Below are some edited excerpts from early entries in my book, Dry Ice. The book is written in diary form and interweaves two threads: details of the false historical rape accusation made against me in 2015 and more general observations about the way false allegations are perceived and handled.
February 1 2015
The day we get hit by a train.
I arrive home from the Sunday morning tennis game against my regular opponent, Les. Angela tells me that a policewoman has been here looking for me. Angela was still in bed when the doorbell rang, but when she peered through the curtains and saw a police uniform she thought she’d better put her dressing-gown on and see what was up. The policewoman wouldn’t tell her anything.
Angela suggested meeting me at the tennis courts just round the corner, but the policewoman wasn’t keen. I immediately rule out the most terrifying possibility – that something dire has happened to our son, who lives in Wellington – because then the policewoman would surely have told Angela. She did leave her card, with the name “Eva B, Child Protection Team”, and so I call her.
She says that a sexual complaint has been made against me. Sexual? She reveals no more over the phone, but suggests I come in to the station to talk to her. What on earth can this be? As I drive in, I ponder the possibilities. Whatever it was, it wasn’t deliberate. But how could it be accidental? Maybe our bedroom curtains aren’t as opaque as I always assumed, and a neighbour has complained. Indecent exposure – oh my god, how embarrassing! How will I ever live this down?
I arrive at Draketown central police station, my heart thumping and palms clammy. Detective Eva B, tall and uniformed, introduces herself with professional detachment. She leads me to an interview room deep inside the blue sanctum. It is cramped and dingy. She tells me that a complaint “of a sexual nature” has been made against me by a woman called Verity Rigby. Here it is – the biggest, the most transforming statement of my life. And it is a lie. Disbelief wallops me in the face. “You mean John’s daughter? You’re pulling my leg.”
“I’m quite serious,” she says. Of course she is. So this is worse than an accidental and unlikely indecent exposure. Then it must be a sexual assault accusation. Why? Why would she do this to someone she can only have heard of?
“But I’ve never even met her…I know who she is, but I’ve never met her.” At least, not that I can remember. If I did, it was only fleeting and obviously less than memorable.
Eva reads me my rights, and says the easiest way for me to make a statement is for us to go to another room, where she can ask me questions and the interview can be videoed. But the reading of my rights has jolted me into caution. Perhaps the simple truth will not be enough to save me. This could even get to court, for god’s sake. Then I would no doubt have to engage a lawyer, who would tell me I was naïve to make a statement alone, disoriented from shock, disadvantaged by my law-abiding history and way out of my depth. Luckily I’ve recently been listening to a Stuff You Should Know podcast about police interrogation, which said around eighty percent of people interrogated by the US police foolishly waive their right to a lawyer. This is usually because they are worried that insisting on legal advice would make them look guilty.
So I tell Eva I want a lawyer after all. She hands me a well-pawed A4 laminated card with the contact details of around twenty lawyers. Draketown being a small community, I know some names from court cases in the Draketown Post newspaper, but really I have no idea. It’s like picking horses when you’re a once-only punter who knows nothing about form or track conditions. We skeptics don’t even have lucky numbers.
I suggest she pick one for me. “I can’t do that,” she says. Procedures. We phone number seven on the card, but it’s Sunday, so all we get is an answer phone. I try two more numbers at random, but no response. I tell Eva I’ll go home, gather my thoughts and get back in touch with her.
“Verity?” says Angela. “Verity Rigby? John’s Verity? But that’s ridiculous! You haven’t even met her.”
“Well, I know I haven’t sexually assaulted her, but are you sure we haven’t met?”
“One hundred percent,” she says. “I’m surprised she even knows your name.” So I was right: reality and I are perfect strangers to Verity.
The non-event was in Houwhanga, a city up in the North Island, and it must have been a long time ago that it didn’t happen. Verity is in her mid- to late thirties now, and Eva’s card mentioned “child protection”. How far back does the lie reach? We spend the next couple of hours ransacking our memories, thinking of all the times we have been to Houwhanga or Verity’s father and stepmother have been down here in Draketown. We can’t think of an occasion when either of us met her. Angela has always kept a diary and taken some photos, and she spends a lot of her spare time over the next day rummaging through boxes of old notebooks down in the study, unearthing half-buried memories in text and pictures. As I sit, puzzled but fuming, I feel in the mood for some old-fashioned rock music, played loud. The very first track, Strange Days by the Doors, is eerily apt:
Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They’re going to destroy
Our casual joys
Nothing could be stranger than this new reality. Tracked us down. Lain in wait. An unseen predator has ambushed our measured contentment.
We visit our close friend Mary and tell her the news. Her jaw drops, of course. She expresses horror at the combination of awful outcomes: jail, ruined reputation and financial loss. She asks how much it’s likely to cost, and we say that depends on how far it goes. The cheapest may be a grand or two, but if it goes to court it could run into tens of thousands – with no way to get any back. She says she’s just spent $700 on dental treatment for her ageing female fox terrier, and that makes us feel a little better about the likely cost. Pets’ teeth, clutch repairs, roof scaffolding, false rape complaints – they’re all just financial bombs that can drop on any one of us from time to time. The difference is that Mary chose her bitch and has probably derived some pleasure from her.
Women’s groups usually quote the figure of false complaints at two percent, and they seem to have convinced other influential people that it must be held as gospel. For example, Women Against Rape reported on its UK website in 2013 that the chief crown prosecutor for London said “Studies have indicated that only two percent of all reported rapes are false, which is slightly less than false reporting in all other crimes.” Any statement that starts “Studies have indicated…” should raise red flags. What studies? How were they conducted? How were the terms defined? Have other studies indicated anything very different? The last question is not rhetorical. Wendy McElroy noted on independent.org on May 2 2006 that legal scholar Michelle Anderson of Villanova University Law School reported, “No study has ever been published which sets forth an evidentiary basis for the two percent false rape complaint thesis.”
I bike in to the Rape Crisis Centre, which doubles as the Draketown Women’s Refuge. I want to find out whatever I can about the mindset of the opposition – for that is what they have become. Enemy would be too strong, because of course they mainly do thankless work with real victims. I want to ask a counsellor there what she knows about false rape complaints: how many she is aware of from her experience, and what reasons a woman would have to make up such a story. I confess I have another agenda. There is just a chance that Verity has made contact here, and they may know her case. I won’t use her name, of course, but when I describe the circumstances the counsellor may put two and two together. When I ask provocatively, “What do you know about having such women prosecuted? I have been the victim of a lie about rape, and if the police don’t prosecute her, I will,” maybe – just maybe – she will contact Verity again and encourage her to drop the accusations. It’s a chance in a hundred, because Verity may not even have filed her delusions through these premises. Actually, it’s one in thirty-two. That’s the number of government-accredited sexual abuse counselling establishments in Draketown.
I soon realise I’ve made a faux pas. A client says, “You shouldn’t even be in here. No men allowed.” Oops, of course. Fair enough, I guess. I go and wait outside the door. As women enter I ask, “Are you a counsellor here?” I eventually corner one and ask what she knows about false rape claims. She is polite enough but looks at me as if I’ve strayed from the set of Alien. I give her a sixty-second rundown of my predicament. She no doubt wonders why I would tell a stranger about this. She says she can give me a few minutes, but she has clients to see inside. I guess they have appointments, and they are her real business. I’m just a very tricky curveball.
It’s raining, and we stand talking over the beat of heavy drops on the iron veranda. What she says isn’t surprising. She says that such occasions are very rare. I don’t argue the point on this, or anything else she says, but I do say that it doesn’t matter if false reports make up fifty percent or one percent. All that matters to me is that this is one of them. I would stress that I am a person – not just a statistical blip – but I don’t think of that at the time. She says she is an experienced counsellor, but she won’t be drawn on the question of whether she has dealt with any false complaints. Instead she speaks hypothetically: a woman who does this may be mentally ill, may be seeking revenge, or may just crave attention.
I say that discouraging, revealing and even prosecuting false complaints may benefit everyone, including those actual victims she has to deal with. She agrees, but more half-heartedly than I expect. No sign of anything like fury at those liars who can allegedly make the suffering of real victims so much worse. Can there be no such thing as the wrong man? Are rapists everywhere, and does she see her job as a game of whack-a-mole in which every adult breathing male is a legitimate target, and every allegation by a woman should automatically send a man to jail? She says she is sorry, and seems sincere about this, but she really has to go inside, because actual abuse victims are her stock in trade. I point out that my anger at this lie doesn’t mean I have no concern for the real victims. I would ask, “Would your feeling of outrage that you have been falsely accused of murder imply that you have no sympathy for real murder victims?” But that’s another smart thing I don’t think of at the time, of course. I thank her for allowing me to disrupt her schedule.
This visit was mainly pointless, I guess. I saw no flicker of recognition when I outlined the facts of my case, so it appears poor Verity sought comfort elsewhere. But I think it may have been useful to allow this counsellor to see another side. Every day she no doubt deals with self-defined female victims, most honest and a few deluded, and never gets to talk to a man who has been put in this situation. Men are the unseen perverts and predators, but here I was in living 3D, human and angry. Why would I front up to a place like Rape Crisis if I were anyone but an innocent man outraged by a lie? Let her think about that.
Still nothing from the police. I think some more about Eva’s comment that “it’s a complex case.” On the surface of it, this may seem a reasonable explanation for the delay, but it isn’t at all. It’s just a smug reply to fob me off, issued by a detective who is clearly incapable of locating a needle in a box full of needles. I have no way of seeing into the police “investigation”, and this opacity allows them to evade, to delay, to obfuscate, even (as far as I know) to lie. Complexity is a complex word. In what specific way is this case complex? Is it legally complex, logically complex, psychologically complex, forensically complex, chronologically complex, geographically complex? Are all these suspects being “investigated” as an integrated group or as individual offenders? If the former, why hasn’t Verity's father, the supposed head pervert, even been interviewed yet? If the latter, why haven’t the police looked at the details of where Verity and I were during the period of the allegation and concluded that the woman has lied? My individual case isn’t complex at all.
Dry Ice is self-published. Its main purpose was always to draw attention to the plight of the falsely accused, and I know it will never turn a profit. However, it would be pleasing to recover some costs, hence the charge. Purchasing details are on the home page of this site. It's available in print, but the price outside New Zealand may be high. Fortunately, it's also available as a much cheaper e-book.