You would think leaders of Minnesotan congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s political party would understand the importance of highlighting aspects of gender-based harassment. But, for that matter, you would be wrong.
When actress Amber Ruffin posted a response to a verdict in Rittenhouse County Superior Court in Philadelphia over an alleged rape, which found two men not guilty, she noted the court had, in itself, “proven” the claims of a woman who had alleged rape, not the men accused of it.
On Friday, after Omar retweeted the clip, which includes the line: “What they’re saying about women in the jury room is b’ball!” she weighed in with the tweet, “Amber Ruffin says how she felt and she feels that. A man walking into an armed conflict with intentions to rape? Ya, it’s the same deal. It’s just gender-based.”
This is the plight of women everywhere in our modern society. The actions of jury members in all aspects of life have never improved.
Ruffin was not in the Philadelphia courtroom, though her co-defendants had testified and prosecutors had presented “overwhelming” evidence. A 2016 study by Ohio State University doctoral student Maria Maykova and experts from the University of New Mexico, University of Arizona, and the United States Department of Justice found jurors in civil trials who have been victimized themselves were overwhelmingly more likely to convict a victim of sexual assault. They also found women jurors are even more likely to convict than men (75% versus 58%). The task of resolving these claims falls upon entire communities of people, many of whom never met their accusers.
Dr Maykova’s work also found that, while younger jurors approach this task differently than older jurors, women consistently viewed sex abuse as a greater threat to themselves than to men (around 61% vs 52% for men), with younger jurors more likely to view all gender-based crime as an immediate threat to their own identity as a woman.
Without these social and political protections for women victims in the courtroom, the possibilities for women jurors cannot be understood. We have the frightening notion that a woman who is a perpetrator of sexual assault will always be blamed for the crime, while a man who sexually assaults a woman will have avoided any liability at all.
I’m not the only one who thought so. On Wednesday, hundreds of law professors and top lawyers at the American Bar Association released a letter expressing their “deep concern” over jury misconduct. More than two-thirds of these signers had actually served on a jury, according to the New York Times.
“The interaction of everyday social norms, stigma, and bias, not only impact the degree to which we think a given person has committed a crime, but the degree to which we agree with their motive and the reasonableness of their actions,” the letter states.
“When criminal cases have been adjudicated in this manner, most defendants have found themselves facing the ultimate injustice,” it continues.
When asked why the ABA hadn’t been more proactive in protesting the existing practice of jury misconduct, the organizers had explained that such methods would be “illegal,” though it is increasingly legal in certain circumstances, such as when defendants were “shot down with a gun” by police officers on live television.
Of course, Rittenhouse County is not the first place a women-on-jury “superimposition” has played out. It’s happening everywhere. In 2014, after a rape and extortion case against a number of members of the Baltimore City Police Department collapsed, one retired judge declared that it was “not productive” to be thinking about “our goal of equal justice” if all jurors were uniformly female.
On Friday, hundreds of American and international lawyers sent a letter to the Pennsylvania court of common pleas reiterating the harm that this practice could have on the justice system, its citizenry, and the well-being of women in general.
The grand jury empanelled to review crimes against women agreed, stating in its report that the effects of laws that preclude women from serving in juries “are bad for public safety.” The Philadelphia case, as a 2013 townhall debate indicated, echoes a too-common theme in a criminal justice system that for far too long has failed to protect women’s safety.