A controversial situation at a Maine high school is bringing out one of the more disturbing problems that sex crime defendants face once they have been accused of wrongdoing: the presumption of guilt.
A student at Cape Elizabeth High School made waves recently when she posted a sticky note to a mirror in the girls’ bathroom with the message, “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
The note inspired rumors throughout the school, and one student stayed home for eight straight days out of fear for his safety.
The school suspended the student, who admitted to posting the note, for three days for bullying. A federal district court judge has since issued a restraining order that put a stop to the suspension, pointing out that the suspension could be a violation of the student’s First Amendment Free Speech rights.
The dispute over the student’s First Amendment rights to post the note has taken center stage, shoving some other serious problems off to the side, like the damage those accusations can cause to other people.
Whenever someone accuses someone else of a sex offense, bystanders and onlookers have a decision to make: Do they trust the accuser, defend the accused, or wait for more evidence?
One of the unfortunate outcomes of the recent “#MeToo movement” has been a hard slide towards option number one: Rally around the accuser and provide the support that the survivors of sex crimes need and deserve.
This knee-jerk reaction is an unfortunate and a dangerous one because it centers on the blatant presumption that a sex offense occurred and that the accused party is the one who did it.
To inject such a harsh presumption into the process at such an early stage is particularly damning for the person being accused. Their lives can change overnight, and when the accusations are groundless they can produce social stigmatization that is both incredibly unfair and impossible to overcome.
The unfortunate fact is that baseless accusations of sexual crimes do happen, and often. Revenge is a powerful emotion, and many people succumb to it when they have been hurt by someone with whom they were in an intimate relationship or when they have seen a friend hurt by someone else. Especially in high school, where kids are still growing up and dealing with their emotions and feelings and where they are still learning about the repercussions of their actions, lashing out against others in jarring ways like blindly accusing someone of rape is not unsurprising.
Flocking to the defense of the accuser without knowing more is a dangerous reaction that often results in the destruction of the accused person’s dignity and reputation, as well as their emotional and mental health.
The criminal defense lawyers at Maine Criminal Defense Group represent people who have been accused of a sex offense. We know that persons accused of these crimes have already been irreparably damaged by the accusation and the arrest, and so we strive to prove your innocence in court and among public opinion. Contact us online or call our law office at (207) 571-8146.
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