Monday, June 26, 2006
The following appeared in The Chicago Tribune…
R. Kelly judge should rethink sex tape ruling
By Dawn Turner Trice
Earlier this month Vincent Gaughan, the Cook County Criminal Court judge presiding over R&B superstar R. Kelly’s child pornography trial, ruled that a videotape that appears to show Kelly engaging in sex acts with a 14-year-old girl could be shown in open court during the trial.
Does this ruling bother you?
I think it should because showing the tape would mean everybody in the courtroom would see a child in her most embarrassing, degrading and humiliating moment. For justice to be served, only the judge and jury needs to see this tape.
While I find the ruling enraging, what ticks me off more is that I haven’t heard much of a stir about this from victims rights advocates or others who profess to believe that it’s important to protect the identity and the rights of victims of child pornography and rape.
I haven’t seen the video. Don’t want to see it. But, like many of you, I’m well aware that it depicts a child engaging in sex acts so explicit and lewd that apparently it's difficult to think of her as a victim or a sympathetic figure.
Without a doubt she’s both. By law, no matter how minors behave, they cannot legally consent to sex. (It’s still mind-boggling to me that Kelly has not been charged with rape. He says he’s not guilty of the child porn charges.)
Perhaps I’ve missed the furor over Gaughan’s ruling.
I certainly didn’t miss the one that erupted earlier this year after Cook County Circuit Judge Kerry Kennedy threatened to jail a young Naperville woman during a rape trial. She had refused to watch herself in a 2002 video that showed the then-16-year-old semiconscious and having sex with the defendant and another young man in a Burr Ridge home.
Before Kennedy figured out that jailing this young woman was a nutty move, victims rights groups and the media pounced. And rightfully so.
Victims rights advocates said it wasn’t fair to jail her for not wanting to relive one of the most traumatic moments of her life.
They said it could have a chilling effect on rape victims contemplating whether to bring their abusers to justice. The defendant in this case eventually was found not guilty of sexual assault and child pornography charges.
Although no two cases are exactly alike, what links these cases is the casual, if not reckless, disregard on the parts of the judges.
Legal experts say Gaughan’s ruling was highly unusual because he ruled over the objections of both the prosecution and the defense.
“The reason to file the motion to allow only the judge, jury and the press to view the tape was to protect [the victim],” Assistant Cook County State’s Atty. Shauna Boliker told me.
Gaughan apparently doesn't believe the victim--now 21--deserves such protection. He said that he understands that allowing the video to be viewed in open court might mean people would be watching child pornography. But, he said, the tape is the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case against Kelly and making it secret might undermine the public’s confidence in the jury’s verdict.
Nevermind what the prosecution itself wants. Nevermind that we’ve seen countless rape cases in which only the jury and judge have been allowed to view evidence and these cases weren’t compromised.
I asked Sean Black, spokesman for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, why his organization hasn’t been rallying against this ruling as it did in the Burr Ridge case. He said the coalition simply didn’t know about it.
He called the ruling disappointing and disturbing and said the group now plans to keep an eye on the case and do more research. I sincerely hope so. I also hope the prosecution fights harder to get this ruling reversed.
You may believe that because the video has been floating around the Internet, Gaughan’s ruling isn’t such a big deal. I wholeheartedly disagree. It’s one thing to view child porn on some trashy Internet site (and in doing so, subject yourself to possible prosecution). It’s quite another to have it sanctioned in a court of law.
The postponed R. Kelly trial is going to be a circus when it gets under way. This ruling will make it even more so.
I find no legitimate reason for allowing everyone in the courtroom to view this video. It sets a bad precedent. It re-victimizes the victim in a way that may not be illegal but feels just as criminal.