It’s time we learned how to properly treat the victims of sexual assault | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It’s time we learned how to properly treat the victims of sexual assault

If one side is to be given a greater benefit of the doubt, shouldn’t it be the person who suffered the pain, horror and indignity of the alleged attack?

In light of the revelation last week that Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang is under investigation in Chicago for an alleged sexual assault, I penned an online column calling for Kang to be benched while the investigation played out.

I’ll recount some of that column in this piece, but the long-and-short of my rationale is this: Kang is in the public eye; he is a celebrity who gets a certain amount of exposure. The alleged victim in this case is likely to see Kang in some form or another nearly every day. Out of deference to the victim, I suggested that the Pirates or Major League Baseball have Kang sit out with pay for a reasonable length of time until the investigation is concluded.

I didn’t think that was out of line or unreasonable, but apparently a lot of people did. I began hearing the popular rallying cries of “innocent until proven guilty,” and “not to rush to judgment.” But it’s not a rush to judgment; I’m just saying we should start worrying as much about the alleged victims of sexual assault as we do about the alleged attackers.

We don’t have to travel too far back in time to find the perfect example of this. The criminally charged and vilified Bill Cosby we know today wasn’t the same guy just a few years ago. While the allegations of drugging and sexually abusing women against the fallen funnyman have been around for many years, Cosby remained untainted by them and was even scheduled to return to network TV. However, the allegations were brought up again, this time by standup comedian Hannibal Burress, and this time, for whatever reason, they stuck.

But for years, Cosby’s alleged victims were ignored; lawsuits were settled and swept away. The dozens of women who made these claims were treated like pariahs and it’s a shame; it’s sad; it’s gut-wrenching. And, unfortunately, it happens all the time, especially when celebrities are involved.

Remember in 2009, when a Lake Tahoe Casino hostess filed a civil lawsuit alleging Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her? Most fans jumped behind Roethlisberger, and the media and websites like TMZ started diving into the accuser’s past, including previous psychiatric treatment she received. She was dragged through the mud, and most people thought it was OK because she made her claims in a civil suit rather than to police. Most people had written off the chance that her claims had the slightest bit of veracity. Until, that is, the second complaint. A coed in Milledgeville, Ga., told police that the quarterback sexually assaulted her in the bathroom of a bar. There were no charges filed and the alleged victim in that case even reported receiving death threats from fans. Roethlisberger later settled the Nevada case. He was also suspended by the NFL.

So here we are again. I have no idea what happened that night in Chicago. But if we’re asked to consider that Kang is innocent until proven guilty, we have to give the accuser the same benefit. We should operate under the assumption that she is telling the truth. If the attack happened as she says, she was drugged, assaulted and dumped in a cab. In an event involving two people, why is one person's version of events given more weight than another's? And if one side is to be given a greater benefit of the doubt, shouldn’t it be the person who allegedly suffered the pain, horror and indignity of the attack? 

But that’s not the case. Victims of alleged sexual assault in this country are often treated as liars or at least suspect until proven believable. It doesn’t just happen in cases involving celebrities. It happens across college campuses; it happens to sex workers; it happens to children. There’s a tendency to always want to “wait until the evidence comes in” before we take a side, or take a stand, in a sexual-assault case.

But if an 80-year-old woman tells police that she was pushed down and her purse was taken and a suspect is arrested, no one calls for calm and waiting for all the facts. At some point soon, this investigation will be concluded, and I don’t see the harm in taking Kang out of the Pirates lineup until that happens.

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