MATTHEWS: Presidential Candidates Need to Believe in Due Process Instead of Believing All Accusers

During a recent military hearing, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) didn’t mince words.

“The percentage of [sexual assault] cases that are ending in conviction are going down… I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command ‘we got this ma’am, we got this.’ You don’t have it. You’re failing us.”

Gillibrand, one of over 20 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for president, has for years been an outspoken critic of the way the military handles accusations of sexual assault.

But in the hearing, she stepped over the line. She appeared to be upset that not every case resulted in conviction.

There are a lot of reasons why a case might not result in a conviction. The evidence just may not be there. The alleged victim’s story may not have been found to be believable. Or it might be clear that the accuser falsified their story.

In light of the #MeToo movement, the push has been renewed to — without question — “believe all women” who step forth to accuse a man of sexually abusing them. Unlike the cases Gillibrand refers to, most of these cases have not been tried in court but instead in the court of public opinion, where the role of “due process” is quite different.

In many these high-profile #MeToo cases, due process — which in these instances means gathering all the information you can in order to posit an informed opinion — has been non-existent.

Take the case of Emma Sulkowicz, better known as “mattress girl.” Though it was 2013, just a few years before the #MeToo movement took root in the American conscience, her case — like the 2006 Duke lacrosse case — would be a harbinger of things to come for accused men in the #MeToo era.

Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia University in New York, accused fellow student Paul Nungesser of rape. She took her case to both the university and the NYPD months after the alleged rape. Both investigated her allegations and found them lacking. Because she didn’t get satisfaction, Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around campus to symbolize the burden sexual assault victims carry, and to shame her alleged rapist into leaving the school.

In spite of there being no evidence to back up Sulkowicz’s claim, Nungesser was vilified in the court of public opinion and on the pages of major national publications like the New York Times as his accuser continued to tell her story, win feminist awards, and carry the mattress around campus — even to her graduation.

Her status as a feminist heroine grew when a U.S. Senator helped amplify her message by having Sulkowicz appear with her at an April 2014 press conference on sexual assaults on campus. The same Senator also tweeted her support of Sulkowicz the following month, saying she “made such a difference in helping combat sexual assault on college campuses.”

Sulkowicz was also a guest of this Senator’s at the January 2015 State of the Union.

That Senator was Kirsten Gillibrand.

Nungesser would later reveal to an online publication a series of Facebook and text messages he and Sulkowicz exchanged in the weeks after the alleged rape that contradicted her claims. As it turned out, the messages were very cordial, friendly, and flirty. She was eager to get together with him again, and in one message she said “I love you.” Columbia University ultimately found him “not responsible” and would later settle a lawsuit with him for an undisclosed amount.

Gillibrand never apologized for her rush to judgment, and it’s clear from her comments at the military hearing that she continues to “believe all women” rather than in due process. This is a troubling position for any public figure to take, but especially one running for the highest office in the land.

Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.