The Drawbridge

Updated: 2 days ago

3-minute read

The background to three related articles on this site.

Occasionally the telling of the story is a story in itself.

I believe it was in 2018 when I first made contact with the well-known New Zealand journalist and presenter – let's call her Andrea – who had courageously made her email address publicly available in order to establish herself as New Zealand's #metoo representative. She wanted to encourage all those who had a story of sexual abuse to come forward. Of course, my motive was to present to her the other side, and over the next year or two I sent her occasional links to false accusation cases where mistakes were made, lies told and lives destroyed. I also gave the bare bones of the accusation made against me. Andrea was quite responsive. She conceded that false accusations do occur and can be devastating.

Early in 2020 she even told me that she was interested in doing an article on the news website on false allegations, but she needed at least two victims to front up and say that someone had accused them of being rapists or, at the very least, sex pests. It was no surprise and not her fault that she couldn't find them. Who, apart from a tiny number of bullheaded campaigners like me, would ever admit to this?

In July 2020 I sent Andrea an untitled piece I now call Who's a Victim? (though it was then untitled), an article inspired by a 2019 TV One news item in which a sexual complainant with the pseudonym Hannah complained about the callous way the justice system had treated her. My angle was that suspects are treated far worse. Andrea replied promptly and enthusiastically, saying she thought it was “beautifully written and made some excellent points” and she would pass it on to her editor. She seemed optimistic that it would run somewhere, the only issue being where “it would best sit.” She said she'd let me know the decision after a couple of days.

In fact, it took weeks for a response, and then only after some polite reminders from me. Eventually she said that her editors had rejected it for legal reasons. Specifically, they said there was no way to confirm my assertion that my accuser had lied, or that the police had been biased and inefficient. They stressed that, by my own admission, my case remains open and that they could not support an article making assertions that have “not been legally tested either way.”

Andrea gave the illusion of balance by saying that all of her #metoo articles are “similarly carefully vetted by my editors and don't make it into print if they can't be proved to an acceptable legal standard either.” The exasperating irony in such a response is that it means no one determined or foolhardy enough to write about a false accusation will ever be published, because all such cases will be labelled as open sexual accusations that don't yet have the evidence to proceed. The only way they will ever come to court is if prosecutors become convinced they can convict the alleged sexual perpetrator. Of course, journalists can go right ahead with a case like Hannah's, because her abuser was convicted and the circumstances of her case and her criticisms of the system can therefore be reported as fact.

In any case, what law did I break? I'm no lawyer, but I remain convinced that my piece was legally safe. After all, I didn't identify my accuser. I didn't even say where I live, so I was criticising unidentified detectives of an unidentified police district. If it is now illegal to denounce government institutions in any opinion piece, what kind of state have we become?

I told Andrea that I was convinced the legal rationale was just a pretext; the truth is that the plight of falsely accused people just isn't a story any editor dares to tell. In fact, I decided to prove it: I slashed Who's a Victim? to around half length, discarding all references to my case and to the detectives who pretended to investigate it. The new, general version stuck to bulletproof and easily verifiable aspects of the treatment of sexual suspects. This was what I now call Who's a Victim Two, and I submitted it to Andrea with the suggestion she forward it to her editor.

No response. A month later I emailed her again to express regret that, once again, nothing came of my attempts to shed some light on the raw injustice of false allegations. As always, I was polite, though I did finish in a firm tone: I called the media imbalance disgraceful.

Andrea responded with manufactured offence, as it seemed to me. She protested that she'd genuinely tried her best for me and found my “anger quite upsetting”. Anger? I don't think so. I conveyed justified frustration, aimed primarily at unnamed people above her. Andrea, with what she seemed to consider exceptional magnanimity considering my offensive tone, did give me the email address of an editor who handles appeals. I sent this editor a very polite message offering reasons for running Who's a Victim Two. That was six months ago, at the time of writing this. Not a word in response.

I had suggested that the legal reasons to refuse the original article were bogus, and the brush-off of the revised piece surely confirmed this beyond reasonable doubt. No one in the corridors of mainstream media power is interested in the plight of the falsely accused. I'd had many other fruitless interactions with the media over the previous five years – including newspapers, magazines, radio and television – and the best any managed was the same silent veto from on high. I'm tempted to call it a brick wall, but it's more like a drawbridge which unseen defenders calmly winch up whenever anyone gets close to the gate.

What do I now make of Andrea? A cynic might say that she just wanted to give the impression of impartiality, and she would never have done an article on false allegations. That may be unfair, though I do wonder if she really did send my second version to the boss upstairs. Despite her claim to be interested in balance, I haven't noticed a single sentence acknowledging false allegations in any of her own published writing. After her pouty response I tried to maintain the connection with her, even sending her a link to an online article that supported her campaign stance, about the rise of the #metoo movement in France. I never heard back, so I seem to have been unfriended.

That's the story of Who's a Victim versions one and two. A third piece, A Lesser Tragedy, is based on the same TV One news item. However, it is far longer and also broader in its scope than the first two. A Lesser Tragedy uses the comment by the same sexual complainant as a springboard to dive into many aspects of false allegations. I also intend it to be a live file which I'll update and expand.

I still shudder at the thought of running a website, and I've put it off as long as possible. However much I may claim the noble purpose of promoting a neglected truth, it can always be seen as a kind of self-promotion. And who am I to presume to have the knowledge, the talent and the perseverance to become my own media mini-organisation? All I ever wanted was an opportunity to alert the public through mainstream media that most data about false allegations is dead wrong and that #believethevictim is therefore a dangerous assumption which has put innocent people in jail.

The rejection even of the defanged Who's a Victim Two was the end of the line. It confirmed that the media will never allow anyone a voice who doesn't follow the single comfortable agenda. I'm one of that fading generation who read newspapers and had faith in the mainstream media, because I trusted them to be impartial. No more. On the website at the start of 2021 there appeared an appeal to online readers to donate money to pay its reporters. It said, “Stuff's ethical reporting is built on accuracy, fairness and balance.” Was this a joke?

So here is Blackstone's Drum. I will run it only until balance returns to the issue of sexual allegations. I'm hunkering down, because that may not be for quite a while.

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