Legal Procedure in VAW Cases: Where does the law stand?

Violence against women is a serious issue all around the world that must be dealt with full force and careful analysis. It is difficult to uphold a legal balance when a man is accused of an abhorrent act such as violence toward a woman, sexual or otherwise. Such cases must be carefully investigated, and individuals proven guilty of such heinous crimes must be kept from committing these acts of violence ever again.

Due to the history of violence against women and the inequality between the genders, we have established a “compensation-based” legal system. This means that we are living in an age where our legal/judicial system constantly attempts to “amend” or make amendments to laws once bred systemic acts of violence to women, religious/ethnic minorities, and homosexuals. All these attempts and intentions for equalizing our rights as individuals and citizens of society are well and correct. However, from a legal point of view, as long as our justice system provides legal context merely for amending its historical neglect and past mistakes, it cannot provide a truly equal society for all.

I would like to discuss one particular pillar of our justice system that acts as the vehicle to safeguard our rights and preserve our equality before the law. This would be the fundamental principle that we are all “innocent until proven guilty”. Now, in our judicial system it is important to be mindful of its true meaning. What this principle provides us is the right of an accused to due process and legal procedure, wherein the accused must defend the allegations brought against him or her, but more importantly, it is incumbent on the prosecution to prove the accused as guilty of the charges. These are procedures in our legal system we have used for many years in order to give a fair and unbiased judgment based on evidence provided.

The legal system we have today however, with all the procedures and functions of our constitution and our amended individual rights,  in my view, is still flawed. For example, there are some cases where law and reason are apprehended by public sentiments and expectations of the law to keep its vow to compensate for historical neglect and “legal-malpractice” against oppressed women and minorities. What the law needs is an unbiased point of view, clearly. But today, due to our justified sensitivities and historical baggage regarding such topics as violence towards women, the law seems to be inept in properly dealing with and assisting accusing parties of rape, while properly protecting the rights of the accused of such serious allegations.

With the advent of the age of social media and easily accessible information circulation, the law has taken a back seat in properly addressing these serious matters. When an individual is accused of a crime, he or she is accused yet “innocent until proven guilty”. But in matters of rape and violence against women, due to the sensitivity of the matter, the law seems to retreat and thus the accused becomes “guilty until proven innocent”. I say the law retreats because it allows for anyone to accuse an individual of such serious allegations, without protection of the accuser or the accused in this matter.

There have been numerous cases where women have been too intimidated to go to the police to report matters of sexual violence, and many have looked for alternative channels, such as the media. The law must directly provide mechanisms and programs for police to follow to make women more comfortable in seeking the police in the advent of such horrific incidents. This neglect by the law also neglects the accused, since the accused has little recourse to protect his or her rights especially if the accusations are completely false and without merit. With the age of advanced communication and new age technology, one can go from “zero to hero”, or “hero to zero” in a matter of tweets.

Thus, it is incumbent upon our judicial system to devise certain procedures and policies in dealing with such allegations, considering the repercussions for the individuals involved. It is the duty of the law to be fair and balanced when dealing with arguably the most sensitive issues in society. For our judicial system to remain inactive in these circumstances is to the detriment of our justice system, and our democracy.

Although, it is a preliminary thought, I propose certain rules or regulations to be followed when encountering such sensitive issues. I hope it can help in providing a basic idea as to more complex solutions to be structured into our legal system to better protect all individuals and provide equal treatment to men and women before the law.

I propose:

1) There be a publication ban on allegations of sexual violence against an individual accused of such charges until the accused has faced the charges in a court of law and has been proven guilty in court.

2) There be better programs available to victims of sexual violence, to make it safer and more confidential when approaching the police. Since, the main obstacle to approaching the police seems to be a media backlash, again, all such allegations must be protected from media reports, until an investigation has taken place and allegations have been proven to be true.

3) As mentioned, it shall be illegal for media outlets to publish accusations of sexual violence since it is not yet proven in a court of law. Such allegations have serious consequences for all parties involved, especially the accused, and thus, the rights of all parties must be protected at all times. The repercussions would and should consist in allowing the accused to sue any media outlet that reports an allegation(s) of sexual misconduct prior to the verdict of guilt or innocence. Any interviews by media outlets of accusers should be banned until the court hears the accuser’s allegations.

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