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I plead guilty. If I didn’t know better, I would just assume that the billionaire being investigated must be guilty. I might even be thinking to myself, “There goes another one.”
Except I would be wrong.
This billionaire happens to be a client of mine, and even though lawyers aren’t supposed to vouch for their clients (lest we be caught not vouching for one), I volunteered for this one, because I saw a headline like that one and thought, “No, not him.” This billionaire was a classmate of mine long before he was rich, and while I wouldn’t vouch for his taste in women, I know just what a headline like that means.
It means nothing.
In 2021, if a district attorney doesn’t open a file, answer the call or take the meeting when someone complains of rape, they probably won’t still be the district attorney in 2022.
Which is good. Because when I was in the back seat of a police car more than 40 years ago, the cops warned me that I might not want to file a complaint about the guy who held an ice pick to my throat, threatened to kill me, stole my wallet and my car, and, yes, raped me, because things were that tough for rape victims back then. And they were. And victims knew it, which is why rape was (and still is) the most underreported violent crime.
Believing women is long overdue. But believing women doesn’t mean that every single complaint is true. Most women don’t report; most women don’t lie; complaining of rape is a really lousy way to get even both because it is so horribly wrong and also because it will almost always backfire.
If you’re old enough, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I reference the Duke lacrosse case. Three members of the Duke lacrosse team were accused of raping a young woman. Take my word: The accusations were vulgar. Bad acts. Bad language. White boys and a young Black woman.
I was on the bandwagon.
Here is what I should have focused on but didn’t. The district attorney was up for reelection. His support was flagging. Especially in the Black community. Nothing like prosecuting three rich white boys (I have no idea if they were rich, almost certainly not after their legal bills, but that was how they were portrayed) to win political points. Racism in reverse turns out to be just as ugly.
The mother of one of the lacrosse players wrote to me. She took me to task for judging her son — judging him to be a racist — because the district attorney had. And she was right. I was so used to prosecutors not believing victims that I was way too ready to believe a prosecutor who was playing politics.
“There are four victims here,” I remember the mother writing to me, and by that time, I was in awe of her generosity. Her son’s college years had been ruined, his reputation in tatters and his future uncertain, and she managed to find sympathy for the troubled young woman. Neither of us had any sympathy for the district attorney, who deserved none.
But I learned my lesson. A district attorney opening an investigation hardly equates with guilt. And believing women doesn’t mean that every woman is always telling the truth.
“How much money was in your wallet?” one of the cops asked me. There was $20. Now, $20 was more then than it is now, but still. “That’s good,” the other cop said. And then explained to me: “It’s armed robbery. Much better than rape.”
I hadn’t started law school yet. I did that fall, and then I taught criminal law for 20 years, but the only world in which armed robbery is “better” than rape is the world in which women were not believed when they complained of forced, nonconsensual rape. The world in which no one would think I gave $20 to a man with an ice pick, but intercourse, now that would be more likely.
It was that world that I was determined to change, and working with so many other brave victims and survivors, we have made change happen. Sort of. But not so gold diggers can go after billionaires or so prosecutors who deserve to lose can win. By all means, open investigations, and then, when appropriate, close them, whether it’s a billionaire, a college athlete or anyone else.