We all know that violence against women has reached epidemic levels in Australia. We also know that on average, every week,one is killed at the hands of their partner. Shelters,crisis services, and front line legal services are all stretched to the limit.
Domestic and family violence in particular is well documented as Australia’s shame, a ‘National Disgrace’, and Governments at all levels have committed significant funding to combat the problem.
But there is another side of violence against women. The silent side. The side we rarely talk about. The stories of those who are victims of wrongful accusations.
Just as there are real cases of violence against women every week, there’s also an increasing number of cases in which someone is wrongly accused, andcomplaints of assault are exaggerated or, sometimes, completely fabricated.
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The case of the good Samaritan
In November 2018, 19-year old Caitlan Gray was involved in a minor car collision in the western Sydney suburb of Bankstown, before pulling into a nearby BP service station.
36-year old Kenan Basic, a stranger to Ms Gray, took it upon himself to assist her. Her radiator had been damaged and she was otherwise stranded. He repaired it so she could hopefully get home safely.
And many would say that it would be nice if there were more Mr Basic’s in the world. Someone who actually noticed a young woman in trouble and took the time – almost two hours of his time – to help her.
But shortly after the incident,MsGraymademade a formal complaint to police.
She told police that Mr Basic had offered to follow her in his own in case she broke down again and she claimed that after refusing his offer, he insisted that she “owed” him a hug as a thank you for his efforts. She went onto say that despite telling him it was not necessary, he did follow her, in his car to Milperra Road in Liverpool.
In Milperra road, according to Ms Gray, Mr Basic pulled up beside her, got out of his car, reached through the driver side window of her vehicle, lunging at her, grabbing her breast and genital area.
Based on the account given to police by Ms Gray, Mr Basic was arrested shortly after and charged with two counts of an act of indecency and one of stalking or intimidation with intent to cause physical or mental harm.
He was refused bail at the police station. It was also refused bail by the magistrate who presided over his court application (and who incidentally, labelled him a “predator”). As a result, he spent five days in the maximum security Silverwater Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre.
And if it wasn’t for the efforts of police, Mr Basic may well be still behind bars. When they eventually obtained CCTV footage of the areas described by Ms Gray and her interactions with Mr Basic, they realized that she may not be telling the truth.
CCTV footage from the service station recorded Mr Basic fixing Ms Gray’s car. Other camera footage gave witness to his story that after he got her on the road, he drove away, and had nothing further to do with her. Cameras from the route through which Mr Basic allegedly followed Ms Gray established beyond any doubt that there was no pursuit or subsequent encounter.
Despite all the evidence contradicting her story, when police contacted Ms Gray she repeatedly insisted that she was not lying. Eventually, she was persuaded to drop the charges, and was charged herself with making a false accusation.
By this time, however, Mr Basic’s life was already unravelling. He had spent five days behind bars, was dismissed from his job, and the allegations put a strain on his marriage, he says, contributing to his subsequent divorce.
Sexual harassment and #MeToo
In Australia, sexual harassment levels have also reached crisis point, with one in three women reporting harassment at work in the past five years.
But here too, is an arena that also breeds false allegations, even though they may be rare.
In the age of #Metoo, a significant number of men (60% according to one recent survey) have shared a collective fear that false accusations in the workplace could also be on the rise.
The simple fact of the matter is that all allegations of violence against women tend to be matters where, in the court of ‘public and community opinion’ you’re not necessarily innocent until proven guilty. Instead, the reverse tends to be applied with gossip and innuendo and can mean a person’s reputation can end up in tatters before they have an opportunity to prove otherwise. The stigma can last for years.
False allegations of Domestic Violence
False allegations of violence are sometimes made because the accuser is attention-seeking. Sometimes they are made in the heat of the moment, based on irrational emotion. Some, particularly those that involve domestic violence,can be madein an attempt to sway family law or custody proceedings too.
Apprehended Violence Order (AVO)
An AVO, sometimes also called a restraining orders or protection orders is designed toprotect victims when they are fearful of future violence or threats to their safety. There are two types. The first, an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) which is specifically for instances where the people involved are related or have had a domestic or intimate relationship. The second, is an Apprehended Personal Violence Order (APVO) made where the people involved are not related or do not have a domestic or intimate relationship
AVOs areintended to protect the victim first and foremost. They can be implemented quickly and easily, without any need to actually ‘prove’ the offence. In some instances, Police have the power to automatically take out an AVO without the consent of the alleged ‘person in need of protection’ (PINOP) either.
However, while they can be immediately enacted and enforced, the downside is that AVOs can be filed even when there is little evidence and no witnesses. And once it has been filed, an AVO can be difficult to withdraw, and sometimes difficult to disprove, too. If there are children involved there is a lot more is at stake for the defendant because an AVO can stop someone from accessing their own property or their children.
An AVO can also have an impact on where someone chooses to live, places they want to travel, and employment opportunities too.
The other side of the story
Matt’s story is case in point. He was given an interim AVO following an incident that occurred shortly after he and his wife separated. He says there are three different accounts of the incident; the first when the incident occurred, another statement to the police which adds assault (something he says he was not questioned on) but was allegedly noted on the day, and also a third recollection which is different again and is contained in his wife’s family law affidavit.
He says he has vigorously denied all allegations and filed a family law affidavit too, but also notes that aside from the police reports relating to the AVO his wife has not produced any other evidence, nor any evidence that their 11-year marriage, contained any instances to suggest a history of domestic violence. At this point in time, he is only allowed ‘supervised access’ to his children and is fighting for that to be changed.
‘He said’vs ‘She said’
In another story, a female alleged assault by her boyfriend. Police brought charges but would not serve the CCTV footage of incident. The accused man’s legal team was able to subpoena the file of footage which clearly shows the woman hitting her boyfriend, not the other way around. Police did not dismiss the charges, and although they were ultimately dismissed by the court, it was not before the accused man had already been made a social pariah and had lost his job and his community reputation.
The problem is that bogus vindictive complaints can put someone through personal hell. And,they clog up the courts wasting time and resources that could otherwise be directed to cases where a victim is in real danger.
What to do if you are wrongly accused.
If you are an innocent person issued with an AVO, you can choose not to defend, which is the quickest and cheapest option, but you should think carefully about the potential future consequences involved. If you decide to fight the allegation, then the process can be lengthy, but worth it when charges can be disproven or dropped, especially if there are any children or if there is a family law dispute. In any case, seek legal advice.