When OH was little they visualised a shrew being like a mouse with its nose sharpened: I like that idea as it sounds like a good Just So story. I could even write it: ‘Once upon a time there was a mouse who stuck its nose into a pencil sharpener…’ I won’t go into the misogynistic symbolism of the shrew, but it’s interesting to reflect on the history of the human nose. Why, when someone is inquisitive, do we call them nosy? It surely can’t be coincidence that every inquisitive person I’ve ever known (when I’ve remembered to check) has a large or very pointy nose. I guess it figures that if you’re curious about the world and not afraid to – well, poke your nose in – you’d have a large or pointy thing keeping your eyes apart. (My nose, in case you’re interested, is not large or pointy but it is hard; a fact OH never fails to point out when assessing my character.)
A propos of this it occurred to me, watching last night’s Louis Theroux investigation into sexual abuse on American campuses, that he has a very large nose – and there’s no denying that Theroux is an inquisitive person who has made a career out of poking his nose into other people’s business. He goes to places and asks questions most of us would feel very uncomfortable asking. In this programme he follows a couple of cases where men accused of sexual assault on campus were acquitted by the courts but found guilty by the university and suspended from study.
The programme puts us the position of a jury hearing from witnesses, Theroux acting as both defence and prosecution. He is an expert on getting people to talk and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Of course this is not a trial and what we see is only what the programme chooses to tell us; we have to remember that.
The first guy, an Afghan man who came from a refugee camp to America and made it to Yale, initially appeared quiet and unassuming but later on, doubt was thrown on his story by someone who had previously been an advocate for him. The truth of these stories is very hard to piece together for the simple reason that only the two people present in the room actually know what happened. So you have to fall back on who you think is the more credible witness.
I ended up completely changing my mind about the Afghan guy and seeing him as smooth and manipulative; but there’s a wider point here about how you deal with situations where the law cannot satisfactorily establish innocence or guilt. Rape and sexual assault are horrible things and you can’t help wondering whether the ponderous and long-drawn-out procedures of a courtroom are the best place to establish the truth and dispense justice. Perhaps for more minor offences we need a different environment, something akin to family courts, perhaps – an environment that’s less hostile and adversarial. There’s just something a little bizarre on finding a shelf full of files detailing court procedures on whether a man did or did not hold a woman’s hands above her head and stick his mitt down her pants. It’s not that it’s out of proportion; it’s somehow alien to the original situation. I don’t mean to trivialise such events which are horrid; I just wonder.