Monday, April 12, 2010

A quick note about the latest Ben Roethlisberger case

So, the news came down today that there would be no charges filed against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the latest case of him being accused of sexual assault. The district attorney, Fred Bright, said the victim's accusations "could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Okay, that's pretty common. A lot of times prosecutors will not move forward with a sexual assault case because of lack of evidence. There might be, say, evidence that there was intercourse of some kind, but not evidence that it was forced. Then it's a he said-she said case, and overall prosecutors don't like that because prosecutors don't want to lose (hurts their W-L record), and he said-she said cases can be lost. (On this subject, do read the Cleveland Plain Dealer's report "Records show sexual assault cases in Cleveland are unlikely to get to court." Seventy percent of these cases in the last five years did not make it to court. Seventy percent. [Be sure to read to the very end, which might just stop you from breathing for a second.])

But there's something that needs to be pointed out here: According to the New York Times,
Bright received a letter from the accuser, whose name has not been revealed, several weeks after the incident saying she did not want to proceed with prosecution. In the letter the student’s lawyer made it clear she was not recanting her accusation.
So, the woman did not want to go to court, and that's her right ... sort of. Because if this case went to court, it would be The State vs. Roethlisberger, not The Woman vs. Roethlisberger. It's technically up to the DA to decide to move the case forward, not the victim. (And that happens across the board with crimes, like if someone got beat up, it's not That Person vs. The Person Who Punched Them, it's The State vs. The Person Who Punched Them. This is not specific to sexual assault or rape.) I would hope, though, that most prosecutors would withdraw the case if the victim doesn't want to proceed. But in this case, the DA continued investigating the case for at least a couple weeks after receiving that letter.

Also, in every story I've read about the DA not pressing charges is this news: The woman was drunk! “Everyone agrees that the victim was highly intoxicated,” Bright said. Do the stories say specifically that her intoxication is why there won't be any charges? No. BUT. Every story mentions it. Just to make sure we all know.

In light of all this, I think this piece of advice (from a rather old article, but still relevant) is important:
Rape can be hard to prove. You should understand that if the district attorney declines to prosecute, if the case is thrown out of court, or if your attacker is found not guilty, it doesn't mean you weren't raped or that you did something wrong. A "not guilty" verdict doesn't prove the rapist's innocence; it simply means the prosecution didn't have enough evidence to meet the level of proof required for a conviction.

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