Freeze warning issued for parts of Virginia

Harassment allegations should be taken seriously, fairly, without politics

RICHMOND, Va. -- No doubt there has been an explosion in the number of public figures accused of sexual assault, harassment and other sexual misconduct in recent weeks.

The flood began when epic movie producer Harvey Weinstein was buried under an avalanche of accusations. He denies he had non-consensual sex.

Top comedian Louis CK has admitted he has a problem and apologized after five women accused him of sexual misconduct.

Alabama Republican and US Senate front-runner Judge Roy Moore has been accused of pursuing or sexually assaulting numerous teenage girls - one as young as 14 - decades ago. He denies attacking anyone.

Superstar actor Kevin Spacey’s life and career are in tatters after scores of accusations he groped and assaulted boys, young men and women.

Fired or forced from their jobs amidst misconduct allegations: a National Public Radio Lead news editor and the head of Amazon Studios.

The so-called Weinstein effect continued Thursday with a report that actor Sylvester Stallone forced a 16-year-old girl into a threesome in 1986. He denies it.

Also Thursday, a report that Minnesota Democrat and US Senator Al Franken forcibly kissed and groped a fellow performer when he was a comedian in 2006. He apologized for the so-called grope, which was caught in a photograph.

This is pitiful and damning, for all men really. We can be such pigs - or worse.

But what’s noteworthy is how these accusations show how ready we are these days to take the word of women and to condemn the men without any kind of due process.

It’s a bit of a change from when Richmond-area resident Kathleen Wiley was doubted, attacked and had to go in hiding for saying Bill Clinton assaulted her.

Or when Anita Hill got similar treatment when she went public with sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

We SHOULD listen to women in these cases. We should foster an environment where all women feel free to speak of any kind of mistreatment based on their sex, particularly involving men who can influence their lives and careers.

But should a man’s life be wrecked immediately on the basis of an accusation? Our justice system isn’t built that way.

And remember some of the cases where the women misremembered, distorted or lied:

The recent disastrous Rolling Stone Magazine report about a gang rape at a UVA fraternity that didn’t happen cost the magazine millions.

The Duke University lacrosse team rape case was such a vicious rush to judgement, the initial prosecutor was disbarred and briefly jailed.

We’ve certainly seen cases of men freed after long jail sentences for rape after DNA evidence or recanting by the victim cleared them.

This is a difficult, divisive and important discussion to have, particularly when accusations can shift the balance of power in this land, such as with the Clinton, Clarence Thomas, Judge Moore and Senator Franken cases.

Factor in the immediate trial and execution by social media, these accusations can change the course of the world.

So, what do we do?

We must strive to be in a place where victims can feel more comfortable to discuss what happened to them immediately, instead of decades later.

We men must strive to act like gentlemen, and stop those who don’t.

And we all must know if we base someone’s guilt or innocence (and their right to due process) on their politics - or ours - we are absolutely in the wrong place.