What can we learn from Alex Salmond’s sexual assault trial?

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Madison Plumridge

Madison Plumridge revisits the disappointing verdict of the Alex Salmond trial and what damage this has caused for women, once again.

After the former Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond was found not guilty of 13 charges – including attempted rape – at the High Court in Edinburgh, we were reminded how our legal system consistently favours powerful men over their often numerous victims. In Salmond’s case, 10 different women accused him of crimes ranging from indecent assault to attempted rape, all of which he was cleared of. Salmond’s not-guilty verdict was met with anger and dismay by many who felt that the recent #MeToo movement exposed the widespread prevalence of sexual abuse both inside and outside of the political sphere, the difficulty many victims have in pursuing criminal punishment, and how many perpetrators abuse their power to silence victims and evade justice. Others took the verdict as truth, proving that Salmond’s multiple accusers had been lying all along. Even before the verdict was announced, Salmond’s accusers were treated with suspicion by many, with the same victim-blaming comments we’ve seen directed at victims of Weinstein, Savile, and other high-profile men, being recycled and directed again at those of Salmond. 

Increasingly, it seems as if the women who speak out about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of men are treated with more mistrust and disdain than the men who have abused them. People often point to the cases of false allegations of sexual abuse to justify this mistrust – and, whilst these cases are rare, they do exist. However, at only 4%, false reports of sexual violence to the UK police are incredibly low, especially when compared to false reporting of other crimes. For example, 18% of all reports of mobile phone theft in the UK are false, and yet we almost always believe those who claim to be victims of phone theft without question. Even the 4% figure of false sexual violence reports is likely to be over-inflated, as it includes cases recorded as “unfounded” or “no crime” due to difficulty in attaining evidence, which is not necessarily indicative of a false report. 

Many also accuse victims of having ulterior motives, often accusing them of pursuing money or fame by speaking out against high-profile men. During Alex Salmond’s trial, some individuals from more extreme sects of the Scottish Independence Movement accused the victims of being part of a unionist conspiracy against Salmond. Though with most of Salmond’s’ victims being active within the Scottish National Party and the wide independence movement, it is clear that party politics has no part to play in the accusations against Salmond. Salmond’s case also disproves the idea that accusers are simply looking for attention or fame, with many of his victims remaining anonymous throughout the trial. Although many other victims do not remain anonymous, it still seems ridiculous to suggest that they are attention-seeking; despite many sexual abuse cases receiving a high degree of media coverage, such as Saville or Weinstein, none of the victims become household names or receive any attention from the press once trials are over. What media attention victims do receive is largely negative; they are subject to character assassinations, have their personal lives probed at, and are often at the receiving end of endless rumours and speculation. 

Whereas, despite the claim that sexual assault allegations “ruin” the reputation of those accused, we have seen multiple famous men accused of sexual assault – such as Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari – quietly return to their careers with little protest and almost zero consequences for their actions. Worse still, we’ve seen cases such as Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh who were elected and appointed to high positions of political power despite both being publicly accused of sexual assault – and, in Trump’s case, have been caught on camera admitting to groping women without their consent. Too often abusers’ reputations go untarnished, their crimes overlooked, while their victims are torn apart on social media and in the press. 

Another question frequently asked of victims is why didn’t they speak out sooner? There is a multitude of answers to this question, with the often appalling media treatment of victims being an obvious one. Another is that many influential predators use their power to silence their victims – take democrat ex-nominee hopeful Michael Bloomberg who pressured many of his alleged victims into nondisclosure agreements, preventing them from publicly speaking about the harassment they endured. The prospect of long and emotionally-exhausting legal battles where victims are forced to publicly relay and relive the gritty details of their experiences. The #MeToo movement instilled confidence in many victims and enabled them to speak out against their abusers, take one of Salmond’s victims who described having “flashbacks” to Salmond’s abuse during the Weinstein trial, stating “There’s no one cheerleading me to do this. This isn’t fun, I would rather not be here”. 

With SNP MP Joanna Cherry saying she was “pleased” with the outcome of Salmond’s trial, stating those who know and have met him “did not recognise the man described in the evidence led for the Crown”, it is clear that the myth of sexual predators solely being creepy men who lurk in alleyways, as opposed to being our friends, fathers, and brothers, lives on. It is these kinds of myths that lead to a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sexual assault and lays the blame for assault at the feet of the victims rather than the perpetrators. It is clear from the outcome of Salmond’s’ trial, as well as the often appalling treatment of sexual assault victims by the media, we are still a long way from a society where victims are believed and perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.


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