Victim-Blaming and the Presumption of Innocence

A caveat: I am a strong believer in the necessity of the presumption of innocence. However, I have recently witnessed first-hand how in some cases, the presumption of innocence spurs a criminalization of the victim. This needs to stop.

As some of you know, I just got off jury duty for a several-weeks-long domestic violence case. The defendant was a white, middle-aged professional male. The victim was a Chinese woman who was married to another man, but had carried on a long term relationship with the defendant. She was not a 'good' victim. She was problematic, as pretty much every woman who isn't a nun would be (and I'm thinking nuns might not get a pass, either).

The defense's argument basically boiled down to: 1. Bitches be crazy. 2. Asian bitches be doubly crazy. 3. Women just have sex with men for their money, and 4. Women make false accusations of abuse and rape all the time.

I had to sit there for three days and watch defense tear this woman apart, cast her every life choice in the worst possible light, and basically do their best to prove that she was the 'sort' of woman who deserved what she got… and the sort of woman who would self-inflict strangulation wounds and make it all up to destroy a man's life, anyways.

It was horrific. It made me reconsider whether I would want to come forward as a victim and put myself through that hell if I was ever raped or assaulted (I would, but I recognize how it would in some ways be worse than any original assault or rape, to be dissected like that). This is how women and PoC victims are often treated. If the defendant is presumed innocent, well then, the victim must be the criminal.

The case I served on went on for much longer than the judge expected, and because of pre-existing travel plans, I was dismissed on the first day of deliberations. I had to sit through that whole trial, and I couldn't even stay to render my opinion.

The rest of the jury and my alternate acquitted the defendant on all major counts, and were hung on three reduced counts (8/4 split), despite what I felt was overwhelming forensic and expert witness evidence indicating his guilt. THAT is the power of sexist and racist narratives, and that is the horrible consequences of victim-blaming.

Watching the Trayvon Martin trial with my own experiences fresh in my mind, watching the line the defense attorney was spinning… I had little doubt the jury was going to acquit Zimmerman. The same recourse to prejudicial stereotypes made it seem eerily similar to the trial I'd just sat through.

Racism and sexism are alive and well in the United States. If you think differently, get your head out of the fucking ground.

11 thoughts on “Victim-Blaming and the Presumption of Innocence”

    1. Naturally. It is in the nature of Ninjas to make people’s mornings. And if it involves getting rid of pirates, so much the better.

      Ninjas — a full-service profession

  1. See my upcoming post on scurvy. I just spent an entire 2.5 hour class learning about the pathological effects of scurvy. Why anyone would want to get nookie from someone with scurvy is beyond me. Oh, and lots of things have more vitamin C than oranges — tomatoes, spinich, broccoli, potatoes, ninjas, gin gimlets (and they protect you from malaria, too!), etc.

  2. I’m going to have to compose my thoughts on this better and respond at a slightly later time, but I wanted to let you know that the toothandclaw link is wrong– it takes you to a one-entry journal somewhere else. *grins*

  3. My problem with the Sue Storm character in the FF movies is that they seem to be trying to add character by adding sex appeal which I think is problematic. I also disagree with the standard “Mom” Sue Storm from most F4 comics. But what I wish they did instead is draw on the material from Warren Ellis’ portrayal in Ultimate F4 and the Ultimate Galactus series or Mark Millar’s portrayal of Sue in the Civil War material. In both of these, Sue gets to be a supportive nurturing figure while still being assertive, a genius in her own right and (especially in Ellis’ case) the real leader of the Fantastic Four. Alba doesn’t seem to display any of these traits.
    One of the problems I see frequently in feminism is the problem of nurturing. Because the societal image of ‘woman’ is primarily nurturing rather than confronting(I recognize the false dichotomy here, but I’m using it for argument purposes) women who rebel are generally forced by society into one of two roles, that of the ultra-supportive womon or the ultra-assertive dyke/slut. the societal roles allowed feminists are incredibly limited. It’s madonna/whore for the 21st century. I want a Sue Storm who is as comfortable with her sexuality as her brains and is assertive. I find Jessica Alba to fall short of that. I think that someone more like say Christine Taylor could have done better with it.
    Though fundamentally, I agree with you fully. The objectification of people into symbols is something we as a species need to get past. I just think we’re not quite as far on the Sue Storm issue as you might think.

  4. Wow, that sounds absolutely ghastly.

    And despite the fact that in my recent post on the Zimmerman case, I focused on the difficulty of proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s very clear that a ton of racism (and sexism, for that matter, if you look at the way witness Rachel Jeantel was treated) at play in that case.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s