Debra Soh holds a PhD in sexual neuroscience research from York University and writes about the science and politics of sex
After consuming Hollywood for the past five months, the #MeToo movement has swept through Canada, taking with it one of the country’s well known pop groups, Hedley. After multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the band first surfaced in mid-February under the hashtag #outHedley2k18 – including reports of a police investigation into the alleged drugging and raping of an underage girl in 2005 – the band was promptly dropped by its management and blacklisted by radio stations.
After an additional allegation of rape against Hedley frontman, Jacob Hoggard, the band announced it would be taking an “indefinite hiatus” when its tour ends later this month. Mr. Hoggard denies these allegations. A Calgary radio host has also since come forward, alleging sexual misconduct at the hands of Mr. Hoggard. On Friday, the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes unit confirmed that it has opened an investigation into Mr. Hoggard. No charges have been laid at this time.
The public response to this unfolding of events has been mixed, with some fans denouncing the band in disgust. Others have voiced disbelief and unwavering support, demanding due process.
This influential sway of social media at a time of heightened sensitivity speaks to how carefully we must tread when it comes to navigating allegations of sexual assault. At the core remains the critical question of how we should balance justice for victims while maintaining the rights of the accused.
Considering how stridently #MeToo has gained ground, it’s very possible that one of these days, someone you know personally will find themselves in the crosshairs. If you are a supporter of women’s rights, you’ll face a difficult juncture, having to reconcile loyalty for a friend with the now-requisite faith in believing the victim.
The popular “we believe survivors” mantra propelled mainstream prioritization of the latter, following Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal of sexual assault charges in 2016. It arguably laid Canada’s foundation for #MeToo, promoting the idea that victims never lie or fabricate claims.
In fact, according to a U.S. study, between 2 per cent to 10 per cent of sexual-assault reports are false. Research suggests these accusations are motivated primarily by emotional gains, like regret, revenge, and a desire for sympathy, on the part of the complainant. Most alarmingly, 21 per cent of cases in the study said they didn’t know why they filed their allegations.
Dismissing these facts doesn’t help to win support for victims. Instead, it only damages the cause, feeding into the perception that those supporting – and possibly indulging in – the #MeToo movement are intent on destroying men’s lives, seeking a victory no matter how many get sacrificed along the way or how murky the definition of sexual assault becomes.
In response, those critical of the movement have defaulted to their own knee-jerk reaction, siding with the accused and pointing to discredited rape accusations such as Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl” and Rolling Stone’s erroneous coverage of an alleged gang rape which was also later disproven.
A movement that had the potential to bring about meaningful change has debased itself, leaving the most progressive among us wondering when it will finally end.
Without question, we should seek to eradicate sexual violence, and to live in a world in which women and men co-exist peacefully. And yes, the #MeToo phenomenon has been successful at placing a high-power lens on an uncomfortable subject matter and the once-common cultural practice of happily sweeping victims’ suffering under the rug. It has offered a long overdue voice to the vulnerable in an unprecedented way.
But its unintended side effect has only further polarized the issue of sexual assault, distilling it down to blindly taking sides, irrespective of whether doing so actually moves us forward.
When it comes to the court of public opinion, it must be acknowledged that only the victim and the accused knows what truly transpired. Our judgments should be based on how well we know a person and in what context, as opposed to a particular doctrine dictated by either side.