Two phrases that inevitably come up when communities try to make a safe place for survivors to come forward and name their attackers are “witch hunt” and “lynch mob.” Both are highly offensive. The first, sexist; the second, racist. I can’t say any of this better than Thomas did at Yes Means Yes. An excerpt is below, but please read the entire article “What A Witch Hunt Actually Is.”
Lately, when I’ve suggested that rape survivors should have places to say, “so and so raped me,” and to name the name of the assailant, some people have used the phrase “witch hunt.” This is offensive, and it is a poor metaphor. I’ll tell you why: there are three components of a witch hunt, in historical practice, that do not fit an environment of public transparency.
(1) It’s all made up.
(2) Confessions are extracted by torture.
(3) The result is execution.
When people talk about the consequences of someone saying, “so and so raped me,” let’s be realistic. They’re not going to go to prison, except in the most unusual circumstances, for the reasons I covered at length in There’s A War On Part 4: Just Us. Realistically, what might happen is that some party promoters will decide that person is not welcome and some people they know may decide they don’t want to be friendly with that person anymore. And my observation is that even that is usually only a very partial effect.
So that’s nothing at all like confession under torture followed by burning at the stake.
(Anyone planning to deploy the term “lynching” outside its historical context will be banned for racism. You have been warned.)
This use of “witch hunt” to describe a process of social transparency is misplaced. At best, it represents a failure to think though the meaning of the rather shopworn phrase. At worst, it is a conscious rhetorical attack, trying to enlist the image of broken limbs and burned corpses to churn up sympathy for the wrong side. It’s bullshit, and I plan on liberally linking this post when people say “witch hunt.”