The debate still rages on after the #RememberKwezi silent protest recently. Many still feel an acquittal should not absolve an accused of being rapist as they cite the failure of our judicial system to effective prosecute rape cases. Notwithstanding the merit of such views, is it fair that when a man is accused of rape, he is branded a rapist even after acquittal?
I post this following the recent story that is coming out of the US in tandem with our president's rape case drama. Nate Parker’s critically acclaimed film ‘Birth of a Nation’ is garnering him some major buzz but an incident that happened in college may cloud his moment.
Back in 1999, Nate was charged with raping an 18-year-old woman. He and his roommate at the time, Jean McGianni Celestin, were charged with raping the woman after a night of drinking while attending Penn State University.
While Nate admits to having consensual sex with the woman on a previous occasion, and was suspended from the Penn State wrestling team, which subsequently led to his being transferred to another school in Oklahoma because of the allegations, he was acquitted of the charges in 2001.
His co-accused, Jean was found guilty of sexual assault. Jean appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case never made it back to court after the victim decided not to testify again.
Fast-forward to today, Jean is listed as Nate’s co-writer on Birth of a Nation and Variety, is reporting that Nate Parker's past could be a cloud that dampens his moment of glory.
“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker told Variety.
“It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is” — he took a long silence — “I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”
“My life will be examined and put under the microscope in ways that it never has,” Parker said, pointing to individuals on Twitter who criticized him for having a white wife.
“There are numerous things that are surfacing,” he said.
“But I’ve always been an open book. I’m an advocate of justice. I’m an older man. I’ve matured a lot. I’ve had many obstacles in my life. I grew up very poor. My father passed away. There are so many things that happened. At the same time, I am the man that I am. I am open to the scrutiny. I will never hide anything from my past.”
Parker, who brought his 6-year-old daughter to the Variety interview, reportedly declined to speak about the specifics of the case.
“Look at it through the context of 17 years,” he said.
“It was a very painful for everyone who went through it. What I learned through 17 years of growth and having children and having a wife and building a family is that we have to fight for what’s right. We have to lead in love.”
Granted, an acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean a person didn’t do anything wrong. However, it would be remise of anyone to ignore the fact that cases of innocent men being accused of rape are a reality.
With that, how then do we find a common ground where neither party is being victimised unfairly? What society are we building if we allow the presumption of guilty to be yoke that men carry regardless of having being exonerated by a court of law?
Again, I need to stress that an acquittal does not mean innocent. There could be many mitigating factors that could result with an acquittal.
This is not to protect rapists or advocate for leniency on rape cases. However, surely any reasonable person can find some pause to think when it comes to the rights of all being respected and protected. There are bad men in this world and there are bad women. That's the uncomfortable truth.
Men accused of rape and proven to have committed the crime should be held accountable. No debate on that. At the same time, we do not want to create a perception that all men are animals. If he is accused of doing it, he must have done it.
Of course President Zuma's case is totally different because his defense was just erroneous. There is cause for concern there so this is not about him — just to be clear. I am just opening up the conversation pertaining to circumstances where an acquittal exists and lives are being negatively affected.
In the context of black men having being branded beasts for centuries in such a way that there are now cases like the Susan Smith case where she lied about having being attacked by a black man when she was the one who killed her children — can we afford our men the courtesy of judicial process and accepting the results.
Nate Parker was 19 years old when he was charged. He is 36 now with a wife and a daughter. Does he still deserve to be judged on something he was acquitted for 17 years ago?
I will admit that his current association with Jean is questionable.