The true-false test for sexual misconduct allegations

While we can sympathize with the relief felt by the boys and their families, the heroes’ welcome the boys enjoyed upon their return to Israel left many disgusted

By HANNAH WACHOLDER KATSMAN
August 8, 2019 09:37
The true-false test for sexual misconduct allegations

JOURNALISTS DOCUMENT the police-bus transfer to the courthouse of the Israeli boys accused in the rape of a British tourist, in Paralimni, Cyprus, on July 26.. (photo credit: YIANNIS KOURTOGLOU/REUTERS)

She made it up. He has an agenda. She comes from a troubled background. There is no proof – only his word against hers. Isn’t it odd how this came out now, just after... ?

We hear these and similar statements directed at those who make public claims of sexual abuse, assault or harassment.
False accusations have been in the headlines since mid-July, when a young British woman on holiday in Cyprus accused a group of Israeli teenagers of gang rape. But several days after the arrests, the woman signed a police statement saying she had made up the claim.

While we can sympathize with the relief felt by the boys and their families, the heroes’ welcome the boys enjoyed upon their return to Israel left many disgusted. They may not have committed rape, but the video showed some of the boys, ages 15-18, having sex with the 19-year-old in turn, while shouting “whore” and other epithets. Cyprus may still charge them with distributing the video without the woman’s consent, and possibly for distribution of child pornography. They are still children appearing in a sex video.

On Monday, the press reported that the woman’s accusation was signed under pressure by the Cyprus police without her lawyer present.

Whatever the case, our teens in Cyprus failed to shine a light unto the nations.

The reported rates of sexual violence in Israel are staggering, about 10% higher than in other OECD countries. According to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, one in five girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse during childhood. One in five women are raped at least once during their lifetime, and more than a third experience sexual assault, with approximately 84,000 cases of sexual assault occurring annually in Israel, or 230 incidents a day. One in seven girls has experienced sexual abuse by a family member. Only one of six cases are ever reported to the police.

False accusations are a scourge, and it is never acceptable to besmirch an innocent person. Rolling Stone magazine recently settled on a payment $1.65 million to a University of Virginia fraternity, after the magazine failed to confirm the identity and account of a woman who accused the fraternity’s members of rape, and that of a university administrator who had supposedly covered it up. An Englishman named Carl Beech recently claimed that as a child he had been sexually abused by a number of well-known personalities. As with the case in Cyprus, closer examination of Beech’s claims turned up inconsistencies, and Beech is now serving an 18-year jail sentence.

When public false accusations have been confirmed, the accusers need to be charged and the cases publicized in order to restore the reputation of the accused. But the public keep these cases in mind when future victims come forward. It’s important to remember that false accusations are rare exceptions, generally estimated as between 2%-5% of cases, and are usually uncovered quickly. This number is similar to rates of false accusation of other crimes, such as theft and murder.
Of 182 indictments filed for false accusations in Israel between 2012 and 2014, only nine were filed against women. These included false accusations of all crimes, including theft, deceit and trespassing as well as sexual crimes. In 2005, while serving as chief prosecutor, Supreme Court justice Edna Arbel implemented a judicial instruction known as “2.5.” It ensured that the prosecution would distinguish between cases where a victim retracted an accusation of physical or sexual violence and a genuine false accusation.

IT’S NOT easy to make up a story that will hold water. Police and prosecutors carefully question the accuser, the accused and the witnesses in order to uncover inconsistencies. The accuser needs to stick by her story through multiple sessions of questioning over months or years. Most cases based only on a verbal account don’t make it to trial.
The police and the justice system have to find the balance between protecting the rights of the accused and ensuring that victims are not re-traumatized by favoring a powerful perpetrator’s account over theirs. More importantly, swift conviction of sexual predators will prevent further victims.

In a case in Washington State, an 18-year-old claimed to have been raped by a stranger who entered her apartment in the middle of the night. During the initial investigation, the woman’s former foster mother cast doubt on the story, based on the woman’s history and the nonchalant manner in which she had described the attack. The officer confronted the young woman, who retracted her story, saying that she may have dreamed it. She was even charged with a misdemeanor for false reporting and faced shame from her community over it. Several years later, her picture was found on the phone of a man arrested for a similar crime. Pressuring her to retract allowed the rapist to find more victims.

The majority of rape cases are not even reported. Recently, an 11-year-old girl was so traumatized after being raped by two schoolmates ages 13 and 14 that she is in a closed psychiatric ward. Her parents only found out about the rape after discovering an account she had written on a closed Facebook page, despite the video of the event having been distributed among students and school staff.

While genuine false accusations exist, we most often hear the term as a knee-jerk reaction to an accusation of sexual harassment, abuse or assault. If someone shouts “false accusation” based on a news report, instead of asking the agenda of the victim, we should be asking the “agenda” of the person shouting.

A small segment of the population believes that sex abuse and harassment complaints are out of control, and a claim is either fake or the woman’s fault. But even those who genuinely sympathize with victims as a rule may change their tune when the accused belongs to their “camp.” This may be a family member or colleague, or even a member of their nationality or religious sector.

The outpouring of support for the boys in Cyprus, favoring their story over that of a foreigner, is typical. When an Arab janitor was alleged to have viciously raped a seven-year-old ultra-Orthodox girl at the Jewish school where he worked, few Israelis suggested that it might be a false accusation despite that most child rape cases take place within the family setting. The police released the accused within a few days. Rabbi Moti Elon, despite having confessed to the entire Takana forum of prominent religious Zionist leaders, and being later convicted in court of lewd acts involving a minor, continues to enjoy the support of some in the sector who refuse to believe the growing number of accusations.
It is fair to withhold condemnation of someone who is accused, as long as we also safeguard the welfare of children in the case of a possible predator. But the maxim of “believe women” (and male victims of abuse) continues to hold weight in all but a small minority of accusations.

The writer is an Israeli lactation consultant and freelance writer. Her work on parenting, public health, women’s rights and sex abuse has also appeared in The Forward and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. hannahpt@gmail.com


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