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City Controller Scott Stringer stands accused of serious sexual misconduct. Lobbyist Jean Kim alleges that 20 years ago, he put his hands down her pants, tried kissing her without consent and repeatedly pressured her for sex. This is a moment not only to assess the damage done to one leading mayoral candidate, but to measure the ostensible progress we’ve made since the #MeToo movement began four years ago.
The answer: In at least one sense, not very much. Years of thinking and talking about how to process claims of sexual abuse outside of the legal system have brought us back to “he said, she said,” forced to rely on gut judgments and messy probabilities about who might be telling the truth.
When no election looms and allegations are more recent, like those aimed at Gov. Cuomo, we have time to systematically investigate — finding witnesses and sifting through evidence, if it exists, to bolster or rebut the accusers’ narrative. But early voting begins in less than 40 days. Mayor de Blasio’s call for a swift, independent, comprehensive investigation is comical; that’s almost certainly not going to happen.
Meantime, some local pols, like Council members Ben Kallos and Helen Rosenthal, have come forward with stories that Stringer “bullied” them, to explain why they believe Kim. But the stories they cite sound less like abuse, and more like politics.
If voters want to make a more informed judgment about whether Kim or Stringer is telling the truth, real evidence is needed. Are there are any contemporary outcry witnesses — meaning, people to whom Kim confided in back then? As for Stringer’s claim that he and Kim were involved in a consensual “light relationship” for a couple of months, which Kim denies, can anyone second that?
The mantra to “believe women” recognizes, at last, how hard it is for most accusers to come forward and open wounds that closed long ago. But with stakes this high, conclusions ought to be drawn based on more information, not just belief. Shouldn’t they?