Roy Moore and Occam’s Razor

by Jim Geraghty

The Washington Post quotes seven women who either describe Senate candidate Roy Moore pursing a sexual relationship with them as teenagers, or hearing from the other girls about Moore’s actions sometime before he became a major celebrity.

The Post article focuses on Leigh Corfman, who was 14 at the time and describes “sexual contact beyond kissing,” perhaps the most polite description possible given the details in the article. The article also quotes Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. The Post claims that it has interviewed two of Corfman’s friends from that time who corroborated parts of her accusation. The newspaper found three other women describing Moore pursuing relationships with them in their teen years:

Wendy Miller says she was 14 and working as a Santa’s helper at the Gadsden Mall when Moore first approached her, and 16 when he asked her on dates, which her mother forbade. Debbie Wesson Gibson says she was 17 when Moore spoke to her high school civics class and asked her out on the first of several dates that did not progress beyond kissing. Gloria Thacker Deason says she was an 18-year-old cheerleader when Moore began taking her on dates that included bottles of Mateus Rosé wine. The legal drinking age in Alabama was 19.

The Post was able to corroborate some details of Corfman’s story, including her attendance in the court building during her mother’s divorce. The reporters claim they came to the women, not vice versa. For what it’s worth, Corfman said she’s voted Republican in recent years.

If you believe Moore’s denials, you have to believe that four of these women, with no evidence that they know each other or ever met each other, all decided to lie when the Washington Post showed up at their door, that they all spontaneously made up a story that they were able to recount in detail in multiple retellings to reporters over a period of weeks, and they all chose to make up similar stories about Moore’s sexual pursuit.

The angry statement from Moore called the women’s claims “completely false” but so far, no one has been able to point to any contradictions, incongruence, or demonstrably false claims within their stories. For example, if events did not occur as they describe, did Moore know these women? Did he ever interact with them? Was he not in the time and place they described in their stories? Did he ever have an interaction with them that would provide a potential motive to make a false accusation against them? Did he ever rule against any of them, or a member if their families or a friend in his years as a judge? If a part of the accusers’ story does not check out, it changes the calculus of this story. But so far we just have a blanket denial with no further details.

A variation of Occam’s Razor declares that the simplest explanation is the most likely one. You can either believe that Moore behaved in the way the women describe – accounting for any faults of memory in the forty or so years since then – or you can believe that they all chose, spontaneously, to partake in an elaborate conspiracy to destroy his reputation, an effort that they no doubt understood would lead to making enemies. For example, yesterday a state representative called for the criminal prosecution of the women making the claims, not Moore.

Most, but not all, people across the political spectrum recognize that an adult pursuing a sexual relationship with a teenager is wrong today, and it was wrong in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We can argue what the age of consent ought to be, and we can have a separate discussion about whether our society has a glaring double standard, sometimes laughing off tales of adult women teachers having sexual relationships with male students, while prosecuting adult men having sexual relationships with teenage girls. But society has the good sense to realize that teenagers are often not the best decision-makers when it comes to sex. Hormones and desire can easily outpace their judgment. Fully-grown adults need to be barred from exploiting teenagers’ naiveté and inexperience in human relationships.

The lawmaker calling for the legal prosecution of the women making the claims, State Rep. Ed Henry, declared, “If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years. I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion.”

That claim is nonsense. At the time, Roy Moore was an assistant district attorney. How many teenage girls could bring themselves to make such a consequential accusation against a powerful man who can prosecute someone? Secondly, Henry is demonstrating the precise reason that victims of abuse are hesitant to come forward: the abuser will almost certainly deny it, call the victim a liar, and the allies of the abuser will join in to denounce the accuser. It is not the least bit surprising that a victim of inappropriate sexual behavior would hesitate to discuss it publicly for many, many years.

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