There is a harassment scandal in Westminster, and one that has frequently surfaced a dangerous question: “is it true?” It is extremely hard to admit that you are a victim of sexual assault, and the fear of being judged, humiliated or accused of lying is enough to prevent many from speaking out.
Various studies suggest that false accusations of rape are rare, often between 2% and 10%. Further, those who are falsely accused rarely suffer serious consequences, as seen in a detailed Home Office study summarised in Quartz:
…in the early 2000s, out of 216 complaints that were classified as false, only 126 had even gotten to the stage where the accuser lodged a formal complaint. Only 39 complainants named a suspect. Only six cases led to an arrest, and only two led to charges being brought before they were ultimately deemed false.
From a legal perspective people are innocent until proven guilty, but those accused of sexual assault—especially those in positions of power—should only have their chance to claim innocence once the victim is supported and feels safe.
The vital first step in this is guaranteeing that those who feel someone has acted inappropriately towards them have an opportunity to raise this confidentially, and have their grievance sensitively handled, without fear of it being made public. Politicians who face the glare of public scrutiny accept they will sometimes find themselves facing hostile press coverage – that is a part of public life – but others in Westminster may have been deterred from coming forwards precisely because of the hostile press they may receive.
False accusations are rare and the idea they happen should be relegated below our concern for the accuser. People in positions of power—in Hollywood and Westminster—need to understand their responsibility to treat people with the very highest standards.
We must tolerate no mistake.