I understand the sentiment here. Being the victim of sexual assault would be bad enough, but having people dismiss your story as a lie would be all the more traumatizing. I really do get that.
But it's a little unsettling to see Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois's top law-enforcement official, making the statement she did on a matter of criminal law. For every victim of sexual assault, there's also an alleged perpetrator. To make the blanket statement that we should "believe" the victim's account (although that account is usually true, no doubt), is virtually the same as saying we should "believe" that the accused is guilty of the offense.
But if we want people to abide by the standing policy of de facto believing the accuser, what should we expect when those people are called for jury duty?
The state's highest law-enforcement official should not make public comments that essentially encourage people to reverse the presumption of innocence when sexual assault is at issue. If someone were to read Madigan's comments and take them to heart, we should expect that person to carry those views into the jury box.
It would be one thing if these statements came from some private activist, but Lisa Madigan is the top government lawyer in Illinois. She is in the business of criminal law, and her public statements on an issue such as sexual assault should be viewed in that context. Those words carry significant weight. In my humble view, Madigan's statements were (perhaps inadvertently) an affront to the presumption of innocence, one of the most sacred tenets of our legal system.
The importance of lending trust to sexual assault victims is a message that should be promoted. But when the Attorney General decides to promote that message in her official capacity, she should do so without essentially asking her audience to disregard the presumption of innocence.