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Rape shield laws need to change

The public should have never known about rape allegations against Jameis Winston. The same rape shield laws* that help maintain the anonymity of alleged victims, should keep the identity of alleged perpetrators hidden as well. Both parties should be shielded from public scrutiny until after a trial has played out, at the very least.

Attorney Willie Meggs is pictured at a press conference in Tallahassee, Florida on December 7, 2013.
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

On the afternoon of December 5, 2013, Tallahassee-area State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that no charges would be filed in a one year old case that identified Winston as the perpetrator in a rape accusation.The public must know that charges are not convictions. Further, prosecuting or not prosecuting a case is about available evidence, not guilt or innocence. Meggs's press conference was almost one year to the date that the incident occurred.

From this announcement, which leaked on social media almost an hour before Meggs's press conference, scores of people took to the airwaves to defend Winston while simultaneously trashing the accuser. Marc James, a radio personality on Charlotte's WFNZ sports radio station, repeatedly compared this incident to that of Duke Lacrosse and Brian Banks.

The incident involved several underage Florida State University students allegedly drinking at a local bar called Potbelly's where they arrived between 11:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on the night of December 6, 2012. The alleged victim in the incident report presented to authorities between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. the morning of December 7, 2012.

The accuser alleged that she had been raped. The investigative report, including DNA test results and police records, can be read here. The accuser's given perspective of what occurred was contradicted by two other male students present at the time.

Rumors that the accuser had sexual encounters with multiple men in this incident are untrue. Only one person's DNA was found in the accuser's underwear, and other DNA found on her pink shorts, was deemed to be from a prior unrelated encounter. The details of the incident are murky to say the least. The implications, in and of themselves, are detrimental.

Undoubtedly, accusations of rape and sexual assault bring with them a stain that both the accused and the accuser can not wash away. Imagine someone covered in feces and blood hugging you tightly and not letting go. You cannot rid yourself mentally of the stench, and the stain will forever cling to you. The stain is everlasting.

Rape shield laws do not shield the identity of those who are accused of assaults. If you identify the accused, it is very easy to find the identity of the accuser. When the public is included in matters of rape, it becomes too easy for uninformed people to further destroy the parties, who may or may not be innocent victims. Why does society place both parties up for public examination before a trial ever takes place? What public good does it serve?

For example, radio personality James went into a diatribe about how women, specifically the accuser, see an athlete of Winston's caliber and go after him with hidden agendas. James was convinced that by charges not being brought, it meant that the accusations were all made up and the accuser was a liar trying to take down the Heisman candidate. That Winston, like Banks and the Duke Lacrosse players, was wrongfully accused and this proves it.

James expressed no specific information as to prosecution laws, standards, or burdens of proof in Florida. When a prosecutor brings forth a case, it is based on available evidence and veracity of proof, not on his or her belief in a crime being committed nor the actual commission or non commission of said crime. James expressed little knowledge of specific information surrounding the case. However, he spread his misinformation to a large group of people through the airwaves.

Placing any names in public, on a case as intimately damaging as rape, serves no purpose. Some people will always see an accuser as a liar and an accused as a perpetrator. Therefore, rape and sexual assault cases will remain the most difficult to prosecute. Conjecture and speculation are diminished when biases are not tied to the parties involved. It makes for a better opportunity to have a fair and impartial examination of the facts and administration of justice.

*Editors note. Rape shield laws in and of themselves do not explicitly prohibit journalists from revealing the identity of alleged rape victims. In many states rape shield laws that once included prohibitions on media revealing names of alleged victims have been struck down as unconstitutional. However, media outlets continue to abide by maintaining the anonymity of alleged rape victims as a courtesy.

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