Genuine rape victims betrayed by unsubstantiated claims

As Bruce Lehrmann’s contentious rape defamation trial of TEN and The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson enters its final week, the whole subject of sexual assault allegations and the law are in the spotlight.

Five elderly women in 2019 were able to convince a NSW jury – just on their say-so – that a half a century earlier, a man whose character references would make a pope proud had abused them physically and sexually when they were teenagers. That man was 80 when he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years jail.

During another recent rape trial, the complainant’s history of accusing men of rape in four similar circumstances to the man on trial was largely not allowed into evidence due to section 294CB of the Evidence Act in NSW, which forbids tendency evidence that goes to a complainant’s sexual history from being placed before a jury. (The accused has no such protection from tendency evidence.)

Unlike in other states, the NSW legislation has no exception provision. NSW District Court Judge Robert Newlinds SC has echoed other judges in saying there was “a serious need for law reform in this regard”. He was quoted in The Australian (December 16/17, 2023) “I do think that the trial was unfair because the applicant was not able to put before the jury the true history of the complainant’s complaints thus putting into context all of her evidence and the circumstances of her conduct before the jury,” the judge said.

“if the jury had known”

“If the jury had known the full picture of the complainant’s history of accusing men of rape in similar circumstances, the time of deliberation would have been measured in minutes. Knowing what I know now, I have concluded that it was not possible for the applicant to have a fair trial without the introduction of the evidence of those other complaints.”

The man spent eight months in prison before eventually being granted bail and then acquitted by a jury on December 4, 2023.

Writing about the consequential defamation trial under way in which Bruce Lehrmann is suing Network TEN and Lisa Wilkinson of The Project, lawyer columnist Janet Albrechtsen stated (The Australian, December 16/17, 2023): “The outcome of this trial is an opportunity, in this chaotic #MeToo age, to be reminded of what good journalism looks like in he said-she said stories where lives can be wrecked if an allegation of rape is untrue – or unprovable.

“When Higgins went to the media ahead of formalising a police complaint, her story turned into a media juggernaut. Many journalists appeared uninterested in learning if there was another side to the story. Even as evidence has emerged of inconsistencies in Higgins’s version, some journalists still are uninterested.”

Noted Albrechtsen, “Matthew Richardson SC (Lehrmann’s barrister) had no success extracting a concession from Wilkinson that by applauding Higgins’s bravery in her televised Logies speech – just eight days out from a criminal trial – people would have understood that the journalist believed Higgins’s unproven allegation. Richardson was right of course given the criminal trial was delayed for three months, with ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum castigating the speech for prejudicing a fair trial.

Lisa Wilkinson

“But Wilkinson wouldn’t have a bar of the bleeding obvious, saying she was simply celebrating Higgins’s courage. Justice Michael Lee stepped in: “Would you accept, Ms Wilkinson, that a woman would not be showing unwavering courage if she made a false allegation of rape?”

“Sorry, your honour, I’ve got to think about that question.”

When Lee repeated the question, Wilkinson said: “Yes, I accept that.”

“Right,” continued Lee. “Well, doesn’t it follow that if you say that someone is showing unwavering courage, it means they’re making a true allegation of rape against a guilty man?”

“Yes,” she instantly agreed. This could be seen in hindsight as one of the most crucial exchanges in the trial when the judge considers the questions of defamation as well as qualified privilege.

suspicions, allegations v proven facts

Because the court will take into account the extent to which The Project interview distinguished between “suspicions, allegations and proven facts”, the reasons for the judgement will be significant – whatever the outcome.

False rape claims have a long history, #metoo notwithstanding. In his ‘An International Timeline of False Rape Allegations 1674 – 2015’, Alexander Barton compiles and annotates 350 years of examples.

Women who make false rape allegations should be publicly condemned by honest women for doing great damage to real victims and to women overall – and betraying the good intentions of the #MeToo movement. And the legal process. If made under oath, it is perjury.

This entry was posted in Case 18 Bruce Lehrmann, General articles. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Genuine rape victims betrayed by unsubstantiated claims

  1. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Andrew, I feel I must take you to task on a few extracts from your blog but I will be brief because and as you quote “ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallam castigating the speech for prejudicing a fair trial”, has for me connotations that you may be doing a similar thing while judge Michael Lee has yet to hand down his report. I believe there may be some assumptions being made that Ms Higgins did not deserve an “unwavering courage” recognition for exposing that she was sexually assaulted/raped in her workplace. Surely this is a case of only these two people really knowing what occurred that evening/ early morning as is being rightly or wrongfully reported.
    This woman’s “courage” is yet again under scrutiny when this trial is all about Mr Lehrmann’s defamation claim. The blog goes on to emphasise “False rape claims have a long history” and “Women who make false rape claims” and I would suggest there is no equal emphasis on “Women who have successfully made true rape claims!
    Finally Andrew I read what begins with quotation marks “But Wilkinson wouldn’t have a bar of the bleeding obvious, saying she was simply celebrating Higgin’s courage. Was this a quote by someone and if it was, what was the “bleeding obvious”?
    I for one do not wish to be in anyone’s shoes in this “media juggernaut” but whoever did what there have been many casualties and maybe that’s because of the media juggernaut!
    Your blog gives me the opportunity to express concern for all those affected but I must say that Ms Wilkinson raised some allegations about a workplace that would benefit from a Royal Commission sooner rather than later. Now this would be worth exposing!

    • andrew says:

      I note your concerns but I assure you my reporting is within the guidelines, as are the comments I quote from Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian (including one that begins “But Wilkinson …” The “bleeding obvious” was that “by applauding Higgins’s bravery in her televised Logies speech – just eight days out from a criminal trial – people would have understood that the journalist believed Higgins’s unproven allegation.” See the exchange with Justice Lee about this in the article.

      In jury trials especially in criminal trials, media, eg Wilkinson/The Project, is obliged to avoid prejudicial statements.

      • Garry Stannus says:

        An interesting comment from Jerry and an interesting response from Andrew.

        I’m sort of unsure how I think about the two … Jerry’s comment and Andrew’s response.
        -I tend to think that the aborted rape trial is not legally/intrinsically-connected to the Lehrmann defamation case … i.e. that the defamation case will/would not be prejudiced by comment on the aborted rape trial.
        -I’m trying to distinguish between when court actions/hearings are necessarily bound to each other and when they have nothing to do with each other … (in the way that commenting on a trial while an appeal against that trial’s verdict is progressing … way well be prejudicial and/or in contempt of court [e.g. when Sue was appealing (the second time) to the Supreme Court of Appeal, we were unable to comment publicly on matters stemming from Sue’s trial, because they related to that Appeal.] However ,
        -The two actions (Sue’s Trial and the 2nd Appeal) were related like cause and effect. Probably not possible at the time to call Justice Blow ‘a klutz‘ publicly without prejudicing Sue’s 2nd Appeal (and 1st Appeal for that matter!)
        -But, for me, the present question is ‘whether public comment on the aborted Lehrmann trial might have a direct/demonstrable potential effect on Lehrmann’s defamation case. I dunno! I don’t even know if the defamation case is before a jury or is to be decided by a judge.

        ‘One thing I can tell you is you got to be free … Come together! …’

        – is Andrew’s article crossing a line, in the way it comments on Albrechtsen’s media article
        [December 16, 2023 | Australian, The/Weekend Australian, The/Australian Magazine, The (Australia) Author/Byline: JANET ALBRECHTSEN | Page: 18 | Section: Inquirer]?

        -The full The Australian article that Andrew quotes from is available on my Garry Stannus Facebook page (it’s public … i.e., open).

        Is Andrew sailing too close to the wind with his segments concerning false accusations of rape?

        I don’t know … but I do want to say that Jerry has gained my respect over some time now, for his considered comments on WCR. Obviously, too, Andrew himself, I respect.

        • andrew says:

          For the record, the defamation trial is a civil matter and it’s before a judge only and comments are not in contempt. Nor is commenting on media articles, or quoting them. I’m looking forward to reading His Honour;s judgement and reasons…which will be reserved, so probably early next year.

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