Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Writer at Iowa State Daily Defends the Wrongly Accused

By Phil Brown, phil.brown@iowastatedaily.com

Recently, I wrote an opinion column entitled “Avoiding false reports of rape is everyone’s responsibility.” Many people have misinterpreted my comments, and I would like to address several of the grievances I received, to make myself more clear.

It has been said that in my column I attributed blame to victims of rape, encouraged victims to not report rape because it can be harmful to those they accuse, said that victims should be assumed to be lying until they prove otherwise, and that I claimed instances of false reports of rape are more important or more common than cases of rape.

I disagree with all of these statements, and challenge any reader to find them in my column, with proper context in mind. My column said that women and men can both help prevent false reports, as the title would imply.

One of the main themes that seemed to accompany criticism of my column was that false reports of rape are far less common than actual instances of rape. Obviously, everybody needs to stop talking about false reports, then, and needs to start talking about actual rapes, and how we can avoid them, right?

This is blind majoritarianism (thinking that the majority is supremely important). While most of us do feel that rape is a horrendous crime and would like for it to be eradicated, only discussing the majority of cases is not the way to go.

The number of false reports of rape may be small, but it is not zero. As long as there are any cases, they can be talked about.

Further, legal systems such as the one we enjoy here in the United States are based off of the notion that individuals are innocent until proven guilty. This does not mean that a plaintiff, such as a victim of rape, should be assumed to be lying. Such absurdity would totally undermine any attempts to dispense justice or to even find the truth.

Rather, assumed innocence is an expression of the principle that it is better to let a guilty individual free than to punish someone who is innocent. Blackstone’s formulation, a famous example of this principle, states that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.” The numbers here are arbitrary, but the point remains clear.

This principle is not only embraced by the legal systems of the developed world, but, according to the beliefs of many, it is embraced by divinity.

In Genesis, it is said that God tells Abraham of His plans to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, concerned for any good people who would be harmed, asks if God would spare the city for the sake of 50, and eventually 10, good men. God is said to have agreed to this, but 10 good men could not be found. It is written that God instead sent angels to help the only good man, Lot, escape from the cities, so that he would not be punished along with the guilty majority.

Certainly crimes where evidence is exceedingly difficult to produce, such as rape, would see an increase in conviction rate and more rapists would be punished if we adopted a principle of assumed guilt. That good, however, would not outweigh the injustice done by assuming the guilt of all accused.

We have seen such times before, from the Salem witch trials to McCarthyism, but almost unilaterally these are seen as black marks on our history. Even so, we are still undergoing such a crisis of legality and morality due to majoritarian views.

To this day, terrorists, or rather, those suspected of terrorism, are not always given the benefit of the legal system we hold so dear. After all, the majority of those suspected of terrorism are guilty — so we should punish them all, just in case. Such is the idiocy that allows for suspected terrorists — even American citizens on U.S. soil — to be held by our military without trial and without charge.

I admit it can seem terrible to say it would be better for 10 rapists or terrorists to go free than for one innocent person to be punished, but I for one believe that when our country adopted a legal system based on such principles, we chose correctly.