I can happily read books until my eyes bleed. I love to learn. I particularly love books that can teach me something new, cause me to stop reading, stare into the middle distance – and perhaps change my mind about something I was previously sure of.
Of course, some books make you do that halfway through – as it turns out that reading that book was something you wished to change your mind about. ..
I have never before come across a book that taught me something, made me stop in my tracks, stare into the middle distance, and change my mind – before I had even opened the first page.
‘Wrongful Allegations’ was just such a book. The title alone. ‘Wrongful’ – not ‘False’. Wrongful is indeed the right word. ‘False’ has connotations of a cognisant mendacity that is simply not true of all allegations that we have been in the habit of describing as ‘false’. There are many reasons why the wrong person may be ‘in the dock’; they range from revenge, a desire for compensation – all the way through to wrong identification or a belief that has arisen, that this person has abused you, as a result of the input of others.
It is a measure of the thoughtful and balanced nuance that Dr Ros Burnett has brought to producing this book, that even the title can have such an effect on me. The book itself is a series of essays from acknowledged experts drawn from around the world covering every possible aspect of the all too frequent occurrence whereby someone who is innocent of any wrongdoing finds themselves penalised by the media, public opinion, and the judicial system even though they are either never charged, or eventually acquitted by the courts.
A prison sentence is only part of the process of punishing a person accused of the most heinous crime known to modern society – that of taking the sexual innocence of a child. Those who are guilty rightly go onto prison – however, the guilty and the innocent alike share the same initial punishments of humiliation, loss of reputation, adverse publicity which may result in harassment, sometimes even physical harassment. The families of both the guilty and the innocent share this fate. So do the children.
Bookshelves in libraries across the globe are groaning with accounts from both victims of abuse, activists who wish to publicise that abuse, experts detailing abuse – and a fair few from narcissistic exhibitionists with vivid imaginations. Such is the febrile atmosphere that there are but a handful of writers looking at the position of the accused – fearful of being labelled ‘paedo-apologists’ both academic writers and investigative journalists have declined to look at the reverse of the coin.
Richard Webster, Bob Woffenden, David Rose, Carolyn Hoyle, James Gillespie, Barbara Hewson, David Aaronovitch; only Richard Webster, who had the foresight to die before the Savile saga started, has managed to escape the tsunami of abuse that flows in the direction of anyone who dares to so much as think the unthinkable – that there might be such a thing as a wrongful allegation – and we might just show some sympathy towards those who are its victims.
So all credit to Dr Burnett for persuading so many experts to come forward and voice the unthinkable, to lay their reputations on the line in such an unfashionable cause.
The one thing this book isn’t, most emphatically isn’t, is a demolition of any particular claims of sexual abuse.
It is far, far, cleverer than that. It is a careful analysis, expert by expert, of the psychological pressures that might lead to a wrongful allegation; of the ways in which policing methods may contribute towards this; the economic pressures on therapists and personal injury lawyers; how judicial thinking is formulated – and best of all, several chapters on how we could move forward in the future, in the best interests of both complainants and defendants.
For instance. Although there have been endless large scale surveys on the incidence of child abuse – there has never been such a survey on the incidence of being wrongly accused of child abuse. Those who tell you that ‘false allegations’ are rare, are talking through their backsides every bit as much as those who tell you that ‘most’ allegations are merely driven by a desire for compensation. The truth is that no one knows, because no one has been keeping track – there isn’t even an agreed definition of what constitutes a ‘wrongful allegation’.
That is, in itself, a shocking state of affairs. How can we formulate policy when we don’t have the facts to base it on? I have no intention of reviewing the book chapter by chapter – it has taken me a day and a half to skim read it – every paragraph makes you stop and think. It will, assuredly, become a ‘bible’ for those working in this field.
I hope that people, particularly journalists and activists, from both sides of the ‘great divide’ as the issue of historic allegations of abuse has become, will read this book, cover to cover. If you are going to argue, debate, or be an activist on the subject – then you should be in possession of all the facts, not just the ones that reinforce your chosen viewpoint.
It will cost you £75.00 – there’s a shocker – the price of a decent education these days! Or free on loan from a library.
Worth every single penny. G’orn treat yourself. Know what you’re talking about for a change.