Much as it pains me, a serious issue was raised at Jezebel, albeit in its inherently nasty and ignorant way:
Yes, this involves the Jameis Winston debacle, but that’s not the point of this post. The question is whether his attorney, David Cornwell, was wrong to publicy out the accuser.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, it’s something he’s done flagrantly in the past as well
As he has done multiple times in the past, Cornwell opted to name the accuser, an action typically not taken during ongoing sexual assault claims. Cornwell, however, has asserted those claims have been proven unfounded by the criminal justice system.
Holy shit, this is some fucked up, disgusting garbage. This attorney is a complete shitbag.
Rebecca Rose, the writer of the Jezebel post, certainly has a way with words. Unsurprisingly, the attorney for the accuser similarly agrees that Cornwell’s revelations are inappropriate:
“Mr. Winston’s lawyer apparently likes to bully people and he has spent great efforts to get her name out there,” said John Clune, an attorney for the woman. “That kind of intimidation tactic isn’t going to get him very far here.”
It’s unclear how this has anything to do with bullying, but then, that may reflect my bias toward words having meaning.
It’s true that the Florida State University investigation into the accusation resulted in a finding that the evidence was insufficient. This finding has been challenged as a dubious reflecting of FSU’s favoring a star quarterback, giving rise to a Department of Education Title IX challenge and the reopening of the case. Regardless of any thoughts about the propriety of this action, the sole question here relates to Cornwell’s use of the accuser’s name.
Most media has taken a voluntary stance of not publishing the name of an alleged victim of rape or sexual abuse, whether to protect the person’s privacy or prevent outside contact that might be intimidating, embarrassing or otherwise hurtful.
This has raised hackles on the defense side, given that the name of the accused person is smeared everywhere. The primary problem isn’t that the name of the accuser is kept confidential, but that it’s kept confidential while the name of the accused, presumed innocent, is not. Why the lack of parity? Certainly, the innocent accused can’t unring the bell of false rape accusations, and the innocent accused is as worthy of protecting his reputation from permanent harm as the accuser.
Naturally, Jezebel couldn’t give a damn about the nuanced question, as it tends not to show a
great deal, much, any concern whatsoever for the possibility that the male didn’t do it. But we are not constrained by Jezebel’s, or its readers’, self-serving and dangerous view of the world. We can be more thoughtful about the issues raised.
There is no question that a rape accusation will taint a person. And given the permanence of the internet, it will likely taint a person in perpetuity. This is wrong, and the reality is that the media has never cared a whit about the harm it might do to the presumptively innocent defendant. What else is new?
But the fact that the media, with the full support of the brain trust at Jezebel, smears the accused before it is determined that a crime (or offense, since this is about college) has occurred, and if so, who committed it, does not justify doing similar harm to someone in the name of some misguided sort of parity. It’s wrong that the media does it to the accused. It’s wrong that it be done to the accuser.
To the extent the defense stands on the moral high ground in challenging the disclosure of information about an innocent defendant, we give that away when we do what we complain should not be done to our client. Just as our client has not been proven guilty, the accuser hasn’t been proven a liar either.
Outing the accuser may serve one salutary purpose, in that it may aid the defense in gaining information about the accuser’s credibility. If the name is not disclosed, others who may have relevant information won’t know to come forward, and that would serve to deprive the defense of its ability to conduct a thorough investigation. Clearly, depriving the defense of its ability to investigate would fail to suffice under basic due process. There is no entitlement to conceal an accuser’s lack of credibility because of the inchoate potential that she might be hurt by disclosure.
Then again, the same rationale applies to the defendant, where disclosure might cause others to come forward with additional accusations showing a similar scheme or plan, or creating a response to claims of mistake.
Where Jezebel raises the issue in its singular function to bolster its agenda at the expense of brain cells, there are real reasons why the disclosure of identities of both accuser and accused might serve a legitimate purpose. That said, purposeless disclosure, whether for the sake of embarrassing a person or out of some mean-spirited angst over the lack of parity of confidentiality, is needlessly harmful.
To the extent viable, both accused and accuser’s identities should remain confidential. Yes, it sucks that the media (and, of course, cesspools like Jezebel) care nothing about the harm it might do an innocent defendant, but that is not a reason to exacerbate the harm by doing to the accuser what should be done to no one. Just because the people at Jezebel wouldn’t show you the “kindness” it demands for itself is no reason to join them in the gutter.