Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hope Bias

The recent rape charge against FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has me thinking about how our interpretation of events is (unfortunately or fortunately) a choice and how it can affect other people. Jameis, from what I have seen so far, is a very likeable and smart young man. He is also an incredible quarterback who is leading FSU football through what could be its best season ever. He may finish his collegiate career as the most decorated player in FSU history and take that legacy with him to the NFL. And suddenly there are rape charges against him over an incident in December 2012. If he is found guilty, it could end his high-flying career in a moment. There is DNA evidence of his involvement, there are lawyers who are handling it with utmost seriousness and there are witnesses waiting to testify. And then there is us. 
The charges are seen less as allegations of fundamental human rights violation and more as how it will impact football. Depending on which side of the ball you are on, hope and schadenfreude direct an opinion that betrays that filth that fills our minds, making us the worst offenders of them all. Here is a statistic: In what many would consider a very progressive nation with better rights for women than most other countries, 40% of all rapes in the USA get reported; 8% get convicted. While reporting the case is left to the victim's volition, I am more interested in the 32% cases that aren't convicted. With Winston's case, there is a very good chance that it may come down to his word against hers - a major issue with most rape cases. "What if it was consensual while it happened and the crazy malicious female decided to report it as rape later?", ask the skeptics. I am pretty sure that most of the 32% would have involved this question in some form. 
Most "opinions" on rape come from one of three schools - the hate, the hope and the truth. The haters represent the union of misogynists that would love for a chance to label a victim as another scheming villain that would stop at nothing to destroy their brother's reputation. There are of course haters who would want every accused to suffer in the worst pit in hell too but they are at the other end of the spectrum and fewer than you would estimate. The hopers represent the tired lot that want to only see rainbows and rabbits and would love to wish the rape away. While they may seem like a gentle lot, they end up in the same corner as the haters. Both schools want the rape to be some hoax that the victim cooked up to gain something out of the event. 
I have an issue with that. Let us examine the "gain" part. Maybe they want to make money out of the wealthy accused. Maybe they want some publicity and sympathy out of the event. While one may get these wonderful gifts if one makes a fake accusation, here are some additional prizes that come with the package. 
  • Your private life, your lifestyle choices and your naked appearance are re-imagined and recounted in public, spiced with judgmental flavors from burnt tongues
  •  You are awarded a scarlet letter for life but it is not like a badge on your chest. It is more like a hot iron brand on your face. You could emerge out of it indifferent and strong but that is your own deal
  • You are open game to the hate and hope schools of rape apologists
Obviously, all the gifting leaves very little time or patience for addressing the victim's emotional damage, trauma and isolation should the case be real. So the question is why would someone care to go to the law with a fake case? Sure, if I wanted to be malicious to someone, I could run a fake smear campaign where I could spread my lies to their friends and mine. That brings negligible public damage to me, gets the sympathy I need and I can still control the situation, so the extra gifts can be avoided. Going to the law and pressing charges makes it a much bigger deal though. Almost every aspect of it is now out of my control. It could swing both ways, irreversibly. A little bit of thinking would easily discourage the average mind. No wonder 60% of the cases go unreported. I would like to think that at least 90% of us (just a guess) are of sane mind and would not be so invested in the "positives" of being a victim as to not care about the negatives. That would make about 10% of the reporting victims crazy and malicious, about 4% of total events. Let us not forget, it isn't the greatest business plan either, there is only a 20% chance of success with only 8% events where the offenders get punished. So - of about 96% of total true cases - 89% do not get justice. Then how are you folks, the schools of hatred and hope so easily able to question the motives of every victim? 
I sincerely hope that we would move out, and into schools that are invested in the truth. It is important to be fair to the accused and the victim and being unemotional about the outcome would be necessary for that. But being unemotional does not mean being unemphatic. This event is far from an enjoyable ordeal and it is never something to be joked about. There is no room for personal agendas and opinions that help its confirmation bias. Our judgements are indeed a choice but they can really affect the parties involved, worse than we think. Be empathetic, judge responsibly.