“I once knew this woman who…”

“The comment was buried away in the cesspool at the bottom half of the Internet”

I just read a comment on Facebook that made me think ‘I need to write something about that’, because I couldn’t quite believe I was reading it. In 2016, I read this comment (paraphrased slightly as I’m writing it from memory):

“I once knew this woman who said she was being abused by her husband. She’d tell anyone who’d listen. She’d cry and tell them all the horrible things he’d done and everyone was sympathetic. And then it turned out her husband wasn’t abusing her at all. She just said he was to get attention. And that’s why I never believe any women who say they’re a victim of domestic abuse straight away.”

I’m just going to repeat that last sentence again:

“And that’s why I never believe any women who say they’re a victim of domestic abuse straight away.”

She knew ONE WOMAN who had told a lie, and that made her doubt ALL allegations of domestic violence. All of them. What the hell? It just seems wrong to me.

The comment was buried away in the cesspool at the bottom half of the Internet under an article about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s messy divorce. As a rule, I try to avoid the comments section (unless I’m listening to one of Dave Gorman’s found poems) but I was interested to see what the general public made of the fact that Heard has announced she’s giving her divorce settlement to charity. Surely the gold digger claims should be put to bed on that basis? Well they weren’t (I’m going to say here I don’t fully understand the American tax system, but some critics of Heard are claiming the offer isn’t as altruistic as it sounds…) but also, still the calls that she’s lying about the abuse allegations ring out.

“More and more I see people online doubting that the victim is telling the truth”

At this point I’d like to leave the story of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, because it’s not worth picking over the bones of a dead marriage for the entertainment of others. I’d rather focus on the horrific implications this high-profile story has in the real world right now.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are still a big issue however more and more I see people online doubting that the victim is telling the truth. “What about all those stories you hear, when people are falsely accused??” And there are stories, yes there are, but they’re not common enough to be more than exceptions. I also don’t want to belittle the experiences of people who have been falsely accused of something – it must be horrific – but at the same time I think it’s very wrong to assume someone’s lying because of a minority of example. Writing this, I’ve tried to find some statistics on false reporting – it’s difficult. The closest I could find is a report written by Labour MP Keir Starmer, in which he looked at cases over a period of 17 months:

“In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.”

“I don’t think people like Depp should be tarred and feathered at the moment of accusation”

Of all the prosecutions made over that 17 month period 0.03% of those prosecutions were for false allegations of rape. 0.005% of those prosecutions were for false allegations of domestic violence. 0.003% of those prosecutions were for false allegations of both. 99.96% of prosecutions were for actual rape and domestic violence that happened. And again, I don’t  want to belittle the experience of the 44 human beings that had the allegations made against them in this period, but surely making up collectively around 0.04% of the sample shouldn’t mean that side is the side we automatically assume is correct. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally against naming and shaming – I don’t think people like Depp should be tarred and feathered at the moment of accusation, but in the same breath, I don’t necessarily think the victims should instantly be treated as liars, when statistically, they probably aren’t.

Now I’m aware that the report only covers prosecutions and not allegations, but the statistics just don’t seem to exist. The wording of the anecdotal evidence seems to be “there are occasions”, “over the years I have come across several instances” and “sometimes”. None of these suggest that victims lying is a rule, certainly not something that should be immediately assumed. Again, I’d like to reiterate that I know that people are falsely accused, but immediately assuming victims are lying results in one thing: fewer people reporting actual crimes. Amy Schumer mentions in her book ‘The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo’ that society asks for a perfect victim – a victim that doesn’t drink and dresses modestly. A victim is a victim, no matter how they’re dressed, drinking or how much they earn.

“None of these suggest that victims lying is a rule, certainly not something that should be immediately assumed”

We open another can of worms if we look at a gender issue – some people assume that domestic violence and rape are exclusively crimes committed by men against women. This is simply not the case. Men who have reported domestic violence perpetrated by their wives have found themselves arrested for the crime, as it is not believed that a man could be the victim. (From InsideMan.co.uk) They are accused of lying because a stereotype of their gender suggests they couldn’t possibly be a victim. That must be a frightening prospect to be faced with. The point is, if someone is the victim of a crime (regardless of gender) they should feel safe to report that without the fear that they will not be believed. Again, this idea, all this results in victims being afraid of being shamed. It’s not right.

The charity Living Without Abuse says on their website that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be affected by domestic violence in their life time. According to rapecrisis.org, 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year. That’s a lot of people dealing with a horrible situation who could do without the shadow of doubt being cast on them because someone “once knew a woman who…”

Links I referenced:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/13/false-allegations-rape-domestic-violence-rare

Male domestic violence victims ‘often arrested due to false accusations by their abusers’, study finds

http://www.lwa.org.uk/understanding-abuse/statistics.htm

http://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php

Leave a Reply