Effects of 6th circuit decision about sexual assault trials yet to be seen


Kernel Opinion SIG

Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee: These states have something new in common as of Sept. 7, and whether it’s a good thing or not is still debatable.

These four states are included in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and, after a ruling from that court last month, now allow persons accused of sexual misconduct at public universities to cross-examine their accusers when credibility is at issue. While considering all that an alleged victim entails throughout the entire process of naming their assailant and eventual possible court trials, one must also think of the other side before naming fault.

On May 7, USA Today reported on two men, VanDyke Perry and Gregory Counts, who were exonerated from a 1991 rape accusation that the accuser now admits never happened– 26 years after the men’s sentencing.

Perry was 21 and Counts 19 at the time of their conviction. Not often does a case this extreme happen, but imagine if these two men were offered the chance to cross-examine their accuser. According to a report from the New York Times, their accuser’s story was inconsistent: There was no physical evidence, and semen recovered from the woman didn’t match the two men. These men may not have spent a combined 37 years in prison for a crime they never committed; they may have had the chance to discharge the lies from the accuser’s mouth.

Due process for all is an important part of our legal system; everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but this idea is becoming much more difficult in the wake of the era we’re in. Every time you turn your TV on or scroll through your news app, it seems as if a new sexual assault allegation has risen– against the president, the newest appointed supreme court justice, famous actors– but many often have corroborators, multiple accusers or physical evidence. Sexual assault was, and still is, becoming an epidemic. Then #MeToo was born and became an important part of the conversation about sexual assault.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, and one in three women and one in six men experience some form of sexual contact violence in their lives. These are alarming numbers for anyone, and #MeToo was just trying to end the abuse by putting these sexual assault stories out for the world.

In no way am I advocating that victims should not be allowed the chance to speak their peace or should fear opening up with their story; I am advocating that an equal judicial system follow for both parties, so lives like Perry’s and Counts’ are not destroyed.

But the fear of this new ruling may force victims to hide, rescind or deny allegations in worry that they will have to face their assaulter in court; this is where the problem arises.

We’re in a he-said, she-said time. Without physical evidence or eye-witnesses, it’s difficult to prove a claim; it’s even more difficult to produce, or even clear, a conviction.

When thinking of both affected parties– the accuser and the accused– and the struggles that could come of this new ruling, there’s no clear answer except to listen. Listen to both sides, versions, recounts equally. Hear each side with equal weight. Then, and only then, come to a conclusion. We must stop rushing to judgment, pointing fingers before testimonies are spoken and written words are signed, on both sides.

Only in the years to come will we know what will amount of the 6th circuit’s ruling, but one thing is sure: We must take every claim, every investigation and every story seriously and finish an investigation before sides are taken, or this ruling will surely fail– for everyone.