Public sentiment can influence outcomes in exceptional cases. Changing attitudes about Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein seemed to play a part in prosecutors’ holding serial predators accountable. But those matters involved an enormous amount of evidence from an atypically large number of accusers. Insisting that officials take their allegations seriously was an unusually easy call. Overall, the new norm that ordinary people should publicly assess allegations, especially in hazy cases where doubt is not uncommon, may do more harm than good.
Those who say “believe all women” want all alleged survivors taken seriously. But when masses of people are asked to comment on an allegation, supportive declarations of “I believe” will inevitably be accompanied by pronouncements of “that’s dubious” or “liar.” Might a majority of survivors fare better if all uninvolved parties were discouraged from sitting in judgment?
Political campaigns do add an extra wrinkle. Voters must decide whether to cast ballots in a candidate’s favor with imperfect information. If your vote in this election turns on the truth or falsehood of Reade’s allegation, by all means, study the matter and make an educated guess. But most voters aren’t in that camp, in part because Trump also stands accused of sexual misconduct, and by many more women than Biden does.