Presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign has expanded its team by bringing on a writer whose has previously written that those accused of sexual assault should automatically be treated as guilty, regardless of the actual evidence brought against them.
Late Thursday, news emerged Clinton’s presidential campaign hired writer and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell. Maxwell is intended to help the campaign with its digital outreach efforts on issues like feminism and gender equality.
But as was pointed out first by Jonah Goldberg of National Review, Maxwell has previously written sexual assault allegations should always be believed, regardless of the evidence, while downplaying any harm that may occur from false accusations.
Back in 2014, shortly after claims of a gang rape at the University of Virginia started to fall apart, Maxwell authored a column for The Washington Post on the matter. By the time it was published, Jackie Coakley’s claims to have been raped were falling apart, but Maxwell said that didn’t matter.
Many people (not least U-Va. administrators) will be tempted to see this as a reminder that officials, reporters and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases. This is what we mean in America when we say someone is “innocent until proven guilty.” After all, look what happened to the Duke lacrosse players.
In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist. Even if Jackie fabricated her account, U-Va. should have taken her word for it during the period while they endeavored to prove or disprove the accusation. This is not a legal argument about what standards we should use in the courts; it’s a moral one, about what happens outside the legal system.
Maxwell expressed a very carefree attitude about the potentially harmful effects that could result from automatically believing in the guilt of anybody accused of sexual assault.
“The accused would have a rough period,” she said. “He might be suspended from his job; friends might defriend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching his shows, consuming his books or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. But false accusations are exceedingly rare, and errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.”
Despite Maxwell’s confidence, though, there are ample examples of high-profile rape allegations that have ended up being false.
Maxwell’s comments are at least somewhat ironic, given Clinton’s own history. Far from believing accusers by default, Clinton sought to “destroy” accusers who came forward in the early 1990s with allegations of sexual harassment against her husband former President Bill Clinton.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to emails for comment by press time.