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Contact: Teri Stoddard
Telephone: 301-801-0608
Email: tstoddard@saveservices.org

Anti-Violence Law May Dash the Presumption of Innocence, SAVE Warns

WASHINGTON/ November 13, 2012 — In their zeal to stamp out sex crimes, proponents of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may be trying to overturn centuries of legal protections for the accused. The bills to reauthorize VAWA that are pending in Congress – S. 1925 and H.R. 4970 — would strip away the presumption of innocence in cases in which a sex crime was alleged, says Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE).

VAWA’s proposed definition of sexual assault shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, thus effectively removing the presumption of innocence. According to both the Senate and House bills, “sexual assault means any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal or State law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent.”

VAWA’s dramatic expansion of government power in cases of alleged sexual assault is just one of many. For example, several states have abolished the statute of limitations for sex crimes altogether. For decades, no one could be convicted of a sex crime solely on the word of the accuser, but now not a single state requires objective corroboration of her allegations. A man can go to prison on the accuser’s word alone.

In fact, many argue that rape and sexual assault have already become too easy for the state to prove. To date, the Innocence Project has freed 237 people from prison because they are innocent of the sex crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted.

SAVE applauds the efforts of lawmakers to crack down on sex crimes. Indeed, SAVE has been at the forefront of efforts to make domestic violence laws more effective and accord priority to victims of physical battering. But no law should remove the presumption of innocence in any criminal proceeding.

“Sexual assault and rape are terrible crimes that should be punished,” said SAVE spokesperson Steve Blake, “but not at the expense of constitutional guarantees of due process. Those accused of sex crimes must, like all persons accused of a crime, be presumed innocent until proven to be guilty. To do otherwise would run the risk of condemning innocent people.”

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a victim-advocacy organization working for evidence-based solutions to sexual assault and partner violence: www.saveservices.org