I’ll show my cards: I don’t think the presumption of guilt in cases of sexual assault or domestic violence is compatible with current efforts for social justice.
The presumption of innocence for a crime is considered an international human right by the UN, so your thinking is in line with the modern, enlightened, consensus opinion with your opinion. I agree. The presumption of guilt carries too many problems to allow it to be de facto in any type of criminal case against a person, as it can be easily turned into a tool of oppression.
That said, I think it is also a straw man to argue against the presumption of guilt, when what we’re talking about is the public perception of the likelihood of guilt. If we step back and look at the hard numbers on the subject, we find that the percentage of rape accusations that are false ranges between 2% and 10%, depending on the metrics used to assess them and the jurisdictions in question. This means that if you take a random rape accusation from recent history, it is about 94% likely to be real. Yet rape accusations do not lead to a 94% conviction rate. Given those statistics, it also brings up questions of intersectionality regarding some of your assertions:
To begin with, we know for a fact that public perception of guilt or innocence influences our criminal courts. The idea that there is some high and hard wall between public perception and what happens in trials is simply naive. Racial inequality in criminal justice certainly reflects racist attitudes in the public writ large. And you only need to look at prominent cases to see the way that public convictions influence criminal proceedings.Cases like the Central Park jogger or the Satanic ritual abuse panic are unambiguous examples of how public belief in guilt leads to deeply unjust outcomes in criminal law. In both cases, with the passage of time we’ve come to see them as an obvious and terrible miscarriage of justice, and in both cases, public outcry undoubtedly helped lead to unjust convictions for sex crimes. The idea that a social presumption of guilt won’t influence legal proceedings simply does not bear scrutiny.
It’s interesting that public perception is cited as a relevant phenomenon, but what about the public perception in the Stanford Rape Case just this year? What you have identified as public perception of guilt or innocence influencing what happens in trials may matter less than the heteronormative, Christian, white male interpretation of guilt or innocence in these cases, the very same narrative that the patriarchy sells us. If you polled white men and black women about their perception of Anita Hill, Nate Parker, Monica Lewinsky, Brock Turner, or Kelly Dodson, would you expect to find the same perceptions about who is telling the truth, who is lying, or what justice should look like?
If you want to talk about justice reform, you cannot forget the presence of the word justice. What does justice look like for these victims? It does not look like a world where 94% of rape accusations are true, but only about 25% of reported rapes result in an arrest, and only 25% of those result in a felony conviction. For the attackers who do go to prison, yes, the prison system is a colossal failure. Nobody is going to dispute that. But, again, what should justice look like for the victims?
I think the merit of the argument that Nate Parker should not get a pass just because he got an acquittal is valid in light of the aforementioned statistics. It is clear the justice system does not deliver justice in rape cases, and any reform should probably start with the process there, so that victims are better protected.
The reform you’re asking for is valid, too. People should have a chance at redemption. People should not have to endure inhuman prison conditions. But, the road to redemption needs to start with acknowledgement and contrition, and even that small first step toward justice perpetually eludes the victims of rape.