By Claire Zillman
June 19, 2017

The New Yorker‘s Jia Tolentino writes that in the sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby—deemed a mistrial as the jury stood deadlocked on Saturday— the comedian’s lawyers argued that the changing public discourse around sexual assault put Cosby at a disadvantage. They implied, she writes, “that female accusers have developed an unfair, outsized power against men.”

Indeed, the climate surrounding sexual assault has changed to the point where repeated allegations against a man can diminish his trustworthiness and tarnish his reputation. (Dozens of women have accused Cosby, one of America’s most famous entertainers, of sexual misconduct, but the trial sought to adjudicate just one woman’s claims.)

But this shift has not tipped the scales in the opposite direction, Tolentino writes. “To many people—to an average group of people containing seven men and five women, say—the female accuser still seems implicitly untrustworthy, too.”

For further evidence of this, look no farther than reports earlier this month that former Uber executive Eric Alexander obtained the medical records of a woman in India who was raped by an Uber driver in 2014. Her attacker was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but Alexander reportedly shared her file with other executives to back up his theory that her claims might be false and part of a setup by Uber’s Indian rival Ola. The victim is now suing the ride-hailing company and several of its executives for defamation, intrusion into private affairs, and public disclosure of private facts.

While society has perhaps become more receptive to hearing women’s complaints of sexual assault, and more victims have mustered the courage to come forward, they still lack—both culturally and legally, Tolentino argues—the benefit of the doubt.

@clairezillman

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