Liz rides the subway on May 31, 2016: 'innocent until proven guilty' gives cover to abusers

Liz rides the subway is a series containing thoughts I have on the subway, mostly as an experiment to get me to write more. The ride home after yet another day hearing someone famous has been abusing a woman in his life:

Content warning: abuse, rape

Johnny Depp has allegedly been abusing Amber Heard, and a judge granted Amber Heard's restraining order against him on Friday in light of her claims of repeated physical and verbal abuse. Of course, an army (of mostly men) has been saying (very loudly) that we don't know that he abused her and that we have to give him the benefit of the doubt since obviously he's innocent until proven guilty.

"Innocent until proven guilty" is an insidious phrase people toss around to give cover to abusers all the time. We dodge the possibility that a celebrity harmed a woman by blaming it on the legal system. But as Kate Harding writes in response to the accusations against Jian Ghomeshi of sexual violence, "innocent until proven guilty" has a very specific legal meaning that has nothing to do with this:

I shouldn't need to say this, but I will: Taking reports of sexual violence seriously doesn't mean denying anyone due process or chasing the accused down with pitchforks. I'm not talking about punishing people at all right now; I'm talking about forming educated opinions, by weighing up what evidence we've been allowed to see and deciding what we think of it all. We do this every day when we take in the news, except when the news is about rape, in which case we act like "innocent until proven guilty" means no one - preferably not even investigators and prosecutors - may legally suspect that the guy might actually have done it.

Let me tell you a wonderful secret about the U.S. and Canada: If you're not on a jury, you are allowed to hold any opinion you like of an accused criminal's guilt or innocence, regardless of whether he's been prosecuted and/or what the prosecution can prove! You are not required to wait until some vague future date when "all the evidence" has come in, nor to withhold judgment until a jury has decided the matter, nor even to accept that a jury verdict is necessarily correct! So far, there are no actual thought police - isn't that terrific news?

That is terrific news!

Now, if we could also use our newly acquired abilities to evaluate the evidence of abusers and rapists within our own social circles - the evidence that is right in front of us - we could make life a whole lot better for the survivors we know, too.