Saturday, 11 November 2017

Is this getting out of hand now?

This is to try and maybe spark some debate, and as always I am interested in some views here.

There seem to be an awful lot of accusations of historical sexual abuse or harassment flying around, and I noticed today that George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek) has had some sort of allegation of something from 40 years ago. I am not even going to bother looking it up.


So it struck me that there are clearly issues here, not only with actual cases of sexual abuse going unreported for so long, but also the cases where people are simply "jumping on the bandwagon" hoping for some settlement. Even where something did happen, I really find it unbelievable that either party could accurately remember what happened 40 years ago - the way memory works it will have changed your memory of what happened quite a lot over time, if you remember at all. The same goes for any witnesses.

So how on earth can this be fixed? Well, I suggest a simple time limit - perhaps 10 years (or 10 years after the victim becomes an adult if that is longer). Even 10 years seems a long time for clear memories in what is almost always one person's word against another.

But don't shoot me down just yet - I am not trying to be insensitive. I am not in any way saying this as a way for perpetrators to get away with sexual assault, in fact quite the opposite.

Clearly, and this is where I am doing my armchair psychology, the victims in such cases feel they cannot come forward. As time goes on, there is nothing to change that view - no impetus to make them come forward, except perhaps when something is in the news, even relating to the same perpetrator. Without that impetus the victim has to live with this memory forever and the constant "should I say something?" feeling and dread.

If, however, there is a time limit, there is am impetus. There is a deadline, and that could encourage people to finally come forward, even if right on the time limit. If they choose not to, then they at least no longer have the "should I say something?" feeling as they chose not to in the time they had, so it is "settled", mentally. Maybe they can move on?

But it could mean that perpetrators get dealt with sooner as well. Instead of justice coming to them 40 years later it is only 10. Indeed, maybe it should be shorter like 5 years?

This would have the other side effect of stopping these crazy made up claims from decades ago, and also make it slightly easier for the poor investigators that are trying to unravel such cases. 10 years is a long time for memories to be clear, but when you start talking 40 years, it must be impossible for anyone to prove anything. One really long time scales you even run the risk that possible witnesses are now dead! These accusations then go unresolved and can be extremely damaging for the accused who equally cannot prove they are innocent. You end up with trial by media in effect.

Is that a crazy idea?

25 comments:

  1. Nice one - Totally agree!
    Please fix the title - out not our... :-)

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  2. There are already time limits for legal cases. How do you put a time limit on an 'accusation'?

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    1. For criminal cases, the principle of "nullum tempus occurrit regi" applies: there is no time limit on the actions of the crown.

      There is an exception to this for certain historic activity between some teenagers, but generally crimes can be prosecuted at any time.

      (This can be contrasted with the time limits for civil actions, which definitely do exist.)

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    2. There are definitely time limits on many criminal prosecutions in the US.

      http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-law-basics/time-limits-for-charges-state-criminal-statutes-of-limitations.html

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    3. And I think - but I’m not sure - that there are in some European countries too. We may be an outlier in having no statute of limitations for many criminal offences.

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    4. Personally, I feel it's unjust to have no limit at all for lesser crimes; could you really mount an effective enough defence years later to believe the trial was fair?

      There are good reasons for civil cases having time limits - we should apply the same for less severe criminal ones, IMO.

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  3. Quite a rational argument but, the problem is that the reason that people don't come forwards is because of fear and shame, which are both irrational.

    There's the fear of not being believed, having to relive the experience countless times through testimonies and trials, what it puts those near to you through, how everyone will view you and treat you when the story becomes public, and countless other things. The reason there's a "bandwagon" is that these things are diluted when others are going through the same process (especially with the same perpetrator). You only get 1/10th of the attention if you're one of ten people that are reporting someone. Our government's own stats on convictions a few years back state that out of 54,310 reported sexual offenses, there were 5,620 convictions.

    Also, if trial by media is the concern, putting a statute of limitations on reporting it isn't going to put an end to that. These recent stories didn't start because of a court case, they started because someone told their story. It's not going to put an end to made up claims/stories either, from people who are looking to sell their story. If anything, you could get more fake claims because they won't have the pressure of having to follow the story through with the police and the courts (because it will no longer be considered an offence).

    Rather interestingly, the rest of Europe seems to agree with you - http://www.theopinionsite.org/should-britain-have-a-statute-of-limitations-on-sex-crimes/

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  4. The thing is that many people DID complain at the time and were ignored/ridiculed.

    Just take a look at any Top of the Pops episode from the 70s - the presenters (all BBC Radio 1 DJs) had early teens clustered around them. By early teens I mean 13/14 and we all know what happened as many of those BBC employees are now (rightly) in jail.

    The girls/boys who did complain at the time were called liars and in many instances threatened with legal action. So not only did many of them get raped by celebs, they got told they'd get into trouble if they continued their (justified) accusations.

    You're so far off the mark with this blog post it almost beggars belief.

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    1. I understand all of that apart from the last line - suggesting a time limit does not change anything of what you said as far as I can see, so I don't understand why I am off the mark. I even suggested such a limit should be longer where the victim was a minor for just such cases.

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    2. The timescale for BBC (protected) child rapists is over 50 years - and isn't false/fake in any way. They wouldn't have been believed until Saville some 30-40 years later.

      You suggest a time limit of 5-10 years. That's so ludicrous it beggars belief.

      Clear enough Adrian?

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    3. Nope, not at all. If there had been a limit then quite possibly these would have all been caught 40 years earlier as someone may have said something rather than letting it “time out”.

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    4. I think the question has to be what you're basing that notion on. Conviction rates are so low that unless you have either irrefutable evidence or enough reputable victims you'll just get dismissed. They may not have been got 40 years earlier, which means they could pretty much have been lauding it in front of their victims for the past 30 years

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    5. My last point on this now I think (as making it personal is simultaneously the best and worst things you can do in this scenarios) but what if this was in your own family? What if one of your kids/grandkids came to you a week after the period was up, and said that they were too scared to say anything before but now they really regret leaving it too late? The offender lives in the same village as you, maybe they're a teacher or some form of authority figure. You can't pursue it, raising it in any form of media is wrong (possibly libellous), and you somehow have to support your family while at the same time turning a blind eye to what could be happening. Who knows... maybe you'll all be able to "move on"

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    6. Well this is certainly sparking debate. I am not sure trying to make a personal example is the best way to discuss things rationally though.

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    7. True, but it's more to prove a point. I'd be more in favour of proposing a different controversial approach, which is punishment for false allegations. Something along the lines of for every case where someone is determined to be "not guilty" (whether this is at the police level or all the way to the courts), the same level is scrutiny is applied to the accuser and if they're found to be fabricating the story then a punishment doled out. Basically enforcing the rules on false reporting of a crime / perverting the course of justice. That would hopefully reduce the number of scammers without being detrimental to those with genuine issues

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    8. I do wonder sometimes about the interpretation of conviction rates. "Only 10% of reported crimes result in convictions" always seems to be interpreted as the the courts doing a terrible job and that we must ensure that more people are convicted in the future. I never see any suggestion that it may be the other way around (that maybe only 10% of accused people really are guilty, and that there is a serious problem of false reporting).

      I'm not saying that we actually have a big false reporting problem, but it has always struck me that complaints about conviction rates are always skewed towards trying to convict more people, without presenting any evidence that the courts are actually getting things wrong.

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    9. The main issue with courts is that a conviction can only be made when the jury believe "beyond reasonable doubt" that the defendant is guilty. In most cases it's going to be he said/she said, and obviously there's going to be hoax cases in there too. I suppose really the problem isn't the courts, or the process, it's that so many people out there find it acceptable for them to act in a way that hurts others!

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  5. Trial by public media is not justice. There should be only one course for a criminal accusation: you take it to the police.

    Some are saying these things give those supposedly affected "the courage to speak out". If you are not prepared to make a report to the police, too bad, sorry.

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  6. You wrote "how on earth can this be fixed?" I don't see any problem that needs fixing. An allegation is made. If there is direct or circumstantial evidence for or against and/or if the accused confesses then it can be dealt with.

    What about trial by media? That's human nature and the media knows it and whips it up. I know you like George Takei but I think he's an idiot who is part of this problem. He tweets things that he thinks people want to hear to score brownie points, including a few on abuse allegations which have come back to haunt him now the boot is on the other foot. It's the same human nature which treats things like Trump and Brexit as adversarial events. The ease with which news moves around the world now seems to have exacerbated this effect. It's become so fucking tedious but I guess we have the mainstream media we deserve.

    We have people like Louis CK apologising for consensual acts which took place 15 years ago. No matter, he's ruined. We have Michael Fallon apologising and losing his career for touching a knee despite the supposed victim categorically calling it a Westminster witch hunt and decrying the new trend of making women into victims.

    So yes I think it's a crazy idea. The problem isn't how old or new these are, it's that it's become fashionable to be a victim and tell everyone about it and the media is perfectly happy to sell us as much as we can lap up. Sadly this means that genuine cases of abuse, discrimination, etc, which could be dealt with based on evidence, are roped in and regurgitated out in the same grossly distorted form.

    You wrote "I really find it unbelievable that either party could accurately remember what happened 40 years ago". On the contrary, people who've been abused often can not only remember it in excruciating detail but carry it through their entire life. A combination of things can trigger someone to come forward. In my sister's case it was the death of the perp responsible, aged 95. His mere existence had some kind of hold over her for over 30 years. I'm still making sense of something that happened to me as a teen in the early 80s.

    The idea of imposing a time limit of 10 years is just wrong and you're acting as if you're coding the back end for a bloody gift card balance. You might get some people coming forward when they wouldn't have because the time is expiring, but offset that against those finding the courage to come forward with others only to find they're over the arbitrary 10 year limit and so need to shut up and carry it to the grave. Ask yourself why we're seeing so many reports now from so long ago. Either they're real, in which case that makes the point on the absurdity of a 10 year limit, or else they're jumping on the bandwagon as fashion victims, in which case the timescale is not relevant.

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    1. As I said, this is clearly sparking debate, but do you really think it better that people only come forward after the death of the perpetrator?

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    2. Fuck me, what a loaded question. People manage their personal situations in many different ways. They don't "only come forward after the death of the perpetrator". What does "better" mean? Revenge? Justice? Drawing a line under something? Being able to talk about it? That's for the individual to work out, perhaps after a few decades. And better for whom? The individual? The perp? Society? Your sense of order in the universe?

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    3. Your highlighted a case where that happened, that was all.

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    4. Sure, but you appeared to be generalising with "people". In her case I explained why. As to the rest, again I have no idea what you mean by better or for whom.

      I'm honestly not seeing any age-related problem here which needs any solution such as a 10-year cutoff. The only issue I see is the one I detailed in the original reply regarding victim culture doing an injustice to real cases.

      Here is Julia Hartley-Brewer's article.

      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DNyLNGeWkAAs4yW.jpg

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    5. Surely the purpose of trying to get someone convicted is to punish them. The purposes that spring to mind for punishing them are:
      * Vengence
      * Correcting their behavior to protect other would be victims
      * Deterring other would be criminals

      I don't think vengence is of benefit to society, so the criminal justice system should not be designed to support that (although I admit it may always be a side effect of whatever punishment the justice system hands out for the other reasons).

      So looking at the other points:

      Correction - you can't correct someone's behavior after they are dead.

      Deterring - convicting someone sets an example to other people: "if you do this crime, this could happen to you". Am I really going to be deterred from doing a crime if the only concern I have is that I might be convicted after I'm dead? Probably not.

      So I argue that there is absolutely no point in convicting someone after they are dead, and doing do is a pure waste of time and money that could be spent convicting criminals in situations where the conviction will actually do some good.

      The only exception I can think of is that, in trying to convict someone after they have died, you may come across other people who were also involved that are still alive. There is some merit in holding them to account for their actions.

      And whilst I agree that the accuser may well remember what happened 40 years down the line, the accused and any witnesses almost certainly don't, and I don't see how you can have a fair trial if only the accuser can remember.

      However, I don't think a statute of limitations helps, since the main problem the people who are accused have is their name being dragged through the mud by the media, and that would happen whether or not they are still legally liable, or even whether or not they are actually guilty. I do think there should be some controls put on the media - if you want to accuse someone of a crime, go to the police; the media shouldn't be allowed to drag someone's name through the mud if a court hasn't found them guilty.

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  7. Years ago at school I was taught never to get yourself accused of anything sexual because the accuser was always believed, whether you did it or not. This was followed by advice about meeting in public places etc. to avoid false accusations (or true ones where you disagree what happened.. a possibility that scared the crap out of me at 13).

    Indeed this seems to be still true. George Takei for example has denied everything but most of the reporting I've seen has just assumed guilty until proven innocent (I've no idea either way, and would prefer to wait until the police have investigated. Same with all the others).

    So where did this idea that people won't be believed come from? It flys in the face of everything the media says and does on this issue. Clearly some people think that way otherwise they wouldn't wait so long.

    As to a reporting limitation.. I'm not sure it would change anything. Accusations happen a day later or 40 years later.. we still haven't fixed the problem of accurately determining what actually happened - you have one persons word against another and there is nothing no forensic marker for 'consent' so we end up with a the current system where nobody really trusts the results. The media should be kept out of it though.. they are the worst people to be deciding guilt.

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