When is the truth a lie?

December 1, 2008

[I wrote this at the beg. of Nov. and forgot to post it; there have been two additional verdicts to the ones I discuss since then. I haven’t followed up on this case either.]

Well, if you are a woman in Jamaica who has been raped, who is accusing a policeman of being the rapist, then you had better not ever had told a lie in your life before you were raped. Otherwise, you are disqualified from ever being believed about anything, especially in a court of law.

At least, that was the conclusion that I drew after reading the Gleaner’s account of the verdict of the trial of Newton Bentley, a 48-year old man who, when he was 44 years old, sexually assaulted a 12 year old girl.

As usual, the unattributed article did not provide nearly the kind of detail and analysis of the trial as it needed to. However, it certainly led readers to believe that the 7-person verdict [how many men? women? ages?] were swayed by the argument that since the now-16 years old girl had told lies in her past, she was clearly lying when she claimed Newton is the rapist. The report didn’t say what kind of lies, what magnitude, what context, nothing about the nature of the lies that Dwight Reece seemed to find it important to remind the jury about, in order to convince them that the young girl lied about what had happened to her.

The report didn’t say a word about whether the prosecution bothered to ask Newton whether he had ever told a lie – comparable in scale, magnitude etc. to the young girl’s – and asked the jury to consider whether it should believe him now when he claims to be innocent.

Apparently, the small, inconsequential problem of Newton, in his eminent innocence, abducting the young girl to prevent her from testifying against him, was not sufficient for the jury to rule against him. I wonder what else he could have done and still be allowed to walk away as if he is innocent?

All kind of hell should break loose about this, but it probably won’t.  Just think: For the past several months, we have been bludgeoned with account after account of women and girls being assaulted, raped, murdered, and kidnapped. We have been inundated of all the ways in which the police have been behaving in the most vile, abusive manners, as if they are above the law, including participating on those very acts of sexual violence against women and girls.  And so, the jury, in its infinite wisdom, probably thinks that it should save the reputation of our police and not sacrifice this one.  I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was indeed part of their justification for the verdict.

I do know that this verdict shows that once again, no girl or woman can have any confidence in the formal court of laws.  And I am also fairly sure that this practice of dismissing women’s testimony is a systemic form of discrimination.  We need more organized efforts if anything is ever going to change: a Court Watch; a system for monitoring, coaching and supporting those who are called as witnesses against themselves, as well as a way to influence lawyers to try these cases properly.  Where are the lawyers who are standing up for women and girls?  Who is doing this work?