Photo by Sara Schmitt

There are a few problems with society’s current view of rape. These issues appear on both sides of the issue, whether it be those who do not think the issue of  rape is a problem or those who think it is particularly pressing. However, addressing both sides could probably fill up a book so I will just address one of the problems plaguing those who believe that rape is a notably prevalent issue — the “guilty until proven innocent” mindset. This is the reverse of the  “innocent until proven guilty,” doctrine which, in theory, governs the American legal system, and therefore, must be eradicated in the American populace, plain and simple. In today’s day and age, it seems that this toxic mentality is being applied to criminal cases, specifically ones regarding rape.

Rape is a heinous crime, which is exactly why innocent until proven guilty attitudes must be applied. In the same way that many states have put a moratorium on the death penalty for fears of putting an innocent person to death, people should have legitimate concerns about charging an innocent person with rape.

For those who choose to adopt it, an attitude that involves the assumption of guilt gives rise to many harmful consequences. First, in spreading this mindset it becomes inherently harder to create a fair trial for both parties. The point of assuming innocence until the accused has been proven guilty is that the side of the accuser can bring forth enough evidence to prove that the accused committed said crime.

If guilt is assumed, it will be harder for lawyers to draft a fair jury that knows the rules of court. The more this mentality spreads, the lower the chance of finding unbiased jurors, because people will come in with too many preconceived notions. This, in turn, leads to more innocent people being put away for crimes they did not commit, no matter the type of case. When an impartial jury cannot be drafted, it opens the opportunity for things such as a mistrial to come forth and allow a guilty person to be free, despite any of the crimes they may have committed.

The second problem with the mindset of assumed guilt is that it involves directing hate towards the wrong party. People should be mad at rapists, that is a given. But they should also expect them to receive a fair trial just as any other person would. By coming forth and spreading a biased way of thinking, people are undermining their own right to a fair trial. Any action against the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is an act against the idea of a fair trial for every citizen.

This predisposition towards assuming guilt seems to have been created through the hatred of the outcomes of rape cases, as oftentimes the court does not seem to be on the victim’s side. All too often it seems that the perpetrator gets off with a slap on the wrists at best. However, at this point the people who find rape to be a growing issue should focus on making improvements to the judicial system so that in the future, rapists are put away for a time deserving of the crime.

Finally, it seems that this attitude spreads a general sense of toxicity. Very often, people who think along the lines of guilty until proven innocent do so in an inflammatory manner. While I do think it is a good idea to communicate your point of view, I do not advocate doing so in a manner that antagonizes anyone. Again, some of this antagonizing is deserved. News outlets should not be printing stories about how the rapist is the victim or how this charge will affect the rest of their life. But at the same time, they have an obligation to not drag that person’s name through the mud before a judgment is rendered.

In the end, all I ask is for more people to take a step back and calm down. Assuming one is guilty until proven innocent only feeds into the current unrest.

  • William Penniman

    I don’t see an argument here to support the statement of your thesis: “In today’s day and age, it seems that [guilty until proven innocent] is being applied to criminal cases, specifically ones regarding rape.” I agree that the innocent until proven guilty doctrine is an important part of the american legal system, and I think you do a good job citing reasons it’s important. Though in that sense your argument should be titled “Why I Like The American Legal System’s Base Principles,” which entirely leaves rape up in the air.

    I do not want those innocent of rape to be convicted of it, but I am left unconvinced by this article that such a thing is disproportionately occurring. Be it examples, statistics, or the citation of other pieces of media, you are lacking in proof that this is a problem. And consider the importance of the counter-issue here; if you’re wrong in assuming that this problem is as prevalent as you assert, then this article makes you out as an apologist. Especially as you call for those who dissent from the argument you imply (yet lack) to “calm down.”

    • Casey Miles

      It’s not mentioned in the article, but I wrote this piece in response to a facebook post I saw from a friend. I’m from North Carolina, so I know a lot of people at UNC, even some who knew the victim of the most recent national case. I wrote it because in my friend’s post, she was spreading the idea that he was already guilty, before even getting to trial.

      In the comments section, another friend pointed this out. I don’t usually see eye to eye with the person who pointed it out, but in this case I felt he was being unjustly attacked for simply wanting the others to uphold a constitutional ideal.

      In regards to what you’ve written, my rhetoric was definitely too strong to convey what I truly feel on the subject. I felt that if I wrote in a more aggressive manner, I would stimulate more conversation. Did I reach that goal? Maybe, but it feels wrong because I don’t really feel that this is the biggest problem.

      That being said, I think it’s a problem, albeit a very small one. A very small one that I wanted to bring attention to. I did it in a very inflammatory manner because I wanted people to see it. It seems that these days unless the opinion is controversial, no one talks about it. I don’t like that, I want people to talk about the issues.

      Finally, the calm down was simply meant for those who follow the guilty until proven innocent mindset. I don’t want those who are for the revamping of the justice system to fix the current problem we have with convicting rapists to calm down because that would be counter-intuitive. However, in the same way, we should move towards a common goal in a peaceful, thoughtful manner.

      Thanks for writing a well thought out comment, I’m glad that the people I’ve had the pleasure of discussing this issue with following the release of this article have been civil.