Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In The Courtroom

Whatever my or anyone else's opinion of the relative merits of the work of American filmmaker Woody Allen and Filipino comedian Vhong Navarro may be, however, the fact remains that both men have recently been accused of sexual assault. Navarro has been accused by a woman with whom he apparently had a romantic tryst, one which ended with him getting beaten to within an inch of his life by the woman's apparent lover and his friends, and Allen has been accused by a woman who, at the time of the incident, actually recognized him as her father.

The similarity between the two ends there.

Allen's case, if historical reports are to be believed, is a regrettable example of the American justice system failing a victim of child sexual abuse. When the alleged sexual abuse occurred in the 1990s, the victim, then-seven-year-old Dylan Farrow immediately confided in her mother and Allen's lover at the time, Mia Farrow, who went to the extent of capturing her statement on video and attempting to file charges.   Nothing came of those charges, however, because the prosecutor assisting them apparently decided not to push through with the case.  To put it differently, Dylan Farrow never got her day in court, and neither, for that matter, did Allen.  With the statute of limitations long having lapsed on any possible criminal case against Allen, Farrow has no other recourse but to discuss her supposed ordeal, which she did in an open letter which was recently published.

In contrast, the controversy involving Navarro has already been brought to the appropriate venue, with Navarro suing the alleged victim, Deniece Cornejo and the men who beat him up, and Cornejo having sued him for rape. Since then, both parties have been widely exposed in the media, conspicuously trying to sell to the public the merits of their claims and quite shamelessly attempting to have this case tried in the court of public opinion. I was particularly irked by Cornejo's appearance on a talk show, tears on display, discussing her grievance instead of letting her lawyer handle everything by taking the matter where it firmly belongs: the justice system. Navarro's camp has been a bit more proactive on the legal front, having filed criminal complaints on his behalf against his supposed aggressors, but the attempts to influence public opinion on this case in his favor are still patent, judging by the grossly disproportionate airtime and bandwidth that have been devoted by his home network (and other networks, as a result) to this story. These efforts appear to be at least partially successful as one online survey has most respondents believing Navarro's version of the events, as if the parties' guilt or innocence is decided on the internet.

Dylan Farrow was unable to obtain relief from her country's justice system, and so she did the only thing she could. Conversely, Allen, who has not been and is not being tried in a court of law, can only respond in the same way in which he is being accused, through media and attempts to influence public perception.

Cornejo and Navarro have the benefit of a trial system now working for them, not to mention an assemblage of lawyers ready to do their bidding. Why they would choose the tri-media and social media as their battleground, considering that neither of these can put anyone in jail or adjudge anyone liable to pay financial compensation? I would hazard a guess that it is because in a court of law they would have to face the whole ugly truth, not all of which may be to either party's liking.   And so they give their own airbrushed accounts of what happened to the public.

 The problem with attempting to try a criminal case outside a courtroom is that it can result in utter disaster for the actual court case. One need only refer to the infamous Vizconde massacre, which resulted in the incarceration of Hubert Webb and several of his friends for over a decade and a half, their eventual acquittal, and an ultimately unsolved multiple murder. That case, which involved a truly grisly crime and not some sordid he-said-she-said affair, was one of the most highly publicized in the last twenty five years or so, but one thing I distinctly remember about the reports that circulated in the media in the 1990s was the general sentiment they pushed and eventually generated that Hubert Webb was as guilty as sin. Apparently, the prosecutors and investigators handling the case believed in Webb's guilt beyond reasonable doubt as well, so much so that they didn't bother to build an airtight case against him, instead relying almost solely on the testimony of a "star witness" who turned out to be a drug-addled dud.  The worst part of it was that nobody won that case, least of all lady justice. If Webb and his cohorts had, indeed, committed the crime with which they were charged, they should still be in jail right now. If they had not, they should not have spent a moment in jail, let alone fifteen years, which they will never get back. Either way, the perpetrators of the massacre, are free as birds even after the mass media had conditioned most people's minds that the perpetrators had been caught, tried and convicted. 

If the people involved in this case really want justice, they should keep whatever it is they have to say where it belongs: in court.

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