This week, the Centre for Criminology published the full report (and a summary) of a study on The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voices, carried out by Carolyn Hoyle, Naomi-Ellen Speechley, and Ros Burnett.Recent decades have seen an emerging body of research focused on crime victims and their perspectives. In particular, there has been concern that allegations of sexual abuse, particularly non-recent abuse, haven’t received an appropriate response. From this has emerged a new determination to correct past and prevent further injustices of this kind. Not surprisingly, there has been a cultural shift towards believing allegations of abuse, and the presumption now is in favour of trusting those who present as victims. It’s important that all agencies, particularly the police, are alert to the needs of those who claim to be victims of abuse, but not to the extent of overlooking those who are victims of wrongful allegations.
This small qualitative study of people’s experiences of being falsely accused of child/adult abuse in occupational contexts gives a voice to these other victims, by way of a content analysis of first person accounts of those who have been wrongly accused but who are legally innocent (either they were not charged by the police or they were acquitted at trial; in just one of our 30 cases the defendant was convicted but his conviction was overturned on appeal).
This study highlights the extent to which false allegations are likely to affect every aspect of the accused’s life, even if no conviction—let alone prosecution—occurs. It gives a voice to these victims whose enduring trauma should not be ignored.The findings have been reported by the media and are described in The Times as a ‘relentless and depressing.’ The cumulative impact of the interviews is both shocking and immense. Most of the participants were able to refute the accusations made against them at a relatively early stage of the legal process. Despite this, their lives were, to put it simply, wrecked.
We hope that our report may be a valuable resource for support groups such as FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers), a voluntary organisation that supports people wrongly accused of abuse in occupational contexts, and provide evidence for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which intends to hear testimony from those who have been falsely accused. We suspect that those testimonies will provide similar data to those in our report.