A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep and I found myself at 3:00 a.m., watching a past episode of Steve Harvey’s talk show. His guest was Nate Parker, a promising young actor and the star of a slavery-themed movie in theaters now, Birth of a Nation. Nate was talking about how much of himself he had invested in the production of this movie, the accolades that were being heaped on the film when it was first released, and then the grinding halt of progress when the media picked up the story of something that had happened when he was in college. The thing that had happened? A young woman had accused him of sexual violence. There’d been an investigation and he’d been acquitted, he said. It had happened in 1999 – he was 19 years old then. In 2012, his accuser committed suicide. It’s unclear if her taking her life was related in any way to what had happened more than a decade prior. But four years after her untimely death, on the cusp of Parker’s movie hitting the box office, the story got picked up by the news wire and suddenly, everyone was looking at him funny and calling him names.

I don’t know Mr. Parker. I don’t know the details of the situation, no more than what I heard on TV. I wouldn’t hazard a guess about whether he was guilty or innocent. I know sexual assault is a heinous crime and I think there should be consequences whenever someone violates another person’s body. I do, however, believe, that to uphold the integrity of the justice system, when when someone is acquitted, we should let that person be.

In the last few years, there have been several incidences of famous men accused of sexual crimes. It started with Kobe Bryant. Michael Jackson. Bill Cosby is still being investigated. Last year, NFL alum Darren Sharper took a plea deal where he’ll serve 9 of the 18 years he was sentenced to for rape. Famous men we once admired brought to their knees because of inappropriate behavior. We want to feel sorry for them, we feel bad because all their accomplishments now carry a stain. No one wants to wear a football jersey that carries the name of a convicted criminal.

But in each and every case where there is indeed inappropriate behavior, there is a victim. Someone, often a woman, whose rights have been violated. A woman who was forced to do something against her will. No matter how we feel about the person accused of the crime, that person is the true victim. (S)he is the one who truly deserves our tears of solidarity.

For every famous man who’s been accused of sexual violence, you could probably name an equally famous woman who’s survived a similar act. Oprah Winfrey survived childhood sexual abuse. Gabrielle Union spoke of an attack in her past. It’s important for all of us to see these women rise up above the acts committed against them an thrive. We stand with them, proud that they would not be victims defined by someone else’s cowardice.

Which is why it’s so tragic every time someone makes up a story that changes the conversation, takes the focus off where it should really be – how to prevent this from happening again? Where did society fail and how can we learn so we do better next time?

I am reminded of the story of the boy who cried wolf. He was a shepherd boy, with a simple job to protect his flock. When he was tired and wanted a break, and sometimes just for his own amusement, he would raise a false alarm of a wolf attack so people would come to help. Eventually, they stopped responding to his fake alarm. When the wolf did indeed attack, no one believed and the devastation was great.

When I was in college, we had fire drills often. So often, sometimes, that those who worked in the various offices stopped responding and when the alarm sounded, we would lock the door and hide so the security guards patrolling the halls wouldn’t know we were still inside. Chalk it up to youthful stupidity. We never thought of what would happen if there had been a real threat and the security guard tasked with keeping us safe would be punished.

Sometimes, the person calling wolf is just scared, using whatever means to get attention. I’ve often heard that if a woman is being mugged, instead of screaming the generic “Help”, that she should yell “Fire!” because people are more likely to respond. Maybe the boy who cried wolf was desperate for company and didn’t know how to get it otherwise. Maybe the kids in the college offices just didn’t understand how fast a situation can erupt. Sometimes the aggressor deserves our pity too.

There are lots of prompts telling us to lie, to stretch the truth to get attention, to do whatever we need to do to get ahead. I wonder if anyone thinks about the person who’ll have to bear the responsibility. Of the person who’s name is forever linked with shame even in his innocence.

19 year old Nate Parker was accused, tried and acquitted. I don’t know the details of his case but if he is indeed innocent, like the justice system concluded 17 years ago, we really need to think about what we’re doing by continuing to ring the fire alarm. Are we making it easy for others to ignore the warning when the real fire comes?

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. pondernwonder says:

    Such a thoughtful article Karen! The media at times could go slightly over the edge. It’s sometime hard to know the whole story of anyone, even our best of friends – we always know only so much of the story being told. We all make mistakes – some big, some small. But, in my opinion, we all should be given a chance to repent for it and make amends. Hearing the Parker story for the first time! Loved the wolf anecdote. My mom used to mention it to me growing up, to teach me to tell the truth always 🙂
    PS: My internet is acting up. So, you might be getting a comment from me twice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Run Wright says:

      Thanks for the comment. You’re so right that we all make mistakes. A lot of us would hide our faces if some of our conversations from a decade ago were revealed to the public. I know I would. I have done a lot to change as I grow and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to do so too. That being said, it is incumbent on us to also watch to see if a person has changed because if they haven’t, you should absolutely use their past words and actions as an indication of what they’ll do again. There are lots of things that I’ve said I’ll stop but if I don’t make moves to change, dont believe me.
      That’s how I see it. Give people a chance to show they’ve changed but if they haven’t, believe what they said or did the first time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a tough subject, but you thought this out well.
    I hate to bring politics up, but in addition to the above mentioned the past week dozen’s have come out with claims against Trump too. While it’s in no place to judge, I’ve wondered alot lately about the untimely announcements and how many of them are crying wolf whether they are being paid off to do so or just to destroy his chances, I don’t know.
    But what I do know is, if they aren’t real this is very damaging for women who do have this happen. Because they will watch and see what happens and if they are in fact “crying wolf” then many women in the future won’t come forward or if they do others may not believe them because of too many “crying wolf” I think in some ways this is a huge step back for victims, and its a painful thought of the repercussions of these outcomes.
    This is something I would never wish upon any woman, but we as a society need to be able to step back and like you said try to figure out why this is happening and how to stop it, and make it easier for victims to come forward when it happens, not harder.
    Like I said tough subject, and yours is very well written, I know my comment isn’t and is more of a ramble, but hopefully it makes sense on my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Run Wright says:

      You’re not rambling at all. Great response, Kristy. Since the tape with Trump is over 10 years old and just being released now, it is obviously being done with strategic timing. That’s all part of the politics game – Do it late in the campaign for maximum impact. But it doesn’t matter when it’s released, if something is true.
      It’s really tough when someone’s rights are taken away from them by an abuser. Harder still when a false accuser takes away the freedom of another because the muddy the waters and make it difficult for real victims to speak up. After experiencing such unspeakable acts, it shouldn’t then be hard to also tell their stories. Really sad when someone lies about something like that.


  3. Interesting blog post subject. I’m very much about justice for anyone who is a victim of a crime. If you commit a crime, you should have to answer for that. In the case of sexual assault, it’s quite heinous. We have to believe in our system of justice, because it’s all we have right now. There will be another judgement day later…at least I believe that. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elizabeth says:

    This is such a touchy subject for many. I have to wonder, why bring it up now? Why not let him have his hard earned success? I question the integrity of the press every time untimely reports like this one surface. It’s sad to see journalism isn’t what it used to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mandie says:

    This is such a fascinating topic, and I appreciate your take on it very much. I think it is important that all parties be considered when something like this happens, and you’re right – we should be more trusting of our judicial systems. I think it’s also important to consider that people can be great at a talent or skill, but not be a great person. I think there are several famous professionals across disciplines who’ve proven that to be the case! I think it would be wonderful if the people who were most appreciated were those who help others and shine as great people, not just great athletes, actors, etc. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You raise some really good points in this post! It is so true that difficult situations of various sorts can bring out the best or worst in us as humans.

    Liked by 1 person

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