William Blackstone (1723 – 1780) was an English jurist and judge who wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England which included the statement
All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer.
This ratio is found in biblical traditions such as in Genesis 18:23-32 when Abraham states that he will not destroy a city with ten wicked men when there are fifty righteous men.
But in the latest frenzy attacking sexual harassment and sexual abuse following the Harvey Weinstein revelations this axiom is being ignored in the pursuit of supposed villains. Phil Barker writes
Some innocent men are going to be shot in the head. So be it.
Or Emily Linden
Here’s an unpopular opinion. I’m not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations. First, false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It’s a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population). And more importantly, The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth plus the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man’s reputation.
I’m not sure how the likes of Linden can be so sure that false allegations are rare. Were they rare during the Salem witch trials? Or during the various inquisitions? Or in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany?
Does not the ease of allegation, and the virtue signalling increase the risk of false allegations?
This type of argument – the means justifies the ends – was also seen in the massacre at Béziers in France in 1209 when the Papal legate said
Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius [kill them all; let God sort them out]
It is a mark of civilisation to protect the innocent from false accusation. It is especially important during periods when there is a clamour to go after people for behaviour that was previously ignored, tolerated or covered up.
Protecting the innocent from false accusation does not mean that one supports sexual abuse. It is really about being a virtuous human being, not an enraged animal happy to tear down everything.