Sunday, February 16, 2014

Wicked cycle: Prosecutor doesn't take rape seriously; public outcry over the prosecutor's lapses; prosecutor finds sacrificial lamb to charge to quell the public outcry

The Department of Justice claims it has substantial evidence that the Missoula County Attorney's Office in Montana systematically discriminates against female sexual-assault victims. See here.  The public outcry over that prosecutor's practices has been percolating for many months, and we fear that it led him to charge a college football star who should not have been charged. Even the prosecutor admitted: “I can’t say the atmosphere in Missoula didn’t operate in my mind somewhere” as he considered whether to file the charges. After the trial, which the prosecutor devoted inordinate resources to win, an alternate juror went on the record and said "there was no evidence" to support the charges against the football player.  Read about that disturbing case here.

In Great Britain, there is strong indication that a witch-hunt of male celebrities is afoot as the Crown Prosecution Service attempts to atone for perceived past failures to nail purported serial sex predator Jimmy Savile. Read about it here.

In the military, there is a public outcry over a perceived lack of concern about sexual assault, and that outcry puts pressure on authorities to find sacrificial lambs. See here.

It is a disturbing pattern that is at the heart of too many injustices we report on. Innocence Project guru Mark A Godsey has said that "the risk of wrongful conviction is the highest when there’s public outcry. Most of the exonerations and wrongful convictions have occurred in rape cases."

A rape witch-hunt is never justifiable. But rape hysteria is sometimes fomented over a legitimate perception that rape is tolerated. While the public recoils at the thought of prosecuting an innocent man, the public also has no tolerance for rape or patience for prosecutors who tolerate it. The public wants rapists behind bars and the innocent to be spared prosecution. It is a tough balance.

Ironically, one way to minimize rape hysteria is to insist that prosecutors diligently and fairly prosecute rape cases. If the public perceives that rape is taken seriously, the chances of a public outcry about rape that tempts prosecutors to charge innocent men is lessened. Accordingly, prosecutors who turn a blind eye to rape are no friends of the wrongly accused. They are part of the problem.