In Defence of Liberty

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A Voice for Men and Public Justice

During last week’s edition of BBC Question Time, the official Twitter account quoted the group A Voice for Men, causing some controversy.

In an article entitled False rape allegations finally getting some light, Kristina Hansen argues that “any woman that falsely accuses a man of rape should be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years behind bars with no time off for good behaviour”.  The article examines the case of Rosie Dodd, who falsely accused three men of rape – receiving a jail term of two years. Ms Hansen states that: “After all, men who are falsely accused are offered no real justice or anonymity”, adding later: “The justice system is indeed broken”. The article concludes:

But no matter if it one false accusation, or a thousand. These false allegations are completely devastating to the men that are wrongfully accused. Their lives are permanently ruined once a woman cries rape, and even one innocent life destroyed is one too many.

Whilst being arrested and standing trial is surely traumatic for an innocent defendant, a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict delivers a vindication of their innocence. A man named Jason was falsely accused of rape, and is cited in the A Voice for Men article (by an incorrect link), who says:

It was devastating. I was getting harassed outside of work, harassed in work, it’s just terrifying.

This is a social issue, relating to how  people who are going through the court process are treated, and not a legal issue, which is the court process itself. The treatment of people accused of crimes will not change by lengthening the jail sentence for false accusation of those crimes. The Ministry of Justice found that the average sentence for rape in 2011 was eight years and six months, meaning that Ms Hansen has proposed that false accusers sit in jail for longer than most rapists. This is the problem with just picking ‘big’ numbers, and not thinking it through.

These figures were released in January 2013. (Photo: Guardian)

These figures were released in January 2013. (Photo: Guardian)

Human Fallibility

Any justice system will be fallible, since humans are fallible. This means for any crime, there will be false accusations of that crime, incorrect imprisonments and perpetrators being found not guilty. There is a trade-off between imprisoning offenders and avoiding shutting away innocent people. The Criminal Prosecution Service found that in 17 months, there were 35 charges of false allegations of rape – or about 24 per year. This stands in stark contrast to 1,070 convictions of rape in a year. To say that “one innocent life destroyed is one too many” is to say that the author does not understand trade-offs.

Public trials and the dispensation of an observably unbiased legal process are fundamental. Granting anonymity to those on trial would shield the trial from public view. The lodestar of unbiased justice is also why perverting the course of justice is such a serious offense, carrying the harshest penalty: up to life imprisonment. The suggestion that false rape accusations, as distinguished from making false accusations of any other crime, should receive a specified minimum sentence is ludicrous.

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14 comments on “A Voice for Men and Public Justice

  1. genderneutrallanguage
    September 17, 2013

    Marital rape was not considered a “real crime” in 1900. How many prosecutions for marital rape do you think happened in 1900? How many reports? Because there where a grand total of 0 reports and 0 prosecutions for marital rape when it wasn’t a “real crime” would you draw the conclusion that marital rape never happens? That is what your doing here. False accusations are not held to be a “real crime” and therefore not reported or prosecuted.

    • Anthony Masters
      September 17, 2013

      This is a false analogy. Marital rape used to not be a crime – at all – in the sense that it was legal.
      On the other hand (as I stated in the article), false accusations are a crime, and are considered either wasting police time or a perversion of the course of justice. Again, as I said in the article, this latter crime is one of the most heinous crimes in common law, and receives the harshest punishment: up to life imprisonment.

      • genderneutrallanguage
        September 17, 2013

        Right, and this is why you and many others have written countless posts tweets articles stories and comments about how false rape accusations shouldn’t be taken seriously.

      • Anthony Masters
        September 17, 2013

        I have made no such claim. In fact, I have stated that a false accusation of rape, which is usually considered a perversion of the course of justice, is a serious crime.

      • genderneutrallanguage
        September 17, 2013

        So this isn’t a post dedicated to insuring that no steps are taken to protect people from the devastating affects of false accusations? Its a serious crime that we should take no steps to prevent or protect people from, yea that is taking it seriously in my book.

      • Anthony Masters
        September 17, 2013

        That is a spectacular misreading of my article. For one, there are already “steps to prevent or protect people from” false allegations: it’s called the law and the judicial system. As stated before, a false allegation – which must be shown to be deliberate – is a perversion of the course of justice. Here are the CPS guidelines on charging in the case of false allegations of rape and domestic violence: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/perverting_the_course_of_justice_-_rape_and_dv_allegations/

        The article was really addressing two issues:
        1. Ms Hansen’s statement that women who falsely allege rape should be imprisoned for at least ten years without parole.
        2. Anonymity should be granted to defendants.

        On 1, this proposal would ensure that a false accusers would face a greater penalty than most rapists: this is plainly absurd.
        On 2, it is an inherent part of any open justice system that some people will be falsely accused of a crime. The effects of such false accusations are due – not to the legal system – but to aspersions cast over people who are accused. We should probably proclaim that people are innocent until proven guilty. Anonymity for defendants of any severe crime – as consistency should certainly be a principle of our justice system – has the effect of shielding the trial from public view. Defendants and accusers should have the right to defend themselves in an open court of their peers.

      • genderneutrallanguage
        September 17, 2013

        1)different countries, different laws, different courts. The penalty for false accusations should be the same penalty as the crime they accused another of. “10 years” is a pretty number to make a clear talking point, not what should be written in the legalise of the statues to make it law.

        2)Please clarify. In the post I got the message you are for naming and shaming anyone accused of rape before the trial even starts. This comment looks like your are in favor of protecting the accused from the court of public opinion.

      • Anthony Masters
        September 17, 2013

        1) This is an old paper (1992), but the average jail-time served in the US for rape was 65 months. The average sentence is roughly 117 months, so that’s certainly close to 10 years. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/PSATSFV.PDF
        I think a false accusation should be treated as a separate offence – it is lying to the judicial system that is being punished. In cases where this lying has been particularly severe, there is judicial discretion for harsher sentences.
        2) I apologise if this was unclear, and if you received that impression. I am not in favour of anonymity of defendants, as I want open justice. I am also not in favour of “naming and shaming”, as certainly some are.
        When an accusation is made, and a prosecuting argument can be built, that case goes to court. The court process should then be undertaken, and those outside the court should reserve judgement until that process is complete. This is upholding the rule of law, which is ultimately what all people should be in favour of.
        If we allow our emotions to override us, then we are just an emotional mob, and not a country under the rule of law.

      • genderneutrallanguage
        September 17, 2013

        1)well this is a valid disagreement on how we should treat false accusations. You do have a valid position, it is just not the same as mine.

        2)People will let emotions over ride their logic. This is why we need a court system to preserve justice and not vigilantes doing what “feels right”. Publishing the names of the accused is “naming and shaming”, it is giving the power to the emotional mobs. It is not protecting the innocent.

      • Anthony Masters
        September 17, 2013

        Certainly, vigilantism is illegal and should carry a substantial punishment – as should all violence. I still err on the side of open justice, where justice is not only done, but seen to be done.
        I would not say that publishing the names of those facing trial is “naming and shaming”. As I’ve stated in the article, that shame is connected to a social problem where people see those going through the court system as ‘tainted’, without waiting until the process is complete.
        Any fair and reasonable justice system will find some defendants as ‘Not Guilty’. I think people should be able to treat those found not guilty by a court of their peers without casting dispersions. Since the justice system is filled and arbitrated over by humans, there will always be cases where someone is falsely accused, wrongly acquitted or incorrectly imprisoned. This is the price that must be paid for holding trials.
        Finally, there was a Ministry of Justice review of anonymity for defendants (of rape, specifically).
        http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/research-and-analysis/moj-research/anonymity-rape-research-report.pdf
        It is outlined that non-anonymity in trials helps ensure it:
        ● helps ensure that trials are properly conducted;
        ● puts pressure on witnesses to tell the truth;
        ● can result in new witnesses coming forward;
        ● provides public scrutiny of the trial process;
        ● maintains public confidence in the administration of justice;
        ● reduces the likelihood of inaccurate and uninformed comment about proceedings.

        Note: The very high conviction rates in Japan prior to their reforms, where cases generally do not reach court unless the prosecution has tight arguments, is an example of a different style of justice.

      • genderneutrallanguage
        September 17, 2013

        You give people much more credit than I do. People are just not able to grasp “not guilty”. In the minds of most, if your even accused of rape your a rapist facts be damned. You don’t seem to be denying this is reality, only that it shouldn’t be reality.

        That report is someones opinion. Being published by a government body does not make it any more true than what is posted on AVFM.

      • Anthony Masters
        September 17, 2013

        I’ve been told I have a pessimistic view of human nature: that it is fixed and flawed.

        There would have to be a proper survey of the 1,840 people a year who found ‘not guilty’ of rape – to find out what their experiences are. As I stated in the article, the judicial system is all about trade-offs.

        The described reaction is not merely limited to rape cases, as national media cases focussing on murder show. Yes, some people do like to forget ‘innocent before proven guilty’ – the question is whether this distrust and distaste is sufficient to demand the anonymity of defendants.

        Lastly, it’s difficult to characterise the Judicial Studies Board as promoting merely “someone’s opinion”.

  2. Mike R
    September 17, 2013

    The very fact that an alleged victim is given anonymity in these cases, meant a change was made to established practice because of the perceived unique nature of this particular crime. Which shows that in matters of these offenses, you ARE talking about something which has been recognized by the PTB as requiring a “unique” treatment in the justice system. So references to what happens in the cases of other kinds of crimes don’t logically apply to this one – given that our justice system has ALREADY decided this crime is different and will therefore be treated judicially differently to all other criminal offenses. Whether this was right is another issue, but the fact remains that it has happened.

    The argument that an alleged offender should be named so others may come forward to report other alleged offenses, can be equally made as in the public interest for an accuser to be named. If their accusation is found to be unproven, other potential victims of possible false accusations of a fantasist/ liar can be warned off them, or exercise additional caution in any dealings they may have to have with them. The current law – where an innocent person must face the appalling stigma engendered by mere accusation, even if that accusation does not lead to a conviction, where a false accuser can remain completely anonymous, is grotesque – quite unjustifiable. Both should be named or both anonymous.

    I feel that in this matter someone who supports the current inequity in the law would soon change their mind about it after being on the wrong end of a false/ malicious accusation.

    • Anthony Masters
      September 18, 2013

      Indeed, the current debate is about whether defendants should be granted anonymity. It should certainly be recognised that the status quo is one where the accuser is anonymous but the defendant is not (in cases of sexual assault).

      A major fallacy that underlies much discussion of the judicial system is that the trials should be “tilted” one way or the other, rather than aiming to be a neutral and uniform process.

      For the cause of open justice, the identity of defendants in the cases of sexual assault should be published.

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