Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rush to judgment in Starlin Castro case

Remember the rash of rape allegations against baseball players last year?  Well, another major leaguer has been accused of sexual assault.

Chicago Cubs All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro was accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a night of drinking last fall. The alleged victim is a Chicago woman in her 20s. No criminal charges have been filed, but Castro is reportedly wanted for questioning by Chicago Police.

The alleged victim claims that she was drinking with friends at a River North nightclub on the night of Sept. 29 when she met Castro. She and a friend allegedly left the bar at 3 a.m. and went to the 21-year-old Castro's nearby apartment. According to the police report, the alleged victim said she blacked out. She purportedly told police she came to, and found Castro sexually assaulting her. The heavily redacted police report says that when she woke up she screamed and yelled at her alleged attacker, and left the apartment at about 5:30 a.m. getting a ride home from her friend. Twelve hours later, the alleged victim went to a hospital, and police became involved.

Castro's attorneys, Jay K. Reisinger and Michael P. Gillespie, issued the following statement on behalf of their client: "We are aware of certain allegations that have been made against our client, Starlin Castro. We have thoroughly investigated this matter, and we are confident that these allegations are baseless. Given the sensitive nature of this matter, we cannot comment any further."

The Cubs released the following entirely appropriate statement in response to the allegations: "We are aware that a police report was filed regarding an incident involving Starlin, but we have received limited information. While this is something we take very seriously, there is not enough information to make any further comment or take action at this time. We are hopeful when the facts are brought to light, Starlin will be cleared of any wrongdoing."

But, of course, the rush to judgment has begun.

Criminal defense lawyer Julie DiCaro posted this take on the case: "I have seen very few victims over the course of my career that I didn’t believe."  See here

Nice. Someone who ought to know better somehow thinks it's entirely appropriate to shed light on a specific rape case by referring to completely unrelated cases. 

She goes on: "The incidents of women fabricating rape charges are few and far between, particularly when it comes to famous attackers."

She can't help herself, this one. I guess she knows better than leading feminist legal scholar Aya Gruber who wrote: ". . . the statistics on false rape accusation widely vary and 'as a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown.'" A. Gruber, Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime, 84 Wash. L. Rev. 581, 595-600 (November 2009) (citation omitted).

She goes on: "If I were this woman, and what she says is true, I wouldn’t have come forward immediately, either. And I wouldn’t have done it exactly for the way she is about to be treated by the press, the public, and probably the police and prosecutors. This is going to be no picnic for her." 

The latter point is a given, it will not be a picnic. But if Mr. Castro is not a sexual assaulter, it already isn't a picnic for him. In fact, it's probably a living hell.  How cold-hearted it would be to think otherwise, or not to even consider that possibility.

DiCaro adds, almost as an afterthought:  "At the same time, let’s keep in mind that Starlin hasn’t been charged with any crime and the presumption of innocence applies." See here.

Oh, thank you for that. With presumptions of innocence like that, who needs enemies?

Sometimes the rush to judgment is more subtle. The Chicago Tribune has a story titled Time for Castro to Grow Up: "We might never know details of what happened inside Castro's apartment. Police have not filed charges against Castro and may never. If Castro emerges unscathed legally, he still can use this experience to underscore how a big-city stage demands bigger responsibility, how 21-year-old All-Stars must grow up quicker. . . ."

Sorry, I'm lost. If he didn't do it, why must be "grow up quicker"?

The story goes on: "The Cubs must remind players how the trappings of being a pro athlete mingle with the expectations of the family-friendly organization they represent, 24/7. Castro can seize that maturing moment before the Cubs Convention by publicly acknowledging the need to put himself in better situations, the way some members of the Cubs organization hope he does."

Oh, I see. He needs to "put himself in better situations."  Hmm. If he's innocent, that statement is akin to victim blaming, isn't it?

But the rush to judgment works the other way, too. Aaron Schafer describes what he found on a baseball message board: "A woman accuses a ballplayer of assault, and it takes less than 10 posts on a message board before someone calls her a whore. Several posters assume she's just trying to cash in on having gone home with a celebrity. One poster questions the validity of the laws pertaining to giving consent in a compromised state. Another dismisses her as an angry booty call. Above all, the sentiment you hear so often in these cases is repeated ad nauseum.

"'Well, I mean, come on. Going to some dude's apartment at three in the morning, what did she think was going to happen?'"

By the way, Aaron didn't engage in any pre-judging himself, much to his credit. He favors waiting for the investigation to play out.

But in too many places, it's the same old crap all around, isn't it?  Why is it so difficult to treat every rape claim seriously and to investigate it thoroughly without prejudging either the accuser or the accused?