The case examination draws attention to the negative experience of the other prosecuted women as well. The lengthy proceedings marked by scandals and immense publicity affected their lives and the lives of their families. A quote from an interview with one of the accused women depicts their situation as follows:
“Four years after, I still wonder how much this case still sells. How much humiliation and degradation it can still hold. Even today for the news concerning us we are ‘the HIV positive women’. […] And our photos remain posted on the internet. Let the stigmatisation of people who have a disease of deviate from ‘normality’ stop. Let the disgrace and degradation against us stop, because we do not stand it anymore.”
The impact on the family members of Katerina and the other women is equally important. The examination pointed out that Katerina’s father attempted suicide and lost his job after the arrest of his daughter. Another accused woman’s relatives also lost their jobs, children and siblings were expelled from schools, and whole families were subjected to rumors and social stigma. Family members and people connected to suspects and accused frequently share the burden with their prosecuted relative and lose their anonymity.
Overexposure to the media is one way to influence the lives of suspect and accused and their family members. On the other hand, insufficient information provided to the public could also be unethical and cause damage to the lives of suspects and accused. For instance, the coverage of the case of the murder of Antonino Barbaro was limited to their arrest and first days of the proceedings, primarily by local media channels. However, the unethical disclosure of information included live broadcast of the arrest and ungrounded accusations by journalists. Furthermore, the media failed to provide rectification of the errors even when the suspected brothers were liberated after 130 days of detention, as no evidence confirming their guilt was found. Defamatory publications affected the public opinion especially in the local community. The long-term implications could be illustrated by the arguments in the brothers’ request for compensation for the unjust pre-trial detention:
"This sad judicial incident has blocked [the brothers'] every prospect and has thrown all members of [their] families into the deepest prostration, who, in addition to the suffering caused by the unjust detention of their relative, have suffered the mockery of being marginalised by the social body”.
The case studies show that it is common for journalists covering a criminal case to scrutinise the private life of the defendants. This is especially relevant for high-profile cases involving popular persons. In the case of the car accident in which journalist Milen Tsvetkov died, a personal information, photos and allegations about the accused man’s family and people from his close circle appeared in the press. Shortly after the suspect was arrested and his name was revealed by the authorities, journalists investigated his family, their business and links with political figures in a series of articles. Pictures obtained from their personal social media accounts were also published and eventually the whole family had to delete their profiles. The two passengers in the suspect’s car also got the media’s attention, as one of them was the suspect’s girlfriend. The girl was involved in the legal process not as a suspect, but as a witness. The media violated her privacy by publishing pictures and revealing her social media account that was attacked by resentful users. It could be accounted online harassment. Some articles contained allegations that the girl was a drug user judging solely by the impression and the ‘look’ of her pictures, while no significant proof was provided to support these claims.
Besides the possible impact on the decision making in terms of the criminal proceedings and the trial, suspects, accused, and their families may suffer from various negative consequences in their private lives. Due to the high publicity, such persons are frequently labelled, humiliated and experience significant life changes regardless whether the final judgement is conviction or acquittal. The story of Katerina, one of the cases of HIV positive women is an illustrative example. Under the public pressure and the extremely outspoken media exposure, Katerina experienced mental health deterioration, she relapsed to drug use and tragically committed suicide before the final judgement. The case study quoted a volunteer of the Solidarity Initiative that closely supported the accused women:
“One question troubled their minds. Katerina often wondered ‘Why do they publicly humiliated us?’. It was not prison that bothered them. What annoyed them was the public humiliation”.
Assessing the Risk of Isolation of Suspects and Accused (ARISA) is a project to investigate the consequences to people’s personal lives when accused in committing a crime.
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