Thursday, 4 March 2021

Is it too easy to make accusations?

This is a serious question because reputations can be shattered by an accusation.

For those of you who live in Elsewhere I need to explain. Everyone who lives in Downunder will know the story now. The Federal Attorney-General has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in an incident which allegedly took place thirty-three years ago. The woman in question took her own life last year. He denies it and the "evidence" is scant. I say "evidence" in inverted commas because it is not something which would be admissible in a court of law. It all hinges around an informal complaint made to police and then not followed through or followed up. 

There could be any number of reasons for this. It would not simply be because the complainant decided not to take the matter any further.

Going to the police with allegations of sexual assault should be taken very,  very seriously. Once a matter has been reported then it should not be up to the person making the allegation whether the matter goes any further. They should not simply be able to retract their story or fail to cooperate any further. There needs to be, at minimum, contact with the person being accused and they need to be given an opportunity to tell their side of the story. If further action is to be taken after that then it should be a matter of whether the evidence is there to make a case. 

If media reports are to be believed then the alleged perpetrator in this case was not contacted by police. Apparently the first he knew about the accusations were those made by the media. It is even said the media made no attempt to contact him before running the story. 

If those things are true then questions need to be asked. If true then it is in no way "responsible journalism". 

I called in to deliver two books to someone yesterday afternoon. While I was there her daughter phoned. She was gloating over what she felt sure would be the demise of the Attorney-General. Of course he was guilty! She doesn't like him or that side of politics! It was the best thing which could happen to him! Her mother was to be sure to listen to the press conference.

Her mother had all this on speaker-phone so I could hear every word. It alarmed me. How many other people reacted the same way - before the "perpetrator" had said a word in his defence?  I have never met the man. I am unlikely to ever meet him. I cannot judge him.

Years ago now I met a man who was falsely accused of a very serious and violent crime. He was found guilty and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. He spent more than a year in prison before a young policeman, close to death, admitted that the whole thing had been fabricated to save his corrupt superior officer. The evidence was there for all of this. The  young policeman had written it all out, signed his statement in front of a justice of the peace and others. He made another statement before his death. He named names and gave details that only he could have known. The man who went to prison had simply been an innocent bystander who went to help.

In that case the evidence was so strong the imprisoned man was released within seventy-two hours. At the university he recounted the story quietly to some of us one day. He did so because there were still rumours about his "guilt". It was something he had to live with for the rest of his life. I remember my friend C.... asking, "But why didn't you do more to defend yourself?" The answer shocked me then and still shocks me now, "Because I wasn't given the opportunity. The press had already decided I was guilty. I will always remain guilty in the eyes of some because of that."

Is it time we started to think about how easy it is to make accusations?  

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