Wednesday, April 14, 2010

District Attorney repeatedly referred to Roethlisberber accuser as 'the victim'

Frederic D. Bright, Esq.
District Attorney
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit
121 N. Wilkinson St.
Suite 305
Milledgeville, GA 31061-3399
Dear Mr. Bright:
I founded America's leading website that gives voice to persons falsely accused of rape and related crimes, The False Rape Society.  The stigma associated with a wrongful accusation of rape often causes catastrophic and irreparable damage to the victims of such claims.  Their unique needs are largely ignored in a culture that has inappropriately politicized rape. An important part the mission of False Rape Society is to advocate for the presumptively innocent accused of such crimes, no matter how unpopular that advocacy might be.
We commend you for your overall handling of the much publicized Ben Roethlisberger accusation, and for refusing, in your words, to "prosecute morals." In the prepared statement that you read to the press on Monday, April 12, 2010, your succinct explanation of a district attorney's mission ought to be emblazoned on the hearts of every prosecutor in America: "The duty of  a district attorney is to always seek justice and not merely to convict."
Respectfully, however, we are very concerned about one aspect of your April 12 statement: your repeated reference to the accuser as a "victim."  In the less-than-ten minutes that it took you to read your statement, you referred to the accuser as "victim" nine times.  This, despite your express conclusion that "the sexual allegation against Mr. Roethlisberger cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," and that "the overall circumstances do not lead to a viable prosecution."
Specifically, you stated:

". . . the victim was bar-hopping with her sorority sisters."

"The victim went with her sorority sisters to the nightclub . . . ."

"Everyone agrees that the victim was highly intoxicated due to consuming alcohol."

"One of the bodyguards guided the victim down a dark hallway."

"The victim was driven by a friend to Oconee Regional Medical Center, our local hospital here in Millidgeville."

"The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Millidgeville Police Department, and I personally met and spoke with the victim herself, her family, and her attorneys, ten days ago, and they all unanimously reconfirmed their position that they did not want to pursue this matter any further."

"Almost four weeks ago, in a letter to me, dated March 17, 2010, the victim's lawyer advised me that the victim did not want to prosecute this matter further and explained her reasons . . . ."

"Law enforcement officers interviewed every witness that the victim or her friends told them was present that night."

Words matter, and they matter much when they are deliberately, and repeatedly, spoken by someone who carries a public trust regarding matters so grave.  By labeling the accuser as a "victim" after you, yourself, have expressly determined that no crime could be proven, and that substantial questions persist regarding what occurred between the accuser and the accused in the small bathroom where the putative incident occurred, you nevertheless implied that the rape accusation was factual. 

Describing the accuser as a "victim" in this case is not consonant with either your own factual determination or the mission of your office to "seek justice." 

Most importantly, your description does a grave disservice to Mr. Roehlisberger, because if the accuser was a "victim," by necessity Mr. Roethlisberger must be a "rapist." Defending Mr. Roethlisberger is not an especially popular thing to do right now, but justice should never be permitted to bow to the whims of public opinion polls or the forces of gender politicization. The implication that Mr. Roethlisberger is a "rapist" is a stigma that he will carry with him for the remainder of his life. Unlike his accuser, his identity was not protected from the unblinking public gaze that titillates at the slightest whiff of a celebrity's purported sexual misconduct. 

It is well to note that every objective study ever conducted on false rape claims shows that they are a significant problem. The only fair manner of describing the young woman in this case is to refer to her as exactly what she is: an accuser whose claim could not be proven.

I implore you to exercise greater care in the use of your language, and to show greater sensitivity to the presumptively innocent and their families, by refraining from suggesting that they are criminals even after you have determined they committed no crime that can be prosecuted.


Pierce Harlan
False Rape Society