Monday, January 9, 2012

Exonerated British soap star was suicidal over sexual assault charge, wants anonymity for the presumptively innocent accused of sexual assault

Michael Le Vell, 46, the father of two, has been a star of British soap "Coronation Street" for almost thirty years. Mr. Le Vell was accused and arrested for a years-old sexual assault claim of a girl, but is "delighted" to have been "completely exonerated." after he was cleared following a police investigation. The star said he was now planning to carry on working and put the incident behind him.

Mr. Le Vell now reveals that the ordeal made him suicidal.  “At times, I felt like throwing myself under a bus. I was in a bad way,” he said.

Going forward, he fears that mud sticks. He said, “People will always think, ‘There’s no smoke without fire,’ even though it was a complete lie.”  He has called for a change in the law which would stop anyone accused of sexual assault being publicly named.  He said, “No one should have to go through what I’ve been through.  These are the worst sort of allegations anyone could face. Saying I raped a kid, it’s just horrific. It’s wrong that people can be named like this. It’s been worse for me because I’m well-known, I’m high-profile. Things need to change.”

Mr. La Vel makes a point worthy of serious, and not politicized, public discourse. If rape is a "different" kind of crime that warrants automatic anonymity for rape accusers (by law in the UK and by compact of members of the news media in the US), then it is also a "different" kind of crime for the presumptively innocent men and boys accused of rape. If rape carries a unique stigma justifying anonymity for accusers, it also carries a unique stigma justifying anonymity for the wrongly accused.  There is an argument to be made that it should either be all or nothing.

This case prompted  Brian Reade of the Daily Mirror to write the following:

". . . men accused of serious sex offences should have the same rights as their accuser and only be named if they are found guilty.

"We’ve seen it happen to pop stars like Paul Weller and Mick Hucknall, soap stars such as Ben Freeman, reality ­contestants like Jack Tweed and footballers Frank Sinclair, Paul Dickov, Keith Gillespie and Jody Morris.

"Identified as an ­alleged rapist when they were innocent. And it left them all ­devastated, angry and disgraced, after being accused of the most sickening of crimes before the case was anywhere near court.

"This is how football manager David Jones, who was cleared of 14 sex abuse offences against boys, defined his agony when his year-long ordeal which cost him his job, was over: “It killed my father and took away my children’s innocence. I would ­rather have been up for murder.”

"Sir Paul’s brother Mike ­McCartney was forced to fight devastating allegations that he sexually assaulted a waitress at a family gathering. It was thrown out the second it got to court. ­Matthew Kelly was arrested over allegations of child sex abuse. No charges were brought, but he was suspended by ITV and became the butt of “paedo” jokes that I still hear comedians crack today.

"How can famous men be allowed to hide behind super injunctions that cover-up their private sins yet innocent men can be named and shamed before they are even ­investigated by police?

"I understand the argument that naming a genuine rapist may ­encourage other victims to come forward. I appreciate the woeful conviction rate, and the need to improve it.

"But I don’t accept that innocent men can have their lives ruined, possibly out of malice, while those who allege a crime are never named.

"None of us has a clue how it feels to be falsely accused of raping a child, fearing everyone who looks at you believes there’s no smoke without fire.

"Only the wrongly ­accused know what it’s like to see your family shamed, to have the only thing that is truly yours, your good name, stolen, and to be powerless to say anything in your ­defence.

"Why should Michael Le Vell have been put through that?

"Why should the phrase 'quizzed over child abuse' sit permanently in his press cuttings? And all ­because someone may possibly have invented something which left his reputation looking like child-molester Sidney Cooke’s.

"This law attacks our most ­fundamental human right – the presumption you are innocent until proven otherwise – and is nothing short of inhumane.

"It is surely time we showed some humanity."