What we get wrong in sexual harassment cases

What we get wrong in sexual harassment cases
Dr Shuja Ahmad is a philosopher at the University of Peshawar who works in the area of language and logic of war. The Friday Times asked him about the difficulties we face when we hear of sexual harassment cases. We especially asked him about the paradox we face when we attempt to assume the innocence of the man while believing the woman at the same time (as in the Salman Masood-Zubaria Jan case above)?

In response, Dr Ahmad breaks it down into looking at the paradox from a purely logical point of view and from the lens of reality (as we see it), the culture we living in, the set of values we believe in—our ‘worldview’.

From the point of view of Logic (as in the area of Philosophy”, he starts by asking if the media really do try to simultaneously manage to assume the innocence of the man and give weight to the woman’s accusations. “If the media does do this, then it is a serious case of believing in two contradictory positions,” he says. And then he explains logically how this is possible:

First, the frame of ‘Victim’ implies that someone has been hurt, injured, killed, harassed, intimidated, terrified etc. It also evokes the criminal frame—that someone has done this to the victim: the criminal. Second, the criminal is the one who hurts, injures, harasses, kills etc., the victim. Third, if you accept that X is a victim and Y is the criminal, then a rational/moral person cannot  believe that X is a victim and Y is innocent. This is logically inconsistent.

One possibility is that X claims that he/she is a victim. However, Y has not been proven criminal/guilty in the court of law, yet Y stands accused. In such a case X will have to prove, in the court of law, that Y is criminal. The logic says the party who makes the claim has to prove it, the burden of proof cannot be shifted. Proving Y criminal will also prove X victim.

But when we depart from the realm of Logic and Philosophy, and examine this situation from our worldview, Dr Shuja Ahmad says the following arises: “Our world view is the set of beliefs, value system, our ontology, epistemology we live by,” he says. “A very serious and complicated thing… It makes sense and gives meaning to the things happening around us. Any social reality, truth- falsity, right-wrong, and good-bad are defined and understood in terms of the world views we live by.” And so, in a world view in which democracy is the right choice, a democrat is a hero and a dictator is a villain.

By that thinking, when we come to the paradox of the woman accusing a man of sexual harassment, Dr Shuja Ahmad asks why it is considered a paradox for some people? “In a worldview that says woman is bad, irrational and the source or cause of harassment, harassing a woman is not bad or an illegal or criminal act,” he says. “For people who live by this worldview it is not a dilemma or paradox to believe a woman is a victim of harassment and the harasser an innocent person who has not done anything wrong. In an extreme case, they may see the harasser as a hero, though, they may not say this publically.” He adds that some of them believe that if you find a woman out, holding a public office, hosting a program, teaching in a university, harassment is what she deserves. “They don’t even use the word, ‘victim’ for a woman who has been harassed. Obviously and unfortunately, they are not in any moral or rational dilemma—the situation is not paradoxical to them.”