Monday, 24 March 2014

Allegations Against Minister Raise Dilemmas

Should Subject of Crime Allegations be Named? 
Update: Since the time I wrote this article (on the morning of 24th March), Silvan Shalom has been revealed to be the previously unnamed "important Minister", then subject to a gag-order. The various issues raised in this article about such gag-orders are still of interest.  

Allegations against an unnamed "important Minister" have generated debate in Israel.

The unnamed Government Minister is apparently the target of allegations of sexual misconduct, brought by the alleged victim, reportedly who was an employee of the Minister. These events are alleged to have taken place around 15 years ago.

This case has raised several issues:

1. Statute of Limitations - if the events took place 15 years ago, this would be beyond the statute of limitations, which in Israel is 10 years for such offenses. On the face of it - it's not an open-and-shut-case. It's simply shut.

Even if it is beyond the statute of limitations,  that itself has raised an issue as to whether the law needs to be changed. It is well documented that such offenses can take decades for victims to come forward. Some countries have very long, or even no time limitation for reporting certain types of sex offenses, for this very reason.

In Israel, there are already longer periods of time a victim of child abuse can come forward to report. For these offenses, the statute of limitations clock starts ticking when the victim reaches 18 and runs for a further 10 or 20 years, depending on the nature of the offense.

2. Naming Names - the unnamed "Important Minister" is protected by law from being named at this point in the inquiry.

It is eminently correct that people should not be publicly shamed on the basis of (potentially) scurrilous or vacuous allegations. Israeli law protects all citizens from such treatment, including Important Ministers.

The argument against such protection is that, potentially, the law increases the shame brought by such allegations, from one named suspect, to many totally innocent people who sound similar to the terse descriptions which are permitted for the press to use. For example, "A male teacher in his thirties from Beit Shemesh was arrested today on suspicion of XYZ" places all 30-something male teachers in Beit Shemesh on the public suspect list. Perhaps it would be better to specifically identify one, rather than implicate many?

In the case of the Important Minister, all other Important Ministers are now required to defend their reputations, perhaps to their staff, their families, to the press - "not me!"

3. Encouraging other victims to step forward - one of the reasons that the police may wish to publicize a specific case, is to encourage other victims to step forward. Even if a specific complaint would not be strong enough to withstand the judicial process, the police may have reason to believe that the suspect is a serial offender. Publicizing the allegation, can attract other victims to step forward, building a stronger case to bring a criminal to justice and protect the public.

This positive motive for publicizing a case, still needs to be balanced against damaging the reputation of the assumed-innocent suspect, and casting aspersions on those individuals who could be wrongly assumed to be the suspect.

These issues and genuine dilemmas become public discourse when VIPs are involved; however, the same issues are faced daily by the criminal justice system.

4 comments:

  1. Huh? What are you talking about? His name is all over the news...

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    1. Silvan Shalom has indeed now been named! However, before he was named, he was specifically Not Named, thus the article. I'll include an updated intro.

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    2. Not sure when you wrote the post exactly, but I remember reading Arutz Sheva's report, naming names, first thing in the morning. I just checked, and the time on the article is 8:04am. Whatever...

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    3. Silvan Shalom's name was officially released this afternoon. eg see: http://www.timesofisrael.com/silvan-salom-named-as-minister-in-sex-assault-allegations/ at 15:41 today.
      Perhaps Arutz 7 let it slip out earlier...

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