Why we stand by the presumption of innocence
Blogs have appeared recently about the disturbing cases of abuse reported in the Australian parliament and elsewhere.
One of the remarkable things about these incidents is the opportunity to take a fresh look at the accusations against IT security researcher Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum and the accused serial rapist from Australia's parliament, Bruce Lehrmann, are pictured above.
When Brittany Higgins came forward about being raped on the defence minister's sofa, she simultaneously opened a police complaint.
According to Wikimedia, none of the people who made public attacks on Appelbaum have ever made a police complaint. Almost five years have passed since their public attacks on Appelbaum. Despite the intense media attention, not one woman came forward to file a police complaint. This is a remarkable contrast against other cases involving public figures.
When Higgins revealed her ordeal publicly, three more victims filed police complaints against the same man.
When people published attacks on Appelbaum, they used what appear to be distorted accounts of Appelbaum's interactions with other women. According to the investigative journalists at Die Zeit, those woman asked not to be associated with the accusations. Some of their "testimonies" were removed from the attack site. Proposing random women as victims, without their consent, is hardly a #MeToo moment.
Credibility of testimonies
Having heard the testimonies of genuine abuse victims, we couldn't help doubting the emails distributed about Appelbaum.
Another woman, Chanel Contos, has recently published over 3,000 anonymous testimonies from victims of abuse.
In another blog, the blogger published the so-called testimonies that one free software organization used to justify a defamatory attack on Appelbaum. These "testimonies" were distributed to over a thousand developers on private mailing lists, behind the back of the accused.
When you compare Miss Contos' testimonies to those concerning Appelbaum, there is a clear difference.
When survivors come forward with evidence like this, it is always important to listen. Listening doesn't mean accepting an allegation is true.
It doesn't look like the women talking about these cases in Australia have anything to gain. Quite the opposite: not only did Brittany Higgins lose her job, her partner also had to leave his job too.
Yet in the case of Appelbaum, Die Zeit has speculated that people connected with the accusations were able to benefit from job changes in the Tor Project.
The presumption of innocence
The presumption of innocence is an important principle. Both men are innocent until proven guilty. A trial by social media doesn't change that.
When accusations of harassment and abuse are used for political purposes, as speculated by Die Zeit, it makes it even harder for genuine victims to come forward.