Recently I reviewed Jessie Kyd’s book The Perfect Scapegoat. It is an honest account of one young woman’s tortuous life from the age of 16 up for the next 20 years or so. It was made tortuous because Jessie Kyd was accused of sexually assaulting a girl with special needs she used to help a family care for.
Of course it is impossible to know if this woman was as innocent as she claims – there are not many paedophiles in this world who willingly hold up their hands and admit “I did it” – but over the last three years or so I’ve been working with several organisations and researching the experiences of many men and women who have been falsely accused of sexual crimes and I can tell you that Jessie’s story rings true.
That’s not to say that Jessie’s story doesn’t have unusual qualities; it does, not least being that she was a young woman accused of abusing a girl. Most false accusations revolve around men sexually abusing someone else. Indeed, Jessie talks of some of the various authorities she had to speak to saying they had not come across a case like hers before. Likewise, the reasons for the false accusations were unusual too and, ultimately, a little unclear. In most false accusation (herein referred to as FA) cases the person accusing does so for revenge – the break-up of a relationship of some sort – or a vindictive act to stop the ex-partner from having access to their children. Sometimes it is jealousy – which can have its roots in many places. It is rarer, as Jessie hints at here, that the accusation is to throw off the scent of the real abuser.
She only hints at this for two reasons: one, she knows what it is to be judged without evidence and doesn’t make the same mistake; second, the most bizarre thing is that there was no real evidence to suggest any abuse had taken place at all. It is this latter aspect which perhaps saved both Jessie’s freedom and her life.
I’ll let you read my review of the book and would encourage you to buy it for yourself but there are broader issues her story raises which I felt needed a longer essay which go beyond the book and that’s what I want to discuss here.
There were two aspects to the years of troubles Jessie went through: The first was, of course, the accusers (the girl’s parents) who not only came up with story after story to try and frame her, but also openly tried to ‘run her out of town’ making life impossible for the girl (who was training to be a teacher) to work in schools or be accepted in her home town.
But the second was quite simply the state system.
Like something out of a Kafka novel, once Ms Kyd was ‘on the books’ as a suspect, there was no way of releasing her from the grip of being guilty as far as the authorities were concerned. The police investigation was, at least, mercifully short and, despite the horrible trauma of being under suspicion and investigating officers doing their job of grilling her as they should, they did at least exonerate her stating clearly that “There is no evidence that any offence has been committed by anyone, let alone Jessie Kyd.”
But the investigative work of the police was not enough for Social Services and it was this authority which caused such grief and turmoil to Ms Kyd during her early twenties. The social worker attached to her case had made his own judgement that she was guilty – at least of something – and refused to even consider that if abuse had taken place that some other person could have been guilty. Social Services attempted to wreck any chance of a career for her and only stopped when her solicitor began legal action against them – something which only the brave and desperate try to do.
In the experience of those I’ve listened to over two years, Social Services are the constant bully who wreck marriages, partnerships and, most upsetting of all, families where they ruin the lives of children they’re supposed to protect. While it is right and proper that children come first and are protected, there’s more than one kind of way to abuse children and Social Services, in the opinion of FA victims I know, are guilty of doing this repeatedly. It takes just one person dealing with a case to have made a judgement against the accused to ensure the system works against the person permanently. As with Jessie Kyd’s case, the Child Protection team will often hold meetings and make decisions without any input or chance to plead a case from the FA victims. The accusers (parents in this case), police and other authorities get to have input but not the accused themselves – even after the Police have dropped all charges and consider the matter finished.
Even after the case was all over, Jessie Kyd lived in fear that she could never have children of her own because she was told there was ‘no guarantee’ they would not be taken from her at birth. Can you imagine living with that fear when you’ve barely begun your own adult life? I’ve seen children loved by their parents torn away supposedly to ‘protect’ them when actually the children have been devastated by the whole trauma.
If there was swift recourse to the law then it would not be so bad but the legal system is so unwieldy that it takes months for any change to happen, often at great expense and in front of a judge who may make judgement against you and make matters worse. It is a terrifying situation for an innocent person to live in.
Over the course of my own investigations it is obvious that despite much training, Social workers are not equipped to make the judgements needed to decide the safety of children nor the suitability of victims of FA to carry on their private lives unhindered. Social workers are usually overworked, underfunded and working in both distressing and stressful environments. At the same time, they wield such power that even solicitors are afraid of them. They are accountable only to the counter-decisions of a judge and they know that the expense and risk of losing is so great few will try to resist them. This combination of stress and power is a volatile mix which results time and again in great injustices against innocent victims like Jessie Kyd.
But there is a bigger dilemma here than just the unstoppable movement of the Justice and Social Services machine: that of the perception that FA is a myth.
This is taken from the official government Crown Prosecution Service page. The CPS are the people who choose whether or not to prosecute a suspect after the Police have finished their investigation and handed all the evidence to the CPS for judgement.
There is a vicious circle in reasoning here: Women can’t possibly cry rape for revenge because out of all the prosecutions for rape only a tiny handful were made for false allegations of rape.
This is a dangerous road to take. As Jessie Kyd found out, long after her case was dropped and it was clear there was virtually no evidence to suggest abuse had taken place at all, nevertheless her accusers were free to continue slandering her name and making accusations. This story is repeated again and again. It is well established that the police are reluctant to prosecute people who make FA because it might deter real victims of rape. All the CPS file quoted above reveals is a deep reluctance to believe FA is possible at all.
Similar statistics can be found for domestic violence except that here uncomfortable research has long revealed the terrible flaw in thinking that men are the main perpetrators of such violence. Among convictions for domestic violence only 7% are for women. Using the CPS argument, that would mean men are the most likely to perpetrate such violence. Studies however reveal that as much as 50% of all domestic violence is committed by women. A study in 2014 of 1,104 men and women even found that women were ‘significantly’ more likely to engage in verbal and physical aggression than men.
Erin Pizzey is well-known as an expert of domestic violence. She opened the first refuge for victims of domestic violence in 1971 and has written extensively on the issue. You would imagine that she is a staunch defender of the belief that women are victims and men the perpetrators. In fact the opposite is the case. Erin Pizzey states that around 62% of women who came to her shelters were at least as violent as the men they had left. In her own words:
“Such individuals, spurred on by deep feelings of vengefulness, vindictiveness, and animosity, behave in a manner that is singularly destructive to themselves as well as to some or all of the other family members, making an already bad family situation worse. These women I have found it useful to describe as ‘family terrorists.’”
There are many reasons why such information is not well-known and publicised in the media despite a wealth of research to back it up. A key reason though is the bias of the CPS and other authorities to assume that only women can be victims. It is interesting that an article by Ann Widdecombe recently highlighted a general societal prejudice against men. In it she says:
“Now, everywhere you have positive discrimination. That’s a way of saying negative discrimination against men… If I’m going to complain about sexism it should be from [men’s] sex not from mine.”
From my own research among victims of FA it is clear that women are just as capable of crying rape as men are of actually perpetrating it. Logically, there is no reason why this should not be the case. It is human nature to want to control and to seek justice and the perverse side of this is to abuse and seek revenge. If a woman, looking for such revenge cannot exact this in physical form, then verbal is all that’s left. Just as school children from as young as perhaps seven or eight are well aware of the power they have to cry abuse at a teacher and cause unmitigating grief to the object of their dislike, so a woman is capable of using the cry of rape as the weapon of choice in a society obsessed with hidden sex scandals and high profile cases of celebrities who have got away with appalling abuse after decades of silence.
Of course a child who cries abuse at school is not always lying just as the woman who cries rape isn’t and this needs to be stated clearly. It is right and proper that the police and social services (where a child may be involved) should take every accusation seriously but it is also right that there is accountability in both directions. Currently when an accusation is made, the police are only interested in finding evidence for prosecution. There needs to be more willingness to search for all evidence and, where it is clear that evidence shows the accuser is lying, that the CPS is given opportunity to decide if there is a case which can be tried against the accused AND if the accuser should be prosecuted instead. There will be, of course, unresolvable grey areas – the his-word-against-her situation. But in many, many cases the evidence clearly points to the story being completely fabricated. As things stand, it is rare the police will do anything about that.
What is important is that neither victims are ignored nor that witch hunts are tolerated. Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible should be required reading I believe for all police and social workers because not only is it a wonderful allegory of the ‘reds under the beds’ scaremongering of the McCarthy era but because it demonstrates just how easy preposterous accusations can billow into the deaths of innocents. Make no mistake, FA causes deaths; for some falsely accused the shame and depression is too much to bear.
In Jessie Kyd’s case, she managed to survive – even flourish – in the long run. But it came at a terrible cost which could so easily have destroyed her. It does destroy too many. If you buy the book I urge you to read it to the end. In a way, the most upsetting part for me was reading her epilogue. One final event occurred made it clear just how fragile her victories have been. It is a frightening reminder of what every single victim of FA has to endure – the trauma never goes away.