The impact and implications of sexual violence in the American criminal and political context.
America has a “sex” problem more specifically a problem in dealing with sexual violence against women. Women account for more than half of the world’s population but are still more likely to be victims of direct physical violence or “soft violence” such as economic restraints, political disenfranchisement and criminal victimhood. While, there has been some progress toward gender neutrality and equity there is still great hurdles to overcome. The massive media frenzy that took place surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing and Dr. Christine Ford’s subsequent testimony highlights the great misunderstanding and conflict American society has around sexual violence.
This article will discuss what the standard of proof is in sexual violence cases, the impact of the “Me Too” movment on the criminal justice system and the need for change in the social narrative surround sexual assault.
1.) Standard of proof vs the burden of testimony: One thing that was evidently clear during the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing was the disagreement over what type of
proceeding the hearing was more specifically what standard of belief or burden of proof should be applied. In criminal cases, the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt! The beyond a reasonable doubt standard is there to impose the great belief that one is innocent until proven guilty. The state bears the burden to prove that the crime was committed and the wrongdoer needs their liberties and freedoms modified.
However, the hearing was not a criminal trial but was an avenue and arena for Dr. Ford to share and testify of her experience and how Judge Kavanaugh allegedly affected that experience. While also giving Judge Kavanaugh an avenue to respond to the allegations. The hearing was a complete utter mess.....the only standard (or lack thereof) displayed was chaos and accusation! The Republican senators on the judicial panel was virtually all male and hostile in their body language toward Dr. Ford. Should we change or modify in a criminal context the standards for sexual assault cases? And further what should the standard be in bringing accusations against public officers accused of sexual assault?
2.) #MeToo movement’s influence on criminal justice: No one can deny the profound impact the #MeToo movement has had on American culture. We can look at the shake up of Hollywood, to the Women’s march on Washington and many other major effects of women coming forward and speaking out on their experiences with sexual violence. However, as many of the readers know..the law is slow to change! What legal effect has the #MeToo movement had on the criminal prosecution and conviction of sexually violent persons.?
One of the most prominent examples is the conviction of Bill Cosby of charges that were over accusations and incidents ten years old. This was momentous for the #MeToo movement because it led to a sense of justice for many women but also opened the gate for the prosecution and conviction of many privileged and powerful men who statistically are not charged nor convicted for sexually violent offenses. It's important to look at the statics though to get a better picture on the movements effect on criminal justice: according to RAINN, out of every 1000 rapes 994 perpetrators walk free which is very sobering.
However, it is an area of opportunity for the criminal justice system to move beyond the curve and deal with the issue of unreported sexual crimes and prosecute and convict those perpetrators who for many women’s silence
3.) Change the culture of criminal justice in regards to sexual violence: The need for swift and courageous action for solving the problem of sexual violence in America is great. However, it is important to also deal with the issues and seeds of opportunity that allow for sexual violence to occur and continue. In her 2010 book ‘Smart on Crime’, District Attorney Kamala Harris (presently Senator Harris) states “the more productive course is to forge partnerships that operate at different levels and create systems that break complex crime cycles down to elements we can target more effectively.” Societal change is needed and within the sphere of the criminal justice system we can do our part to deal with those “elements” of complex crime in order to bring an optimal solution. “
The criminal justice system must be proactive on educating students on the importance of consent and bodily integrity. The old fashioned saying of “keep your hands and body to yourself” is a fundamental truth but one that has major reverberations and effects throughout society. Further, providing avenue and ways survivors of sexual assault can be involved in victim questioning and interviews and working with Prosecutors and Defense attorneys on how to work with and question those reporting and victimized by sexual violence. Also training law enforcement personnel on proper techniques and procedures to identify sexual violence victims and how to properly handle domestic assault incidents. Treating every domestic
violence incidents with delicacy care and concern understanding that from these incidents stem many assault and instances of sexual violence.
Solving sexual assault and dealing with its profound and major impact on society is not an easy fix and will require a lot of diligence and even more cooperation between the criminal justice system and other community organizations that can aid in the process of shifting the culture and its awareness around sexual violence in workplaces, homes, schools and even the halls of government and seats of our Courts. Because, no more should really mean no more! And sexual violence is not only a crime against a victim but one against society which affects many innocent men and women.
Hashmall, Mr. Joe. “Burden of Proof.” LII / Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 23 June 2017,www.law.cornell.edu/wex/burden_of_proof.
Peterson, Kristina, and Brent Kendall. “Brett Kavanaugh's Sexual-Assault Hearing Raises Debate Over Standard of Proof.” T he Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 26 Sept. 2018,www.wsj.com/articles/brett-kavanaughs-sexual-assault-hearing-raises-debate-over-standard-of-proof-1537970221.
Shiller, Virginia M., and M. Shiller. “The Ford-Kavanaugh Hearing Affects All Women - Hartford Courant.” Courant.com,Hartford Courant, 6 Dec. 2018,www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-shiller-why-sexual-assault-victims-are-silent-20180925-story.html.
Wheeler, Lydia. “The Lasting Effect of Kavanaugh's Confirmation Hearings.” TheHill, The Hill, 8 Oct. 2018, thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/410214-the-lasting-effect-of-kavanaughs-confirmation-hearings.