In Wyoming, the names of defendants accused of sexual assault are kept confidential by law until and unless a judge finds there’s enough evidence for their cases to proceed to District Court. Wyoming Republican lawmaker Samuel Krone tried to change that. He sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would have ended the state's limited anonymity for the presumptively innocent.
Yesterday, the Wyoming House voted down his bill to make public the names of defendants in sexual assault cases. House Bill 178 was denied on a 32-24 vote.
Wyoming also has a law that keeps confidential the names of alleged sexual assault victims. No one suggested that this law be changed. While the Powell Tribune spoke out forcefully to end the limited anonymity for the presumptively innocent, it added, without explanation: "We do believe in the importance of protecting and concealing an alleged victim’s name and identity — something the law currently requires and would continue to do under Krone’s proposed changes."
How did Rep. Krone justify his bill to end limited anonymity for the presumptively innocent? "I think the purpose of this bill is to say let’s treat (sexual-assault crimes) like everything else,” he said.
If Krone wanted to treat sexual assault crimes "like everything else," why didn't he try to change the law granting anonymity for purported sexual assault victims?
Opponents of Krone's bill said there was too much of a stigma attached to defendants in cases in which charges are dropped. Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, said he voted against the bill because of the impact a false sexual-assault accusation can have on someone: “A name can just be completely destroyed with one of these, compared to one of these other types of crimes,” he said. “Releasing (the name) right away seems to take away the fact that we are presumed innocent until proven guilty, because these crimes are different, and the criminal justice system treats them different because you have a target on your back from the very start.”
Likewise, House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette said this: "The reason that we created this statute is just the stigma of being branded as a certain kind of person without a finding of probable cause can be as bad or worse than a criminal sentence." Lubnau said the bill presented the chance "to do great damage to innocent people." Remember, write to thank the Speaker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaker Lubnau and Rep. Baker are correct: if there is no probable cause to prosecute someone for rape, then why on earth would we allow him to be destroyed by being stigmatized as a vile rapist? (And please, don't try to tell me that the wrongly accused are rarely destroyed by false claims -- see the links below. You would do well to save that ploy for someone else because I could fill a book with accounts of atrocities just from the past few years.) If there is no probable cause to prosecute, the man probably shouldn't have been arrested and held in the first place.
The usual suspects chimed in to try to end limited anonymity. Suzan Campbell, representing the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said her organization has been pushing for the speedier disclosure of the defendants’ names for several years. However, she said they have often met resistance from people who say this is dangerous because of the tendency of false reports in sexual-assault cases. But she said this is a myth and that there are not more false reports in sexual-assault cases than other crimes. “There is no evidence of that whatsoever,” she said. “There is a difference between false reports and unfounded reports, but that is a big distinction.”
Ms. Campbell would do well to spend a few months reading through this blog before she trivializes the victimization of the wrongly accused again. Her comments are nothing short of morally grotesque. I will add one thing: the community of the wrongly accused doesn't care why a man was wrongly accused, or what label police apply to it. It cares only that the man was accused of a crime he didn't commit.
Several students from Cody High School’s Youth for Justice program got caught up in the hysteria and fear-mongering and lobbied for passage of the bill. Group member Amanda Golden said there is no compelling reason to give people accused of sexual-assault crimes special treatment. “They should be given the same sort of treatment as people from all over and from all other different crimes,” she said. “And say the person got out on bail or wasn’t in custody … they could be walking the streets, and they could easily offend again without the public knowing who they are or what they are doing.”
Heaven forbid, Ms. Golden, that a presumptively innocent man -- who hasn't even had a probable cause hearing yet -- is out walking the streets! It sounds as though Ms. Golden is fearful of stranger rapists, while most rape, we are told, is of the acquaintance variety.
Press advocates also supported the bill, of course. Bruce Moats, an attorney representing the Wyoming Press Association, said there is a First Amendment argument that the public has a right to access the information. What about information about accusers, Mr. Moats? I don't recall seeing "sexual assault accusers" exempted from the First Amendment, yet that's not a concern for you, is it?
Reasons for Limited Anonymity
Just as the stigma from rape to rape accusers is so great that, we are told, they need anonymity even to induce them to come forward, that same stigma from false or mischaracterized rape claims destroys innocent men and boys. Legion are the cases where those wrongly accused of rape have suffered unspeakable injustices. We have chronicled the terrible consequences that too often befall wrongly accused men and boys. They are beaten, spat upon, they lose their jobs, their employment prospects, their wives, their girlfriends, their chance to play football in college (Brian Banks), their businesses, and sometimes, their lives. Read the following, but legitimate trigger warning: these are gut-wrenching: see here (this post collects some of the worst in recent times) and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. (I could go on and on and on -- after looking at the last few for the first time in a while, I'd had enough for now.)
Justice for rape victims does not depend on the public shaming, humiliation, and destruction of reputations of the presumptively innocent. But, it seems, some victims advocates view such public humiliation of the presumptively innocent as appropriate punishment for being an accused rapist, the innocent be damned. For rape claims, the accusation becomes its own conviction in the court of public opinion because it is nearly impossible to undo even the most far-fetched accusation (that’s due to the he said/she said nature of the claim). The stigma trails men throughout their lives, especially in the Google era, where news stories have a permanence and and an accessibility they didn’t formerly have.
In addition, there is real-world evidence that anonymity is not the bogeyman that many women’s groups claim. Many accused rapists are already afforded anonymity, without adverse effects to rape victims. In the UK, anonymity orders under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 are frequently granted to teen boys accused of sex crimes. Moreover, men whose identities cannot be revealed without necessarily revealing the accuser’s identity are usually treated anonymously by the press in both the UK and the U.S. The identities of accused males who fall within these two classes are shielded because, as a matter of public policy, the benefits of shielding their identities are deemed to outweigh the detriments. There is no evidence — none whatsoever — that granting anonymity to these classes of defendants has in any manner hindered the war on rape. Thus, in a real world setting, every hypothetical disaster that would supposedly occur if anonymity were granted has been proven to be disingenuous.
More rape victims would “come forward” if the men they accused were anonymous. The vast majority of rapes, we are told, are of the acquaintance variety. When a woman accuses a male acquaintance of rape and he is publicly identified, it often isn’t difficult to infer who the accuser is. It is reasonable to assume that most rape victims would prefer not to have their identities revealed by inference when they accuse an intimate acquaintance of rape. We suspect that a fair number of women are not coming forward because they know their identities will become known when the identities of the men or boys they accuse are publicized.
Reasons for Ending Anonymity for Accusers
While the reasons to extend anonymity to the accused are clear, the reasons for allowing the accuser to remain anonymous are not. Prof. Alan Dershowitz once said:
People who have gone to the police and publicly invoked the criminal process and accused somebody of a serious crime such as rape must be identified. In this country there is no such thing and should not be such a thing as anonymous accusation. If your name is in court it is a logical extension that it should be printed in the media. How can you publish the name of the presumptively innocent accused but not the name of the accuser?Feminist Naomi Wolf also thinks it is time to end anonymity for women:
Feminists have long argued that rape must be treated like any other crime. But in no other crime are accusers kept behind a wall of anonymity. Treating rape so differently serves only to maintain its mischaracterization as a 'different' kind of crime, loaded with cultural baggage and projections.See here.
Finally, there is a profound moral issue at stake. Though children’s identities should, of course, be shielded in sex-crime allegations, women are not children. If one makes a serious criminal accusation, one must wish to be treated – and one must treat oneself – as a moral adult.
. . . .
It is wrong – and sexist – to treat female sex-crime accusers as if they were children, and it is wrong to try anyone, male or female, in the court of public opinion on the basis of anonymous accusations. Anonymity for rape accusers is long overdue for retirement.