HONIG: Melania Trump’s destructive message to sex crime victims


United States First Lady, Melania Trump during her Africa tour.
United States First Lady, Melania Trump during her Africa tour.

In Summary

  • Trump proclaimed that she "stand(s) with women," yet, in the next breath, opined that sex crime victims should not be believed unless they produce independent corroborating evidence for their allegations.
  • In fact, Trump badly misconstrues how sex crime cases and investigations actually work.
  • At the same time, she sends a dangerous message that threatens to discourage sex crime victims from coming forward to hold their attackers accountable.

In an interview with ABC News, first lady Melania Trump said that victims of sexual assault “need to have really hard evidence” before coming forward.

She added, “I do stand with women, but we need to show the evidence. You cannot just say to somebody, ‘I was sexually assaulted’ or ‘you did that to me’ because sometimes the media goes too far. …”

The hypocrisy is jarring. Trump proclaimed that she “stand(s) with women,” yet, in the next breath, opined that sex crime victims should not be believed unless they produce independent corroborating evidence for their allegations.

In fact, Trump badly misconstrues how sex crime cases and investigations actually work.

At the same time, she sends a dangerous message that threatens to discourage sex crime victims from coming forward to hold their attackers accountable.

Trump’s statement is problematic because it distorts the law. Simply put, testimony is evidence. A core purpose of any trial is to elicit testimony and to enable the jury to evaluate the credibility of the witness.

By her words, Trump promoted a problematic misconception that witness testimony — particularly if that witness is a victim of a sex assault — should not be believed, or should not be believed enough to visit consequences on the accused.

To the contrary, the law places great weight on the testimony of a witness, even if that witness stands alone.

Judges commonly instruct juries that even the testimony of one witness, if credited, can be enough to convict a defendant in a criminal trial beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of proof known to our legal system — and that’s even in the absence of other corroborating evidence.

Trump’s comments also are wrong from an investigative perspective.

Law enforcement officers, and the public generally, do not expect victims of other types of crime to hunt for and obtain independent evidence.

We do not expect robbery victims to dust for fingerprints, or fraud victims to track down bank records or hacking victims to run computer forensics.

Why should it be any different for sex crime victims?

The full articled by Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor and currently a Rutgers University scholar, are on CNN. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

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