It is not altogether surprising that the story of Liam Allan, the 22-year-old student falsely accused of six counts of rape by his ex-girlfriend, has caused such a media stir. For starters, there seems to have been hugely significant levels of incompetence that left Allan on bail for two years and facing a possible 10 years in prison. But it’s not just the failing of the legal system that has set the newspaper columnists banging, baiting and berating.
Despite the fact that false accusations of rape are exceptionally rare – research for the Home Office suggests that only four per cent of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false – they often receive far more attention than the 96 per cent of authentic rape accusations. Or, at least pre-Weinstein they did. I would argue that, pre-Weinstein, the stories of false rape accusations were reported not only to cover a miscarriage of justice, but also to give testimony to society's most cruel and persuasive myth: that women lie about their experiences of sexual assault and rape. That – as the accuser in Allan’s case has been described in the press – they are “scorned women”, jealous, bitter, rejected and trying to get attention. So, when the media, or at least certain corners of it, could find one of the four per cent of cases, the world would be reminded that women are liars, with all the hateful puff of a tabloid front page ensuring that the myth continues and women remain silent.
Yet, Allen’s case – which collapsed last week when “vital evidence” came to light that had previously and inexplicably not been disclosed – comes in a post-Weinstein world, and the thorny issue of false rape accusations in a transforming society becomes even thornier.
After millions of women came forward and said #MeToo, the sheer numbers resulted in the beginnings of a culture shift where the default is not to doubt, but to listen and to believe. Believing women has become political. In many ways, believing women has always been a feminist act of solidarity, but now – post Weinstein – it was not just confined to fringe groups. It’s become a global chorus of support, with voices from the epicenter of power and culture. This, of course, is not to say there is a blindness or wilful ignorance – this is not a case of believing all women regardless of fact, truth and evidence. But while women have not been believed for time eternal, believing feels like some sort of correction, some sort of positive action.
For those who don’t like to, or don’t want to, believe women, for those who don’t want the power to shift, Liam Allan is the morality tale of a post-Weinstein world
And then came the backlash. The undermining, the mocking, the doubting. The Giles Corens and the Rod Liddles worried about the end of the human race because men could never look at women again. A generation of women came screeching, “Snowflake!”, telling those speaking out to stop being victims. In today’s Times Libby Purves, discussing the Allan case, writes that “the new wisdom says that we women are perpetual victims: abused, coerced or freezing in dumb terror”. She argues that the post-Weinstein climate and the “neurotic magnification of minor male clumsiness” may encourage more false rape allegations. Which roughly translates to: “Look, at how hysterical these women are – how they are overreacting.” And yet, again, women are being silenced and mocked – our experiences devalued or brushed aside, our refusal to let abusers remain in positions of power reduced to “witch-hunts”. Yep, we’re back to witches.
And this is the world Liam Allan’s story sits in. It does not negate his innocence or what he has endured over the last two years, but it serves a purpose to Purves and to Joanna Williams, who, writing in the Daily Mail today, talks of the “grotesque rape lynch mob culture”, brought on by feminism (insert monocle-wearing, chin-stroking emoji face here). Allan’s case gives them fuel to accuse the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Alison Saunders, of kowtowing to a cultural moment of hysteria. It’s a case by which to prove what disaster and unjust things will happen if we allow women’s voices to be actually heard. It will, according to Williams, “set back feminism for years and damage the lives of all women” (insert another monocle-wearing, chin-stroking emoji face here).
The reaction to Liam Allan’s case is telling – there are hundreds of miscarriages of justice daily, be it by the police, the CPS or government cuts to legal aid, but this one is getting all the air time. For those who don’t like to, or don’t want to, believe women, for those who don’t want the power to shift, Liam Allan is the morality tale of a post-Weinstein world – hysterical women overreacting or, as we always knew they did, lying. For the rest of us, we recognise a deeply troubling miscarriage of justice for an individual, but also a wider context. Liam Allan is a rare case. There are far too many actual victims who have never even been heard and won’t be while this undermining and shaming rhetoric continues.