In a post called Rape Reports Hit Two-Decade Low, a regular of Shakesville e-mailed Melissa McEwan a USA Today article detailing, obviously, how rape reporting has hit a two decade low. All's on the up and up, and all past this point is on the up and up, but this one comment by the Shaker who sent in the article? Not so much on the up and up:
Rape prosecutions have improved dramatically over the past two decades because of advances in DNA testing to pinpoint a rapist rather than forcing prosecutors to rely solely on a victim's identification of her attacker, says Kim Gandy, past president of the National Organization for Women and a former prosecutor.Oh yes, god forbid we have to rely on the testimony of a victim, of a woman. No wonder conviction rates were so low! Thank god we have rational science now instead of hysterical, over-accusing women!
Here's my problem with this. Yes, conviction rates of rapes were (and are) probably low partially because of how we as a society perceive women, and how we think of rape. But, and it is a big "but" indeed, I'm betting that as much as that perception has and will continue to negatively influence rape convictions, there is a bigger issue at play here. And that is the way our justice system is set up.
Our justice system is, at best, imperfect. Jay Smooth outlined one of the ways it is imperfect just as recently as my last post. Yes, the one right below this one! Our justice system has convicted innocent men and women, because of biases. It has also let clearly guilty men and women walk, because of biases. The reason for the White Night riots wasn't because Dan White got the book thrown at him. The reason for the 1992 L.A. riots weren't because the officers who beat Rodney King were sentenced to jail time.
But, the justice system is set up to err on the side of caution. It is set up to protect the liberty of an innocent (wo)man more than it is to punish the guilty (wo)man. I'm of the mindset that this is a pretty nifty system, indeed. A system where the government has to prove the guilt of the accused rather than a system where the accused has to prove his or her own innocence is a place I want to be. Partially because perception is a malleable thing, and walking into a trial with the mindset the accused is guilty until proven innocent will make for a higher conviction rate.
Thus, if the charge placed before the court is to find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the lack of evidence present to prove the accused guilty of sex at all is going to be a downer in terms of conviction rates. Overall, I'm not doubting that the "hysterical woman" thing plays a part in the trial; but even so, the jury can't convict, shouldn't convict, if the proof is circumstantial or if the proof offered is the testimony of the victim of the rape. In that sense, rape convictions would almost have to go up with the advent of DNA evidence, because now the proof of sexual contact is hard and fast. That is one less thing the prosecutor has to convince the jury of, and one less thing the defense attorney can question.
So, even though I'm in full agreement with the rest of the post, I can't legitimately say, "Right on" to this part of it. Because although it sucks rape victims don't get justice often enough, I can't imagine living under a system of law where the testimony of the victim is enough to convict someone of a crime - any crime. I'm a firm believer in supporting the victims of sex crimes. But I'm also a firm believer in our imperfect system. I'm a believer in the burden of proof being on the government, and not the accused. It doesn't always end with justice being served, but it is a sight less scary than some of the other possible systems of justice.