Is it any wonder that many men now say they’d rather be accused of murder than rape? Even after Columbia student Paul Nungesser was explicitly cleared of rape allegations, the campaign to ruin his life continued. His false accuser indeed became a fêted minor celebrity. Even after Cardinal George Pell was cleared by the highest court in the land, many in the media especially still refuse to concede the truth.

As a defence lawyer you learn fairly early on that mud sticks. Of all the cases you take on during the course of your career there are few, if any, where an eventual acquittal actually wipes the slate clean.

After all, there’s nothing the mainstream media love more than rolling in the mud and the blood. No matter how outlandish the accusation, once the media pack go into a feeding frenzy, they just can’t help themselves. Throw in a heapin’ helpin’ of mean-girl feminism and unscrupulous party politics and the accused is toast; rule of law be damned.

When a high-profile politician is anonymously accused of an alleged decades-old rape, it’s time for an old-fashioned media-political witch-hunt.

Now the nation is confronted by a clamour of calls for an unnamed federal cabinet minister to stand aside, thereby identifying himself, while an inquiry explores newly emerged allegations that he raped a woman more than 30 years ago. The trouble is the alleged victim died last year. There is almost no prospect of any criminal trial, let alone a fair one.

This is the barbed-wire fence Prime Minister Scott Morrison finds himself straddling. If he – properly – asserts the right to presumption of innocence of the accused, the screeching harpies in the media damn him for “covering up” a supposed “culture of abuse”. If he stands any minister aside, that man’s anonymity is blown and his career certainly ruined – regardless of what any actual court may determine.

In the public domain, the spectre of a past allegation – which never rose beyond that status – is never really exorcised. Of course, it depends on how notorious the matter becomes. Those involving a public figure usually become inexorable, irrespective of whether the allegation is never officially pursued or runs its race to a full exoneration.

The worst type of cases in this category are allegations of sexual assault, particularly ones said to have occurred long ago. This has always been the situation but in the “me too” era it has become far more pronounced. The usual legal requirement of innocent until proven guilty has subtly, but surely, become reversed. The allegation remains and festers until you disprove it.

And long after.

Which is exactly what the opposition parties and their media camp-followers want. The ABC aired the allegations in direct contravention of the express wishes of the family and friends of the accuser. Shrill political harpies like the Greens are stooping, shrieking with delight at the prospect of a government corpse to devour.

In this case, the federal cabinet minister confronts an allegation that, in all probability, was ultimately unlikely to go anywhere. Given the only possible outcome is a permanent, possibly terminal, destruction of his reputation, the authorities investigating the claim might be well advised to act very cautiously in naming him.

Any investigation can quite adequately be conducted with anonymity until it is assessed as having any concrete factual basis or any real prospect of substantiation. To do otherwise would be to ignore the cardinal legal concepts of the presumption of innocence and the burden and standard of proof.

It would also set a decidedly unfortunate political precedent and would manifestly not be in the national interest.

Sydney Morning Herald

It will almost certainly blow back viciously on those trying recklessly to make political capital out of it.

Indeed, the self-righteous chutzpah and hypocrisy of the opposition parties and the media would be astonishing, were it not so predictable.

After all, Labor went to the last election with a leader likewise accused of historical rape. The Greens have been the subject of a torrent of sexual abuse accusations.

But, as ever, fools and journalists rush in…

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Rolling in the Blood and Mud of a Political Feeding Frenzy

Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In last decade or...