Defendants have rights, too

By Caitlin Piper, Opinion Editor

In late 1991, my uncle was accused of rape. His ex-wife claimed he had come to her house in the middle of the night, knocked on her door and sexually assaulted her when she came to answer. She also claimed he had threatened their 4-year-old daughter with violence after learning the girl had been a witness to the crime.

Unable to prove his innocence, my uncle spent the next several weeks in prison. He lost his job, custody of his son and many of his friends.

Although she believed him to be innocent, his fiancée almost called off their upcoming wedding when the stress of the situation proved to be too much. His son was the frequent target of bullying at school when the news became public.

Almost two months after she accused him, my uncle’s ex-wife admitted she had lied about the rape, giving no particular reason why she had done so. My uncle was released from prison while she was admitted into a mental hospital for reasons unrelated to the event. She was later diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.

Despite her confession, my uncle had trouble adjusting to life after the accusation. He was unable to return to his old job, and because his name had been publicly released, he was eventually forced to move his family to another city. He was unable to find work for more than a year and eventually took his life in early 1993.

I know my uncle is not the only one to experience something like this. Rape is a truly despicable crime with a strong stigma attached to it, and it can be very difficult to prove. However, the public tends to side with the accuser in the majority of cases, even if they have no prior knowledge of the events.

Because of this, I believe both the accused and the accuser should be kept anonymous until a verdict is reached.

Under current legislation, victims can remain anonymous in sexual assault cases, but suspects cannot. Equal rights should be given to both those who are being accused and those who have made the accusation.

Even if suspects are found not guilty, the trial can cause permanent damage to their reputations and follow them for the rest of their lives. In many of these cases, the majority of the public believe they have gotten away with a crime.

Those who oppose the concept of suspect anonymity in sexual assault cases claim that it will endanger any potential victims later on, and in a case where there are multiple victims, prevent others from coming forward to identify their attacker. While this is unfortunate, current legislation is still placing a double standard on suspects.

By no means do I condone sexual assault. A victim has every right to report an attacker and should never feel pressured to protect one, just as the public should never blame the victim for the attack or doubt an accusation unless there is a significant amount of contradictory evidence.

However, the rampant hypocrisy in modern legislation should not be ignored.

Granting suspects in sex-related crimes anonymity until they are convicted will prevent many innocent people from losing control of their lives.

Presumption of innocence is a staple in modern American law, and releasing the names of sexual assault suspects directly contradicts this. People should not be treated like criminals until proven guilty, regardless of the severity of the crime.

It is both unethical and unfair to pick and choose when we should uphold certain laws.

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