The American legal system is founded on the principle that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. This was a novel idea at America’s founding and would be seen as a ridiculous concept in some parts of the world to this day.
We must not take “innocent until proven guilty” for granted. It is the bedrock of granting judicial fairness to the accused.
Unfortunately, “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t always apply to allegations made in the public sphere.
In the last month, we have been inundated with allegations of sexual assault and harassment across a variety of industries ranging from politics to television to the media. In many cases, the allegations are from decades ago, with prosecution for the alleged crimes being all but impossible. In many cases, people have lost their jobs over these allegations. Obviously, if the allegations are true, they deserve much worse than being fired. However, many of the allegations have no way of being confirmed or denied.
In these instances of unconformable allegations, public outcry decides whether or not a person accused will lose their job and face social ostracization. If the outcry is large enough, companies not willing to risk their profit margins will bow to consumer pressure and act. Furthermore, once someone is fired, the general public accepts this as confirmation of guilt.
As individuals in a society which has enshrined “innocent until proven” into our judicial system, we should be leery of rushing to judgment when confirming or denying the allegations becomes hard.
Clearly, monsters who perpetrate sexual assault and harassment are not the victims if the allegations are true. But if they haven’t committed the things alleged against them, America will have betrayed one of it’s most central values by assuming guilt.
The balance of taking action against legitimate monsters and being careful to not rush to judgment is a delicate balance, however, that balance is one which we must be mindful of as we seek to live out “innocent until proven guilty” in the realm of public opinion.