as to make this a remarkable phenomena. Why is it happening just now, at this precise point in our societal position when, if history is to be believed, such behaviours have been occurring since man first walked on two legs ? Is it to do with some form of enlightenment, a sudden recognition by those who think they have been unjustly treated, is it to do with gender equality advancing at a pace or is it to do with a public fascination in morbidity and sexual conduct exposure ? I suspect it’s a bit of all of these and it certainly occupies the minds of the media to an almost obsessive extent.
I find it all slightly disturbing. I acknowledge that some things are going on that shouldn’t and that it is quite right for the authorities to tackle the challenge and seek the truth of the matter and ultimately apply justice; at the same time I have a disquiet about the sensationalism much of this activity stirs in the public at large, not quite a lynch-mob mentality but getting closer to it day by day, and a deeper disquiet about the probity and integrity of a number of institutions - public and private - who have over-reacted to the challenge and revealed much about their inner cultures and workings that need urgent reform.
The bottom line is that we all live in an imperfect society, wherever in the world that may be. We will not right all wrongs but we can right some of them. But in righting wrongs we must all accept a public responsibility to be honest about events and judge in our own minds whether pointing the accusatory finger publicly is the right thing to do. That’s a long shot hope, I’m afraid humankind isn’t always that nicely balanced.