x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Found innocent, left damaged

Three men have been twice acquitted of charges that they sexually abused a young girl. Justice has been done in the courts, but the damage has been done to these men who have been tried in the court of public opinion.

Sometimes good news is good only in the sense that it could have been worse. That is true for the three Indian men who were accused of sexually assaulting a four-year-old girl on her school bus. As reported by The National today, they have been acquitted for the second time.

That's the good news.

But after months of being tried in the court of public opinion, the three men could easily be forgiven for failing to see anything good about the experience. Accused of such a repugnant crime, they became targets in the media without being given the chance to defend themselves.

There were reasons to be sceptical from the beginning but, more importantly, neither the media nor the public are fully informed or qualified to rule on guilt or innocence in a criminal case. When a child is involved in a crime, it is human nature to have a strong emotional reaction, to demand action, to insist that someone will pay. This case shows why caution - and the presumption of innocent until proven guilty - needs to check that response.

While the men's names were not published, their identity is widely known to many people in their communities. The acquittal will not erase the damage that has been done to these men. They have been found innocent, and at the least they are owed an apology.