The ‘forgotten victims’ of sex crimes: the wrongfully accused
Sexual abuse can devastate a victim’s life. But according to social psychologist and Tilburg University researcher Kim Lens, the impact of being wrongfully accused of a sex crime can be just as devastating. “It’s time to open our eyes to these forgotten victims.”
Lens presented the findings of her three-year research during a symposium on campus yesterday, to an audience of students, academics, lawyers, sex crimes detectives, advocates of Victim Support Netherlands, and a number of people who themselves have fallen victim to wrongful sex abuse allegations. “The impact of wrongful sex allegations has gone unnoticed for far too long”, Lens said. “We need to have our eyes opened to these forgotten victims. Not just in science, but in society as a whole.”
Some of the victims attending the symposium shared their stories. A young father in the audience was accused by his estranged wife of sexually abusing their two-year-old son. Another man missed out on years of daughter’s life because of false rape allegations made by the woman he was divorcing. And one man talked about his eight-year legal battle against the state, in an effort to adjust his ‘not proven’ verdict into a ‘not guilty’ verdict. They all recognized themselves in the findings Kim Lens presented, which indicate that victims of false sex allegations continue to struggle with feelings of depression, societal rejection and in some cases suicidal thoughts, even long after the trial.
‘Acquitted, but not free’
Esther Boek talked about her son Dex, who was wrongfully accused and convicted of rape at the age of 19. His conviction was overturned on appeal several years later, when the irreversible psychological damage was already done to both Dex and his loved-ones. In a way, Boek says, her son never got his freedom back. “Dex was acquitted, but he’s not free”, she said. Now 23, Dex no longer feels safe in the world. “When he sees a police car drive by, he’s afraid they’re coming for him. And when he likes a girl, he’s afraid of what she will find if she Googles his name. He won’t do his grocery shopping in the nearest supermarket or work in his hometown, because he’s too afraid of being judged.”
Boek also addressed the role of police and support organizations. “During the investigation, police investigators approached all of Dex’ female friends on Facebook, asking them whether perhaps Dex had raped them too, until one of them said yes”, she explains. “And when Dex sought help from Victim Support after he was beaten up by the father of one of the girls who had made the allegations, they asked Dex: but surely you can understand his act?”
Kim Lens emphasized the importance of listening to victims of sexual abuse and protecting them. “But we also need to start paying attention to the victims of wrongful allegations, because they, too, are victims.”