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VAWA casts a long shadow over the Duke fiasco

By Carey Roberts
web posted April 30, 2007

Was prosecutor Michael Nifong simply an over-rated ambulance chaser who rose to his level of incompetence? Was he a scheming opportunist who needed to boost his flagging re-election chances? Or did his dogged prosecution of the Duke Three reflect a deeper, more systemic problem in our criminal justice system?

Here's the dirty little secret of D.A.s who prosecute sexual assault and domestic violence cases: many of the claims they pursue are as flaky as a pie crust and their chances of winning a jury conviction are slim. So why do they bother to go after the case?

Because – get ready for this -- they believe "we are encouraging abused women to come forward and confront their oppressors."

So according to that neo-Marxist logic, if we want to get really tough on say, bank robbers, what we need to do is randomly accuse innocent persons of burglary and then parade them through the streets, denouncing them for a crime they did not commit.

Of course, rape is a terrible crime. Equally terrible are false allegations of rape.

According to Linda Fairstein, former head of the New York County District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit, "There are about 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan. Of these, about half simply did not happen."

But sadly, many innocent men have been wrongfully put behind bars. Just last week Jerry Miller of Chicago was exonerated after serving 24 years for a rape he didn't commit. His release helped inspire a national campaign dubbed "200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted," an effort designed to spur state reforms of the criminal justice system.

Many persons have heard of the Violence Against Women Act -- VAWA for short. But most are unaware of the extent to which VAWA-mandated programs have biased our judiciary and chipped away at the presumption of innocent until proven guilty.

VAWA's tentacles reach deep and wide, reshaping our nation's laws on immigration, welfare, and public housing. The Act defines domestic violence broadly, so sexual assault and rape fall within its purview. VAWA authorizes $50 million each year for its Sexual Assault Services Program, which contributed to the Duke fiasco in many ways.

First, VAWA pays the legal bills of alleged victims of sexual assault. Want to guess how much money goes to help men accused of rape? Nada.

That sets the stage for a prosecutorial shake-down that works like this: Find a guy who can't afford a million-dollar legal defense team. Smear his good name with an accusation of rape. Then settle for a plea bargain conviction on a lesser count of sexual assault. The attorneys get their money and the D.A. can add another notch to his (or her) belt.

Second, did you wonder why Michael Nifong never required accuser Crystal Gail Mangum to take a polygraph test? Simple: the Violence Against Women Act prohibits it. Section 2013 states, "no law enforcement officer, prosecuting officer, or other government official shall ask or require an adult, youth, or child victim of an alleged sex offense … to submit to a polygraph examination or other truth telling device."

Third, VAWA funds training programs for prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement personnel. To say the content of these programs lacks a scientific basis is generous.

This past November the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence sponsored a conference. First one of the speakers made light of a Florida incident in which a young man was sexually assaulted by a female teacher. The presenter then turned around and used the terms "scum bag" and "douche bag" to refer to men accused of abuse.

At an earlier New Jersey training session, one presenter openly encouraged judges to ignore due process protections: "Your job is not to become concerned about all the constitutional rights of the man that you're violating as you grant a restraining order. Throw him out on the street, give him the clothes on his back, and tell him, ‘See ya' around.'"

Fourth, VAWA's overly-aggressive prosecution measures have been found to be flatly ineffective in stopping abuse. Still, these measures have instilled a legal of climate of "every man is a potential rapist" – ignoring the equally ridiculous corollary that "every woman is a potential false accuser."

Fifth, VAWA's unstated belief that women can only be victims dissuades prosecutors from going after false accusers. As Massachusetts district attorney David Angier once argued, "If anyone is prosecuted for filing a false report, then victims of real attacks will be less likely to report them."

And failing to prosecute women who make malicious accusations only means that men will continue to be falsely accused, charged, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and jailed. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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