Sex offences: Time to treat those accused fairly

Blind Justice

Blind Justice

This is controversial and is certain to attract criticism from one or more sections of society but it still needs saying. So, despite the vitriol that will probably be coming this way, it just has to be said.

In both the USA and the UK, to name just two countries, when an individual is charged with the crime of rape or some other sexual offence, the accused’s identity becomes a matter of public record. When reporting the resulting court case, the media is allowed to use the name and other personal details.

Even though the alleged perpetrator is presumed innocent until proved guilty, the identity and other facts are made known to the public just the same as people accused of other crimes. Is that fair? Well supporters of it say that justice must be seen to be done and not hiding the identity of the accused ensures that this is achieved.

That’s complete nonsense. If the defendant’s identity was protected until a ‘guilty’ verdict is reached by a jury, then the naming and shaming would be sure to take place and justice would indeed be seen to be done.

What makes rape and sexual assaults different from other crimes is the stigma attached to being accused. Even if a ‘not guilty’ verdict is reached, under the present system the stain of being arrested and charged with the offence is enough to have a negative effect on the rest of the life of that person. Meanwhile, the person or people who are the alleged victims, and who make the accusations, have their identities protected. That is unjust; the accused should be given the same right to anonymity as the accuser.

Then there are the cases being investigated and leading to trials in UK courts based on accusations about celebrities committing historic sexual offences, some dating back around 40 years.

It could not happen in the US, well not in 34 of its 50 states because they all have a Statute of Limitation requiring prosecutors to file charges within a specified time limit. The length varies from state to state but the effect is the same. Massachusetts has the longest – 30 years – but even that precludes offences prior to 1985 and most have much shorter limits.

Some people are calling for the various Statutes of Limitation to be scrapped. They say that the old arguments about fading memories, death of potential witnesses and so on are no longer relevant where DNA evidence exists. And perhaps they have a point there but the cases that concern me are these UK ones based on recent allegations of historic wrong doing. Several cases have been slung out by juries not finding the accusers to be reliable witnesses but some celebrities have been convicted and jailed.

The reasons for my concerns are that these criminal prosecutions are not proceeding on the basis of accusations made at the time but, mainly, on recent allegations of old supposed offences with the cases being concluded without DNA evidence. Careers are in tatters; justice may be being done. I am not sure.

Yes, rape is an awful crime and for the victim it is terrible – but to only report it years later and for it to go to court despite there being no physical evidence is, to me, unfair and unjust.

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