Opinion The Way We See It Sex crimes, false accusations and trauma

Sex crimes, false accusations and trauma

So, is there evidence that false accusations are not being made? No. Should we keep harping on such accusations? Absolutely, yes.

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Disputes Lawyer, Chooi Jing Yen talks about how false accusations are affecting men in workplace. This problem is compounded by the fact that NGOs and rights groups gaslight the accused even before an investigation begins.

A doctor is acquitted of molest because his accuser admitted, in court, that she lied about her complaints. The internet is up in arms.

AWARE says, hold on a minute. There are far fewer cases of false accusations than there are instances of unreported sexual abuse. There is no evidence that false accusations are endemic. We should not “harp” on this.

They put in a brilliant commentary that deals with a very difficult piece of hard evidence (the acquittal) by zooming out and giving us the bigger picture through the use of statistics.

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That was their perspective, as an organisation that deals with victims of sexual assault. Now, let me share a different perspective.

1. Reasonable doubt. Every civilised jurisdiction in the world today applies this standard. Why? We would rather let 99 guilty persons go free than convict one innocent man. Is the standard different in sex assault cases? No. Why does it appear that way? Because such cases often involve he-said-she-said testimony with little to no objective evidence, especially if the accusation is made after significant time has passed. How do the courts deal with this? By requiring the testimony of the accuser to be “unusually convincing” before being satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt. Does this change the standard? No. Does this make the testimony of sex assault victims especially traumatic? Yes.

2. Trauma. Sex assault victims should not be put through the trauma of having to re-live that experience in court. How do the courts deal with this? By imposing harsh punishment on sex offenders who are convicted after trial, especially if the trial was conducted in a scurrilous or derogatory way. This functions as a deterrent and encourages most offenders to plead guilty to the charges against them.

3. Acquittals. There are two kinds of acquittals. A person may be acquitted because the court is not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty. Cynics amongst us may view this as a “technical acquittal”. But a person may also be acquitted because the complainant’s testimony just does not stand up to scrutiny – such as where a complainant admits, in court, to lying and having made up the accusations.

4. Trauma. Falsely accused persons also go through trauma. Imagine being accused of something you did not do. Now imagine that because of that, your passport is confiscated by the police, and you cannot travel. You submit to a polygraph test and go through several police interrogations. You have to report to the police monthly for bail. All the while, living in fear and anxiety that, if charged, your name will be in the newspapers, and you may suffer a loss of income and public embarrassment. Do we want falsely accused persons to go through this trauma? No. Are there consequences for their accusers?

5. Statistics. We are given statistics that suggest that there are more incidents of sexual assault than there are reports. Yes, we should encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward. Yes, we should try and systematically reduce the trauma that they face as a result. But should we tolerate false accusations? Absolutely not. What are the statistics on this? We do not know. AWARE says that of 250 reported cases of serious sexual crimes yearly, “police charged or warned the complainants for making false reports in only 10 cases”. What of the rest? Were the accused persons charged? Was no further action taken because the evidence was inconclusive? It is not the job of the police to investigate whether a complaint is false. It is their job to investigate whether the accused person is guilty. So, this statistic really tells us nothing.

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6. Trauma. The argument goes that stepping forward to allege sexual assault is such a traumatic event that nobody would do that unless it were true, and in fact, many are deterred from doing so because of that anticipated trauma. All is well and good, but this does not mean that false reports do not happen. They do. And when they do, they should be treated very seriously indeed. A false accuser does not suffer trauma (or if they do, that is entirely of their own doing). The innocent person who is falsely accused suffers unimaginable trauma. Unimaginable. AWARE sees sexual assault victims. Criminal defence lawyers see accused persons. Sometimes, they protest their innocence. Sometimes, they are vindicated.

Neither of us is completely right. But we have the reasonable doubt standard and the presumption of innocence for a reason. We as a society view it as so much more important that we absolutely do not convict an innocent person, that we are willing to let some, if not many, potentially guilty persons go free. This is where the balance has been struck – and unless one is advancing and justifying the argument that we should modify this, let us not forget that all of us should be jealously on guard against false accusations of any nature.

So, is there evidence that false accusations are not being made? No.

Should we keep harping on such accusations? Absolutely, yes.

 

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Chooi Jing Yen is a Disputes Lawyer at Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.
This piece first appeared here. /TISG

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