Café Society, the new Woody Allen movie, has come out. It is apparently “an amusing little picture”. I’ve not seen many of his movies, but I really enjoyed Match Point.
These days when I see some publicity for an Allen movie I am always reminded not of his undeniable skills as a movie maker, but the fact that according to his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow he sexually assaulted her when she was a child. These allegations surfaced two years ago, were hardly mentioned in the media on this side of the Atlantic and subsequently disappeared from the public gaze completely. But even at the time they were making the rounds in the media I was struck by how many Hollywood movie stars came out to defend him. As if they knew whether the allegations were accurate or not. To get past this problem time and again attention was drawn to the fact that Mr Allen has never been convicted of anything. Which to my mind was and continues to be irrelevant. And if I may be forgiven a smidgen of professional superiority, it shows to me that people who use it do not understand how the criminal justice system works.
There is a difference between the standard of proof that is required in civil and criminal cases. A civil matter needs to be proven “on the balance of probabilities”. If an event on the evidence is more likely to have happened than not, then the court will find it to have happened. In criminal matters the standard is MUCH higher: it must be proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. In other words, even if the court were to think, hypothetically, that it is more likely than not that a certain Mr Allen sexually assaulted a certain Ms Farrow, it would still render a verdict of not guilty, unless it was almost certain that this had occurred.*
Sexual offences pose particular problems within the criminal justice system. Most rapes occur between two parties that know each other, and the victims rarely put up a significant physical fight (see for example here and here for some more details). This leads to the difficult scenario that the only evidence available is the testimony of the victim and the rapist. In most cases this means that the rapist simply has to be acquitted, even if the court finds the victim’s testimony more credible than the denial of the rapist. This is unfortunately the way it has to be, because of the grave consequences that attach to a criminal conviction.
This does not mean that the victim is lying and the rape did not occur. It is for each of us to determine who and what we believe in any given scenario. Given the obstacles faced by victims in reporting rape, and how little they have to gain by doing so, (see here for an example of police attitude to rape victims coming forward,) I am always inclined to believe a person who says she (or he) has been raped. I would encourage you to question your reasons if you do not do the same.
As a practical matter, rape victims are unlikely to be interested in my belief in their word, unless they happen to be personal friends, in which case I understand that it matters a great deal. But this has consequences for the society: there should be an absolute division between the criminal justice system and the assistance and support that is available for victims of sexual assault. Victims should ALWAYS be believed when they say they have been raped and they should be cared for and assisted accordingly entirely irrespective of whether anyone has been convicted or even accused of the rape.
This simple principle explains why I am so royally upset by the recent case in Germany where Gina-Lisa Lohfink was convicted of falsely accusing two men of drugging and raping her in circumstances that are unclear. I understand and accept that the accused gentlemen could not have been convicted as the evidence was not sufficient. But to convict her (and remember here the very high standard that is required for a criminal conviction) is – to use a technical term – FUCKED UP. It sends a frightening message, does untold damage to future victims of rape and sexual assault in Germany and makes me very, very sad.
* This is also the simple explanation for the different results in the OJ Simpson civil and criminal trials. It was more likely than not that he committed the murders, which is why he lost the civil case, but it was not proven beyond reasonable doubt, which is why he was acquitted of the criminal charge.