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False Rape Accusations: The Secondary Victims

I would just like to make it very clear that I understand that a multitude of cases in which a lack of evidence is present allows culprits to walk free when they should experience jail time; when referencing to false accusations and false accusers, i mean false accusations being made with a purposeful motive or agenda, I am not referring to victims who have themselves been done an injustice due to lack of evidence involved in a case clearing a person, even though abuse has in fact occurred.

The last five years has seen an overwhelming development in the way women are being heard in today's society. With the #MeToo movement taking the whole world by storm, women all over the world have become empowered as opposed to belittled, respected as opposed to mocked, and praised as opposed to criticised for speaking out. It saw justice for so many who suffered in silence under what was interpreted as a patriarchal society.

Those who suffered as a consequence of sexual assault and rape found closure and unity after suffering in a closeted space whilst being out in the open day-to-day; people who never thought they would find their peace found it. The movement was necessary, and it exposed the deep, twisted corruption of 201 powerful men in high society, pushing many other silent victims all over the world outside of their comfort zone to emerge and share their own experiences; however, there was a negative factor to it.

There has been an increase in men and women falsely accused of these crimes, and in my opinion if one is falsely accused of sexual assault or rape then they are a victim too. By being wrongly accused of such a vicious and inhumane crime, a lasting harm is placed upon the secondary victim's life. I say 'secondary victim' due to the fact that by the initial victim lying, they have tarnished the secondary victim in an unfathomable manner, submitting them to a series of eroding events.

Research conducted by Carolyn Hoyle, Ros Burnett, and Naomi-Ellen Speechley, found that the secondary victims saw a devastating downfall in their lives, from destroyed careers, their families falling apart, and aggressive mental trauma. It ruined them, and this ruin was not momentary, it lasted, and is still lasting for many people falsely accused. Even if one is cleared there is always a question around whether it happened or not, and people still look at them differently and consider the possibility of the Police or authorities dealing with the case at hand actually getting it wrong themselves. The impact of a false accusation on a secondary victim will evidently alter based on the depth in which it is investigated; however, a claim is a claim and it can be assumed that even if a claim is not thoroughly investigated and one is not charged and needed to be proven innocent, they would still experience trauma and an unsettling amount mistrust.

In an interview with an anonymous candidate, one man said 'I had no chance of keeping my job, as a police officer had told my employer that I was a 'dangerous paedophile'. That comment would prevent me from ever being employed again as a teacher.' This is one of the examples of the impacts a false accusation will have on someone's life; this man has been stripped of his career forever, all due to two words that were legally proven to be untrue; to this day this man still will not be able to carry out his career. Not only is this heart-wrenching for the man but also causes a complex web of other issues: trust towards him even though he was proven innocent, future job possibilities, financial deficit, and familial doubt and unease from certain members.

'Such events change people profoundly and... irreparably.'

The impact on self-concept of a secondary victim is highly significant regardless of the magnitude of the accusation made. Many may feel a permanent pressure to conduct themselves in an overly-reserved and restricted way to the public eye, even around those who see them as fully innocent and understand that they have been a victim themselves. This changes someone, makes them lose their smile, the traits that people loved, makes them a different person. Many secondary victims begin to blame themselves for the false accusations, grow a huge sense of paranoia and anxiety, feel ashamed about their reputation, and do experience permanent personality changes. The vilification they experience by others around them breaks them; imagine feeling rejected by everyone you encounter, to the point that it feels better to become a recluse and cut yourself off.

Not only does the secondary victim experience these impacts, but those on the other end of their relationships do as well. Psychological stress can stem across to partners, family members, and close friend too; six partners of the interviewees said that they felt helpless and alone, not knowing who to turn to due to their own increased self-consciousness and the fear of being shunned. Their lives also become dismantled and completely dominated by the desperate need to prove their partners innocent. The impact of false accusation on significant relationships is overwhelming and almost incomprehensible, social networks become fractured, marital relationships breakdown, contact with children and grandchildren disintegrates as a result, all because of a grave injustice.

So, as a result I think it is very evident that those who lie about being sexually assaulted or raped and are bringing this false accusation to light are ruining the lives of innocent people, their families, their friends; they are demolishing an entire world, that goes much further beyond one person they have an assumed agenda against. It's a gross violation to not just the secondary victim, but their familial network too.

Not only does this impact the secondary victim, but this also prevents men and women who have actually been assaulted or raped from coming forwards and speaking out.

This act of false accusation has increased an impression that those who have suffered abuse and come forwards with it are either exaggerating the incident, too sensitive, too quick to come forward and 'play the victim' as one twitter account put it, and are portraying the real victims as weak and as attention seekers. The media are very quick to cover false accusations, and with the incessant critical coverage, a real victim withdraws from taking the step that they needed to make their voice heard and find resolution within themselves.

Those who falsely accuse are depriving the ones who have really suffered from the closure and resolution that they deserve and are due.

The question is though, should those who make false accusations have to face extensive punishment for doing so? In my opinion, based on the detrimental consequences of their thoughtless acts, yes, they should. If one accuses someone of raping them, and that supposed culprit has to endure trial, and the evidence is clear that there was a motive behind a false accusation after the secondary victim is proven innocent, that man or woman should most definitely face significant punishment for perverting the court of justice and attempting to ruin an entire lifetime. It's disgusting.

The #MeToo movement was a necessary revelation in modern day; victims are stronger than ever and awareness is, even today, still growing at a rapid rate across all institutions; however, we need to also pay attention to the injustice being done in this day and age within the fiel of sexual assault and rape. We need to be aware that innocent people are becoming secondary victims due to the manipulative and distorted behaviours of false accusers. How do we expect there to be progression and understanding when acts like this are taking place?

I know it was probably heavy to read, but it's important. If we're striving for equality then it's vital that we understand the injustice done towards both men and women.

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