As the nation’s Inquiry into child sexual abuse gets underway, Chair Lowell Goddard has released a statement clarifying the Inquiry’s working methods and the strands of its current investigations, as well as confirming that the Inquiry will not only be looking at the impact of child sexual abuse on its victims, but also the effect of false allegations on those accused of abusing children.
In the wake of former MP Harvey Proctor’s very public outburst at having been investigated over allegations relating to an alleged VIP paedophile ring in Westminster, and conflicting evidence surrounding the late Lord Janner’s involvement in past child sexual abuse, we can see that the issues surrounding false allegations are complex.
But what constitutes a false allegation? Should a lack of evidence automatically allow us to say that the accused is innocent, and if so, should that accused then have the right to compensation? Should we have higher standards of proof when it comes to false allegations, and should we extend those standards to any allegation, including child sexual abuse?
Are our burdens of proof simply out of date and out of touch with modern advances in science and a progressive ethical code which forces us to question the difference between hard evidence and a lack of it?
Another difficult area lies in both how we treat allegations and how we deal with them once proved. Public figures since cleared of abuse, through lack of evidence rather than hard evidence disproving their involvement in many cases, have been very vocal about the way they felt the police treated them during their investigation despite the fact that they would have been treated in much the same way as non high profile members of the public (perhaps treated worse, even). Should we then also be looking at how ‘celebrity’ psychology impacts the effectiveness of police investigations and also, how police handling of suspects in general, whether high profile or not, needs updating?
What do you think? Which issues surrounding false allegations do you think are important and how do you think the Inquiry should approach them?