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Purge? Irish Arts scene rocked by widespread allegations of sexual abuse

A whole series of men working in the Irish arts and comedy scene have, this weekend, been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by women on twitter. Up to ten men, including at least one Oscar winning musician, one very well known Irish actor, and several comedians, have been accused of offences ranging from grooming young girls, to emotional abuse, to outright sexual assault.

It began on Friday night, with an allegation, reported here on Saturday by Gary, levelled against Irish comedian Davey Reilly, and Reilly’s admission that at least some of the allegations levelled against him are true.

That started an outpouring of stories from women on social media, including several more about Mr. Byrne. But many of the stories were about other men, also. Some of these men were named, while other women said that they feared to name their alleged abusers.

One prominent musician was repeatedly accused of grooming underage girls. A well known actor was called a creep. Various comedians, named and un-named, were denounced as abusers.

How much of this is true? And how do we judge it?

On the one hand, the anger and rage coming from the women concerned was clearly both visceral, and genuine. In the case of Mr. Reilly, his admissions make it clear that at least some of that anger was warranted. It is impossible to read the accounts of some of the alleged abuse without believing, at least, that many men in the Irish arts scene are treating women appallingly, using them for their bodies and casting them aside. Some of the accusations, undoubtedly, are true.

But which ones?

In the case of the vast majority of named men, there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Indeed, in many of the cases, there’s not even an allegation of criminal wrongdoing. There is a difference, after all, between suggesting that somebody engaged in “emotional abuse and gaslighting” and suggesting that somebody committed a sexual assault. One of those is very bad behaviour, the other is a crime.

“Call out culture”, whereby it has become popular to “call out” bad behaviour by others, is undoubtedly empowering for victims of abuse in relationships. It is perfectly understandable, if somebody has been abused by another person, for the abused party to wish to seek some form of redress. By “naming their abuser”, the abused person gains power over the person who abused them, and can often turn the tables.

But the power to do what?

Of all the men accused over the weekend, only one has responded publicly – Mr. Reilly. The others are either hoping nobody notices, preparing defamation lawsuits, or are genuinely unaware that thousands of people have just read that they are an abuser, with all the attendant consequences that will bring.

For these men, there is no effective recourse left to them. Even a successful lawsuit will be dismissed as evidence that the libel laws “protect abusers”, or that the “system is rigged”. Many of these men, whether they like it or not, and whether they deserve it or not, will have a shadow cast over their names, at least in small town Dublin, for the rest of time.

Whether they are guilty, or not.

Over the weekend, a similar thing happened in America, where pop superstar Justin Bieber was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel in 2014. Luckily for Mr. Bieber, his management company keeps receipts, and was able to demonstrate that he was not in the hotel in question on the night in question, and that he was in another hotel, with his then girlfriend. But had he not had that evidence, according to the rules of “believe all women”, it is likely that he would have been forever tarnished.

And what about the Irish actors, comedians, and singers accused? In many of their cases, the accusations don’t even have a date, or a venue, or anything on which to hang them. We do not know if they stand accused of rape, or just of being a bad boyfriend. All we know is that they have been named as “abusers”.

This is not justice. It is, in fact, the opposite of justice. It feels more like a Stalinist purge, where coming under suspicion is enough to condemn you.

And what of the women doing the accusing, themselves? This is where it gets very controversial, but it’s important to say it anyway: It is notable how many of the accusers mention things like worrying that a particular man “has their nudes”. It is notable how many of the stories focus on one-night stands, and unprotected sex, and being cheated upon, or made feel lesser.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with their choice to engage in such behaviours. And they are not an invitation to, nor ever an excuse for, abuse. But it is an enduring truth about relationships that entering one – however brief – entails emotional vulnerability. Sharing your most private photos, or the most private parts of yourself, physically and emotionally, entails emotional vulnerability. It is an inevitability that sometimes, when you do it, you will be hurt. Often brutally. That is not an excuse for abusing people or treating them badly, but it is important to note that there is a difference between being ghosted after a one night stand, or being cheated on, and being criminally abused.

Being hurt, though, is not abuse. It is a part of life. We do not know, this weekend, whether many of the men accused stand accused of rape or sexual assault, or of just being serially promiscuous and incapable of commitment. All we know is that they’ve been denounced as abusers.

That is not justice. It is the opposite. If you read someone’s name on twitter, or social media, and see them accused of being “an abuser”, take it with a grain of salt.


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