Innocent Until Proven Guilty

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a term often used to protect the accused.

When people say “I won’t make a decision until I have all of the evidence”, what evidence are they looking for? Not taking a side is taking a side, and that side is with the perpetrator. What would make people believe the victim instead of the perpetrator?

What does a victim have to gain by making false accusations? How would you like your parents, your grandparents, younger siblings, or people who work for you, to think that you had been a victim of a violent crime?
Given the 3% conviction rate, why would someone put themselves through the lengthy court process unless they were telling the truth? Knowing that only 2-4% of sexual assault reports are proven to be false, less than false reports of grand theft auto, why don’t we accuse theft victims of lying? “Are you sure you didn’t just give your car away and then change your mind?”

In the criminal justice system, sexual assault is the only crime where charges are laid starting at the least severe, and then bargained up. Any other type of crime would be charged at the most serious offence, and bargained down. I am hoping that a procedural change will be part and parcel of It’s Never Okay (The Ontario Government’s action plan for sexual assault and harassment), and these crimes will be taken more seriously in the legal system.

Civil court is another option for victims of violent crime, and is suggested by legal counsel and even detectives at times. If a victim chooses to go this route, they are often accused of lying, or making it up for the money. Realistically, the process is not that easy. If the perpetrator has no money or declares bankruptcy, the victim will not receive compensation. The victim also has to hire legal counsel, which is expensive. These trials can drag on for years, compromising recovery and healing time. The victim will still have to sit through the court proceedings and cross-examinations, similar to those in criminal court. Even if the victim is compensated, how do you put a dollar value on a person’s life? All of the money in the world wouldn’t make this un-happen, and quite frankly, any amount of money would feel insulting. How do you decide how much a person’s life is worth?

I know a huge piece of this puzzle is fear. People don’t want to admit that a random act of violence could happen to anyone, at any time. We hide behind rules – don’t walk alone at night, don’t drink too much (even around people you know), make sure you carry your whistle with you. But what about people who don’t have a car and have to walk home at night? Do they not deserve to be protected? If we admit that you can follow all of the ‘rules’ and something bad could happen anyways, we are admitting that the world has no rhyme or reason and we are all susceptible to random acts of violence. That is terrifying to think about, so we often throw victims under the proverbial bus to protect our world views.

As Chris Murphy, a defense attorney, writes in an open letter to his daughters and his past clients:  “A “not guilty” verdict would mean nothing more than the judge or jury got it wrong.”

So, next time you use “innocent until proven guilty”, please consider extending that courtesy to the victims as well as the perpetrators.

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Hi! I'm Elizabeth, a blogger on When You're I spent 2 years struggling with PTSD and panic attacks following a violent attack. I want to use my experience and my voice to raise support for others. I desperately want to make the world a safer place for girls and women, especially my two little sisters. Keep talking, Keep sharing. When You're Ready, I'll be here.



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