Monday, December 18, 2017

Confirmation bias in this alarmed age says that because some teachers have been abusers, some men have raped, and many victims weren’t believed, it follows that assuming guilt is the safe bet

The ordeal of Liam Allan must not have been in vain
writes Libby Purves in the Times (see Teach British Women Not to Lie About Rape and The case of an innocent student put on trial for a rape hoax is just the “tip of the iceberg”).
The torrent of public and legal outrage following the student’s two years on bail and instant acquittal must not die away. Police and CPS failures must be analysed, punished and made unthinkable. This was a young man facing a 12-year sentence and lifelong stigma for multiple rapes, and it took the prosecuting barrister to save him.

Jerry Hayes was left spitting rivets of indignation at being put in a position of nearly wrecking a life simply because bad training and lazy procedure meant the police ignored, or never looked at, clear evidence that the accuser lied. She was, as Allan pleaded, out for revenge and had long pestered him for sex after he ended the liaison. Hayes, new to the case but an old warrior in the law, demanded her phone record (previously denied to the defence as “very personal” and not relevant). The defence sat up reading the woman’s texts, and in court the next day Hayes announced that there was no case.

Every detail is dismaying. The accused had asked for the woman’s phone to be checked because he had lost his own; police archived it or ignored what was staring them in the face. A report this year by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service indicates that the “scheduling” of evidence is
“routinely poor, while revelation by the police to the prosecutor of material that may undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence case is rare”.
Liam Allan, vindicated and angry, suspects that in sex-offence cases convictions have become “like sales targets”. We know about the psychology of confirmation bias, in which the mind selects evidence that reinforces its prejudices. But to find it in the criminal justice system is horrifying. The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, driven by missionary zeal over real unpunished sexual abuses, has caused unease by referring to complainants — once even after the acquittal — as “victims”. The message from police, in a backlash against decades of disgraceful nonchalance, is a soupy “You will be believed”, which has led in some cases to believing fantasists and liars.

It is hard not to see confirmation-bias culture in this case. …

Confirmation bias in this alarmed age says that because some teachers have been abusers, some men have raped, and many victims weren’t believed, it follows that assuming guilt is the safe bet. Yet just because it has long been a dangerous world for women, that is no reason to make it so dangerous for men. It’s happening, though. And the risk is that proper rage at the system’s abuse of Liam Allan will be smothered by fashionable truisms about sexual assault: “OK, he is innocent but lots of men do get away with it.” Exposure of real sexual misconducts lately has aggravated this feverish anxiety, and a dismaying willingness to punish and smear without investigation. Aled Jones, of all people, is now off the BBC while it pokes suspiciously at a decade-old allegation reported as “inappropriate contact and messages”. This he has strongly denied. The new wisdom says that we women are perpetual victims: abused, coerced or freezing in dumb terror.

Take The New Yorker’s short story Cat Person currently overexciting the western world, in which a flirtatious woman enjoying her power suddenly cools off, but proceeds with coupling through a mixture of politeness and vanity (“Look at this beautiful girl, she imagined him thinking. She’s so perfect, her body is perfect . . . The more she imagined his arousal, the more turned-on she got”). Some seize on even that soft-porn fiction as evidence that we are always victims of male domination because, after brushing the poor mutt off with an abrupt text, the heroine gets in return one which irritably ends in the word “whore!”.

Well, that’s rude of him. Very rude. On the other hand, it is not nearly as bad a response to rejection as crying rape and trying to get your former intimate jailed for a decade, reckoning that officialdom will believe you and not him.

It should be emphasised that false accusations of sexual assault are very rare. Home Office figures suggest 4 per cent. But they do happen, and the present atmosphere of suspicion, and neurotic magnification of minor male clumsinesses may encourage more. Women are not all angels, and a sense of our historical powerlessness may make this particular weapon horribly tempting.

It mustn’t be. There have to be consequences, because sexual crime is too serious, lying about it too wicked, to be used as a weapon of the petulant. In the Allan case we know nothing of the vulnerabilities or mental problems of the woman who lied, but it will be dismaying if she is not promptly charged with perverting the course of justice. Or, at least, wasting police time. Certainly she should lose anonymity. That privilege of real victims is far too precious to be brought into disrepute.
Update: Police Corruption in the UK — Manchester force ‘took bribes from organised crime gang’

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