The Malta Fashion Awards are facing criticism over its decision to invite John Suda to participate in an awards night despite the actor’s pending sexual assault charge.
Mr Suda’s brief appearance in last Saturday’s awards show, as one of several presenters from the event’s 20-year history, drew condemnation online and was described by Women’s Rights Foundation director Lara Dimitrijevic as “condoning” his alleged actions.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but given the allegations he is facing and the fact that he has not denied the actions, it would have been prudent not to invite him,” Dr Dimitrijevic told the Times of Malta.
“This was a chance to send a clear message that such things should never be permitted.”
Mr Suda is currently facing criminal charges over allegations that he sexually assaulted a 22-year-old actress in 2015, during one-to-one training for a TV role.
He is alleged to have blindfolded the actress and asked her to strip naked before removing his own clothes and placing her hand on his genitals. He has not disputed the events but claims the woman consented throughout and that he did not place her hand on his genitals but asked her to do so.
Marceline Naudi, a senior lecturer in gender studies at the University of Malta, said the decision to include Mr Suda was “inappropriate” and diminished the seriousness of the alleged crime.
“There is already a general attitude that victims of sexual assault are probably lying, and we should not be doing anything to promote or reinforce that idea,” Dr Naudi said.
“Having him as a presenter is saying either that women being sexually assaulted is not important or that the woman probably made it up.”
When contacted, Malta Fashion Week defended its decision to invite Mr Suda to participate as he had not yet been found guilty of any offence.
“We do not condone violence and criminal actions of any sort. However, we believe that a person is innocent until a court of law states otherwise,” a spokesperson said.
“We refuse to condemn a person without proof or even full knowledge of all facts. Had we taken the decision to exclude John Suda, the message would have been one of judgement. This goes firmly against our inclusive policy, a message we firmly believe in and are fully committed to.”
Mr Suda himself declined to comment on the controversy but noted that his participation had come after a personal invitation by Malta Fashion Week organiser Adrian Mizzi.
“I went there as a personal favour,” he said.
“I wasn’t paid and left shortly after I had done my part.”
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