This is not a discussion about whether Terry Richardson put his models under duress to consent to sexual relations with him. This is not a discussion about whether Alex Day raped his fans. This is not a discussion about whether Woody Allen sexually abused Dylan Farrow. This is written from the perspective of an academic lawyer – this article discusses how the stigma surrounding these three men is a bastardization of our judicial system.
Feminism has made huge progress over the past century in western MEDCs. In the U.S. in 1965, we finally succeeded in proving and acquiring our right to vote. Four years later, “no-fault divorce” was enacted in California, with the other states to follow. We have won some challenges, but we still face battles – abortion remains strictly illegal in Ireland except under circumstances where a woman’s life is at risk, infringing on her right to govern her own body. The pay gap remains an actuality, whether as a result of direct discrimination or of social pressure for women to pursue a different category of employment to men. But perhaps the most concerning reality of the modern woman is the prevalence of crimes against women, particularly sexual violence. The statistics are dismal – in England and Wales, one in five women aged 16-59 will have been victim of sexual violence, as such that would be an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Sexual violence continues to be prevalently against women, with 91% of victims in the U.S. being female, making the campaign against sexual violence also a feminist issue.
One of the biggest enablers for sexual crimes are the continued misconceptions that remain popular public opinion, about rape and rape victims – for example, it has been reported that in Turkey, 33% of police officers believe that “some” rape victims deserve it. Therefore, a method for reducing these crimes is increasing public awareness.
In recent times we have seen several impressive efforts to increase awareness about sexual crimes; from the SlutWalk, to Angelina Jolie attending a conference condemning war rape as a practice. Another important aspect is increasing coverage of convicted celebrity offenders, as a matter of deterrence; it must be known that the law will be enforced to protect women, that those who breach it will be punished and that no one is above it. But Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen should be left out of the headlines.
Why? I have already said it. Convictions should be written about, talked about and discussed to the maximum – exploited until the last word is spent to increase awareness of such crimes. But Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen have not been convicted of sexual assault or rape; they have been accused, and accusations should be left out of the headlines.
Why? Because the criminal code operates on a presumption of innocence, and trial by peers requires an impartial trial by jury – per the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 6, “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing… by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law”. Article 6, Subsection 3 (d) gives that everyone has the right to “defend himself” against any criminal charges. Why? Because a breach of the criminal law is always severely punishable, whether by incarceration or other penalties, and is socially stigmatizing. Consequently, a criminal conviction severely impacts the life and prospects of the defendant – for example, it is still technically legal for employers to blanket discriminate against convicted felons upon application to vacancies in Ohio. The point is this; conviction is a fair, but not a small consequence for illegal conduct, and as such, the protection of the innocent is a priority. Resultantly, innocence is presumed for all, including those who are guilty, until illegal conduct is proven by prescribed practice of prosecution. Any deviation is incompatible with our legal system; imputing guilt endangers the wrongfully charged, and as such, where guilt is imputed, it is grounds for appeal. This means that Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen may not be treated as felons; they have not been convicted of sexual offences, they have been accused.
Therefore, I give Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen the benefit of the doubt. Yes, sexual offences need to be discussed more in mainstream media. Yes, using the celebrity as an example for deterrence will help the cause. Yes, discussing convictions will help victims come forward – as will discussing victims’ reports. But one needs to distinguish between the accused, charged and convicted; the presumption of innocence is sacred, and stigmatizing the accused is a breach of it. Making a spectacle of the reports of victims before the defendant is convicted does not help the victims, it destroys the principle of presumption of innocence; in the eyes of the law even the accused are innocent. In the eyes of the law, Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen are innocent, because they have not been successfully convicted. And this is a legal matter – ostracizing Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen will not reduce the discrepancy between the incidence rates of sexual crimes and successful convictions; ostracizing Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen will not give victims a voice. The only effect of ostracizing Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen is to shake up one of the fundamental principles of our law. Instead, we need to be talking about celebrity convictions – about Don Johnson, Max Clifford, Mike Tyson and Chris Brown. We need to show victims that there will be consequences for the crimes done against them – we do not need to enable what may be potential false accusations to impact people’s lives. If we seek to remedy the incidence of sexual crimes, then we must trust in the law; and the law says that Terry Richardson, Alex Day and Woody Allen are innocent.
Discussing convictions is necessary. Treating accusations as convictions is libel.