Why do you believe her?

Last Tuesday a British soap actor, Michael “Le Vell” Turner, was found not guilty of multiple counts of rape and sexual assault on a child (now 17). There has been some suggestions that his prosecution was part of a “celebrity witch-hunt” in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, something the prosecution service denies. In the wake of the acquittal, my Twitter feed became full of tweets tagged “#ibelieveher”, a tag that first became popular after the conviction of the footballer Ched Evans, whose victim was named on Twitter and accused of being a liar by some of his friends and fans. There was a useful article by Glosswitch about the reaction, which I found linked from this tweet:

I don’t know if the girl who accused Turner is a liar, let alone a bitch, but the comparison between Evans and Turner does not apply because Evans was convicted and Turner wasn’t, so the accusation against him remains merely an unproven claim. While the defence barrister made some ignorant remarks about rape and victims’ reactions to it, he also said that the girl’s evidence was inconsistent, lacked detail and changed depending on who she told; she was also the sole accuser, while successful historical abuse cases often feature several victims. None of the people tweeting “I believe her”, as far as I’m aware, were in court to hear the evidence; they merely read synopses of it in the papers or online.  Many of them are abuse survivors who have bitter personal experience of seeing their abuser being acquitted or otherwise going unpunished and identify with the accuser on that basis, but often the experiences are nothing like this particular case in which an adult man was accused of sexually abusing and raping a child. If you were not in court, you do not even know who the accuser is or anything about her background, so your “believing her” is based on no real facts - you know her age and sex and not much else.

An infographic showing what its authors claim are the numbers of rapists with those facing trial or jailed, with two marked 'falsely accused'The fact that Turner was acquitted means nothing to many feminists because the conviction rate, even for rape cases that reach court, is low. There has been a diagram (right) posted on social media that purportedly shows the proportion of false accusations as two stick-men at the bottom of a huge crowd of stick-men representing actual (mostly unreported) rapists (although as this piece shows, the “rapists” are too numerous because the infographic assumes one rape per rapist when most rapists are repeat offenders). The problem is that you cannot apply generalities to individual cases: the jury do not know if this particular case is the one with the false accusation, so if the story does not stand up by itself and there is no supporting evidence (such as a number of claims with similar details from unconnected people), they have to acquit. Statistics and academic research do not have the same standard of evidence needed to convict someone in a court of law. The repeated harping on the low conviction rate, even when someone has been acquitted, leads to an attitude that “there’s no smoke without fire” when it comes to rape. These same feminists vigorously oppose all efforts to provide anonymity to men accused of rape on the grounds that it makes appealing for further witnesses more difficult, yet if their attitude that an accusation is as good as a conviction becomes widespread, anonymity would have to become the norm, with names released to the public (read: the media) only when special conditions apply, such as needing to find an already-identified suspect or where a lot of evidence points to someone and more victims or witnesses are sought (you would not always need to name the suspect, but rather the place where it happened). I would not advocate a return to the blanket ban on identifying rape suspects, as was the case in the late 70s and early 80s.

Those crying “I believe her” are talking on the basis of prejudice and irrelevant personal experience. Juries cannot act on the basis of statistics, let alone gross generalisations like “women don’t lie about rape”; the fact is that some do, and adults claiming to have been abused as children have been known to as well, and they have to be satisfied that the case before them isn’t the one where that happens. There are situations where the chances of something happening are negligible, but the consequences if they do are enormous; there are many people who are more frightened of a plane crash than a car crash or simply will not fly, simply because the chances of surviving the latter are much greater even though the chances of one happening are as well; the consequences of a wrongful rape conviction are certainly not negligible. It is a consequence of a legal system that is meant to prevent wrongful conviction and imprisonment that some of us (I include myself here) will be hurt or abused by others and not see them punished, especially if we cannot or do not complain for years afterwards.

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