Recent events have led some in society to abandon proper judgment in favor of excessive conclusions over sexual and domestic assault allegations. These conclusions are an overreaction to an initial accusation, in that they begin from the point of guilty and it is upon the accused to prove innocence. Contradictory to the legal right of Presumption of Innocence, which states, “everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty”, in the case of female accusers of sexual or domestic abuse, the current public judgement has become “believe all women”. This active movement does not consider that accusations are to be proven before the accused is rendered at fault, but rather that the accuser, especially in the case of female sexual abuse victims, are to be believed based on the merit of their willingness to come forward. This recklessly improper procedure is not only dangerous to the individual but detrimental to the stability of modern society and outside the mean of virtuous judgment.
The latest victim of the “believe all women” movement is ironically one if it’s most vocal supporters in recent months. Attorney Michael Avenatti, who represented the sexual assault accuser Julie Swetnick against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, claimed belief in not only his client’s accusation, without the presentation of evidence, but claimed all women should be believed first when coming forward in claims of sexual assault and domestic abuse in favor of the “believe all women” movement. Avenatti now faces accusations of his own assault against a female and finds himself precariously navigating the trail between “believe all women” and presumed innocence. Despite recklessly defending and promoting the “believe all women” movement, Avenatti now is attempting to label his accuser as a liar and plead his public case to believe him as innocent. The attempt of this paper is not to determine the guilt or innocence of Avenatti in regards to the accusations of domestic violence against him, but rather an argument against the reckless abuse of irresponsibly believing an accusation without the procedure of judicious reason in passing fair judgement.
In his book Ethics, Aristotle defines this balance we attempt to negotiate in our judgments, whether legal or moral, as the mean. He first explains the mean to be that which is equal distance from two polar opposites. “In all quantity then, whether continuous or discrete, one may take the greater part, the less, or the exactly equal, and these either with reference to the thing itself, or relatively to us: and the exactly equal is a mean between excess and defect. Now by the mean of the thing, i.e. absolute mean, I denote that which is equidistant from either extreme”. This mean can initially seem to be the mid-point of any measurement, but when it comes to a determination of intimate capacities, such as morality, justice, and liberty, excessive or defective behavior becomes a vice while the mean is what we come to know as virtue. Aristotle explains, “one may go wrong in many different ways…but right only in one; and so the former is easy, the latter difficult; easy to miss the mark, but hard to hit it: and for these reasons, therefore, both the excess and defect belong to Vice, and the mean state to Virtue”. As in the excessive case of the “believe all women” movement, the easier path is to believe the accuser, even without evidence, and to punish the accused. In order to properly assess the accusation and take the more difficult path requires time, reason, and objectivity to vet all information for and against both parties before rendering judgment. Avenatti has not been this prudent to others and now the vice that has ensnared him is the inability of many to consider him innocent. His accuser has labeled him as an abuser and the vice of impulsive judgement has sentenced him as guilty. The mark to hit, in this case, is a fair and partial judgment based on evidence and in consideration of all parties, not just those of a certain gender. The missed mark in this case is that Avenatti has ironically failed as a lawyer whose responsibility it is to defend presumed innocence and has trampled on the right which he now asserts in his defense. Avenatti’s sin is the vice of excessive rash judgment of others without the consideration of the virtuous mean of presumption of innocence.
The biblical perspective to be applied here is that Jesus commanded that our judgment of others, whether legally or morally, was to be done based on the virtue of unprejudiced judgment. Jesus enforced the concept of Aristotle’s mean when stating, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2, ESV). Many have attempted to misquote this passage by only referring to the initial thought of “Judge not, that you be not judged” and assert that under no circumstance are we to ever pass judgement on others. This is obviously not the proper interpretation and is used only to serve one’s self-preservation. Within context it is clear that Jesus is compelling that judgement involves, fairness, neutrality, and even mercy by which we would hold others to the same justice as we would hold ourselves. Avenatti did not exercise the virtuous mean of judgment as Jesus described, and as a result has felt the sting of his excessive verdict come back to thwart him. As he now stands to defend his innocence against a society that has accepted the vice of impulsive judgment, perhaps he can move forward in a more cautious direction where he allows the virtuous mean of judgment to be the mark to aim toward.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights. U.S. G.P.O., 1949. Article 11.
- “News about #Believeallwomen on Twitter.” Twitter, Twitter, 14 Nov. 2018.
- “Michael Avenatti Warns Trump, Kavanaugh: ‘Be Very, Very Careful’ About What You Do Next” HuffPost, HuffPost News, 25 Sept. 2018.
- “Michael Avenatti arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, calls allegations ‘completely bogus’”, Politics, Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2018.
- Aristotle. Ethics,Anthology Books. Kindle Location 2889, Kindle Edition. 2009.
- Ibid. Kindle Location 2916-2918.