Moral crusade claims another victim

Andrew L. Urban.

Coinciding with the trial of Lisa Wilkinson and Network TEN for defamation, brought by Bruce Lehrmann who Brittany Higgins had accused of rape, I was putting the finishing touches to my manuscript, Presumption of Evil, in the final months of 2023. Topically enough, my book will reveal how Noel Greenaway was wrongfully convicted in 2019 of several historical sexual assaults from half a century ago, of then teenage girls at the Parramatta Training School for Girls – a place for troublesome teenagers. 

My research had led to the book Wrongful Allegations of Sexual and Child Abuse (Oxford University Press), edited by Ros Burnett, at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. One of the many passages that caught my eye was this one, echoing our own sentiment that, “While there has been a welcome increase in policies which address child abuse, rape and other sexual offences, these tend to neglect or disavow the diametrical problem of false allegations of such offences,”

Another passage in the book points to the risk of false claims: “It is inherent in the, typically, unwitnessed and physically uncorroborated nature of these ‘hidden’ crimes that they are difficult to prosecute; but also to disprove if no crime has been committed. It is right that all allegations of abuse are treated as believable and are rigorously investigated, but it is not in the interest of any progressive and robust system of justice to convict or malign innocent people.”

This observation is perfectly relevant to Noel Greenaway’s case. Half a dozen middle aged women came forward – for the first time and all at the same time – to lay complaints against Greenaway at the 2014 Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. They made dozens of uncorroborated lurid accusations from the 1960s that defy logic and/or physical plausibility, prompting suspicion that even if they believed their own stories, the claims, relying only on their own faded memories, demanded thorough investigation.

Noel Greenaway

No such investigation took place. All the claims were bundled into a brief of evidence that was taken to court five years later. The presiding judge told the jury that the statements by the claimants WAS all the evidence.

In his summing up to the jury, the judge explained: “The evidence comprises the answers that witnesses gave to questions asked of them.  That is important to remember because sometimes a question is suggested to a witness, a proposition is put.  If the witness does not adopt the suggestion or agree with the proposition, then there is no evidence of that fact. So the evidence then is the answers that the witness gives in the course of their evidence …”

Moral crusade

That, of course, flies in the face of due process and denied the possibility of a fair trial. The onus of proof is reversed: it is the accused who has to prove innocence. We can trace this erosion of the rule of law to the “moral crusade” that has been a feature of our socio-judicial system for years.

“[The] equation of an allegation of abuse with the status of evidence is an outcome of decades of crusading by moral entrepreneurs, who argue that society has a duty to believe the victim. The moral imperative to believe is conveyed through a narrative that condemns the unbeliever for raising questions about an allegation of abuse. Those who dare question such an allegation are deemed complicit in ‘victim-blaming’ or ‘secondary victimisation’ or ‘re-traumatisation’. The moral prohibition against the contestation of a victim’s allegation acquires its most virulent form in relation to those made by children. In such cases the sceptic is condemned for contributing to the further victimisation of the child,” writes sociologist Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

His essay, Moral Crusades, Child Protection, Celebrities and the Duty to Believe, is one of the chapters in Burnett’s compilation.

Frank Furedi

He goes on: The main accomplishment of the first Operation Yewtree Report*, published in January 2013 was to elevate the moral authority of an allegation of abuse. In effect, the authors of the Report called for the treatment of allegations of abuse to be regarded as de facto truths. The Report justified this casual attitude towards eliminating the burden of proof on the ground that it had received a ‘volume of allegations’, which painted a ‘compelling picture of widespread sexual abuse by a predatory sex offender.’

The vast quantity of allegations gained through a highly visible public relations operation served as justification for a fundamental revision of the language of due process. The authors of the Report took it upon themselves to define accusers as ‘victims’ rather than ‘complainants’. Moreover, they decided not to regard  ‘the evidence they have provided as unproven allegations’.

The displacement of the phrase ‘unproven allegation’ with the term ‘evidence’ represents a remarkable revision of the carefully calibrated vocabulary associated with the due process of the law. The mere allegation of victimisation is all that is required to gain the designation of a victim. This implicit rebranding of an unproven allegation into evidence all but relieves the accuser of the burden of proof.

Yewtree’s equation of an allegation of abuse with the status of evidence is an outcome of decades of crusading by moral entrepreneurs, who argue that society has a duty to believe the victim. The moral imperative to believe is conveyed through a narrative that condemns the unbeliever for raising questions about an allegation of abuse. Those who dare question such an allegation are deemed complicit in ‘victim-blaming’ or ‘secondary victimisation’ or ‘re-traumatisation’. The moral prohibition against the contestation of a victim’s allegation acquires its most virulent form in relation to those made by children. In such cases the sceptic is condemned for contributing to the further victimisation of the child.

Who speaks for the victims of that moral crusade, such as Noel Greenaway?

* Operation Yewtree: the Metropolitan Police investigation into allegations of criminal behaviour by the deceased celebrity Jimmy Savile.

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14 Responses to Moral crusade claims another victim

  1. Julie says:

    Well, I’m interested to read Presumption of evil when it’s available.

  2. Brian Johnston says:

    Andrew have you read Girl 43 by Maree Giles.
    The book is a novel based upon her experiences.
    Could you contact and interview Maree and report back to us. I would certainly like to hear her side.

  3. Brian Johnston says:

    Andrew if Greenaway did not commit the crimes then who did?

    It is very difficult to believe that all the girls complaints/testimonies are false.

    I believe something happened. What and by whom?

    • andrew says:

      There is no evidence at all that the crimes claimed were committed by anyone. It is more difficult to believe the claims, as I show in my book, to be published later this year.

  4. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Happy New Year Andrew and to all your readers for their ‘conciousness raising’ affirmations. As with Mary’s great comments and particularly her concluding paragraph “ Sexual abuse cases…..”. Should all cases be decided on “provable facts” and therefore without reasonable doubt I would be interested to hear/read Mary’s comments on “circumstantial evidence”.

  5. John Biggs says:

    It is unfortunate that you began with the Higgins Lehrman issue because what follows could be seen as prejudicial to Higgins’ claims. But the general issue about the complainant is that she (it is usually a she) is forced into the position of having her past dragged into public view when the accused is protected from that, as is happening in this case. It means as several have pointed out that the treatment of Higgins is a massive deterrent for any complainants of rape to come forward. The boys will have a field day. Obviously the law needs massive revising in cases involving sexual assault.

    • andrew says:

      You say “…the accused is protected from that” – well, yes, because the presumption of innocence and the right to silence is a foundational aspect of criminal law. As for having “her past dragged into public view”, in this case I don’t think Higgins could complain about that since she was the one who went to the media before making a complaint to the police. Complainants are generally protected by laws that prevent relevant prior conduct being put to juries.

      And yes, agreed, “the law needs massive revising in cases involving sexual assault.”

    • andrew says:

      Sorry, I omitted to respond to your first sentence re my article being prejudicial to Higgins’ claims. There is no criminal jury trial in progress or coming regarding her claims, so there is no prejudicial aspect to my article.

  6. Brian Johnston says:

    The girls went through hell.
    Andrew you say Greenaway was wrongfully convicted.
    Is he innocent or guilty might be a more important question to ask.
    Wrongfully convicted does not equate to innocent.
    I find it hard to accept that all those girls made up all those stories and accusations. Their comments can be found on the internet. There is a lot of anger. Graphic.
    Have you read Girl 43 by Maree Giles?
    What about a retrial and convict Greenaway correctly.

    • andrew says:

      Given all the information I have found, I would not hesitate to say that Greenaway did not commit those crimes.

    • Joshua says:

      Wrongly convicted does mean innocent in the courts view. All victims of sexual assault go through hell. I wouldn’t describe my own assaults as hell, I was a kid with no basis for comparison. In 2002 there were 7 complainants including myself. All but two complainants were tried separately. The accused walked, as I knew he would. A key witness in my case died just before the trial. There was likely no one in the room who thought the accused was innocent. If all it takes is an allegation to throw anyone in the slammer, everyone could find themselves a convicted sex offender. That is literally what removing the burden of proof in a sexual abuse case means.
      For context, at the same time I was a complainant/witness for the crown in one state, I was the numero uno fall guy for my cousins murder that occurred the same year. You truly appreciate how much power authorities have and the implications for their decisions when in that position. There’s nothing like that experience to want to demand fairness, and open justice, and one where those making the allegation bare the burden of proving any allegations to the requisite standard.

  7. Keith says:

    Child abuse has been rife in Australia for decades with innocent children being taken advantage of by mostly male predators for their own sexual gratification. This changes the person that child was destined to become, and leaves life long scars. Their brains don’t develop as they should, and results in a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. This disorder is largely untreatable and impacts severely on how the person behaves, thinks and acts.
    Sadly, this can also result in such sufferers making vexatious complaints of sexual assault (among other claims) against innocent people with whom they have developed a fixation. It would be wise for investigating officers to conduct a psychological assessment of complainants to weed out such vexatious claims and save innocent people of wrongful arrest/conviction.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you Keith. As I understand it, some children who have been sexually abused can develop Borderline Personality Disorder. As I also understand it, children who have been physically and/or emotionally abused can also be highly damaged and traumatised and develop disorders. In any event, children who have been damaged and traumatised in early childhood often find it difficult to concentrate, remember, and learn in school because they cannot concentrate for long enough to lay down an accurate memory and thus be able to retrieve an accurate memory, and this can continue even afterwards throughout life. Often, if they find themselves in situations where they feel as vulnerable as they did at the time of their childhood abuse, and they can find it difficult to remember details accurately because they have been unable to lay down the memory accurately and, perhaps fearing sexual abuse, can believe they have actually been sexually abused when in fact they may have been physically abused or just feared abuse, as in an abusive relationship, or just because they feel threatened.

      And, apart from the fact that by law, and in every other type of crime, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty [with facts, not just allegations] this is why it is so wrong that the burden of proof has effectively been reversed in sexual abuse cases.

      Clearly this is a problem for anyone who has been sexually abused and has no proof. No bruising, semen, witnesses, persons told at the time or very soon afterwards, or anything else that would support the person’s allegations. Clearly, they suffer a serious injustice. But often there is no proof of theft. No proof of murder. Sometimes no proof even of fraud. And these are also seriously unjust situations with innocent victims who have no way of getting justice.

      But as noted by Andrew, who speaks for the victims of the moral crusaders, such as Noel Greenaway, who was accused by women who had once been at Parramatta Girls Training School?

      Of the sixteen women who gave oral evidence in Case No. 7, [Parramatta GTS] of the Royal Commission, six named men who were not working at Parramatta at the same time as the accuser. That is an error rate of 37.5% which is far greater than the crusaders would like to believe and indeed, the error rate is probably higher that 37.5% because there is no guarantee at all that accusers were correctly remembering, even when they accused someone who did happen to be working at Parramatta at the same time as the girl was a resident there.

      37.5% is an error rate that compares with the bulk of studies [in the 30 – 40+% range of errors in studies that have actually ranged between about 6% to 90%] that have been done in an effort to establish the error rate of wrongful allegations of sexual abuse. It is understood that similarly, the error rate of wrongful allegations against husbands in custody cases is about one-third of allegations.

      These are error rates that are way too high to ignore, especially when the accusee [or alleged perpetrator] is almost always convicted under the present system of always believing the “victim”.

      Certainly, as noted in the above article, all accusers should be treated as being believable. But being believable is not necessarily the same as having given factually accurate evidence. And being believable should not mean that the defendant is almost automatically considered unbelievable, due to the current ideology that can permeate the minds of even police, magistrates and judges to the point where such people are not even aware that they are carrying a bias in favour of the accuser. Indeed some rather far-fetched rationalisation or speculation has sometimes occured in order to dismiss genuine exculpatory evidence for the accused.

      And while I’m writing this, I may as well point out that relying on demeanour of the person giving evidence in order to assess truth-telling, is highly unreliable. Statistics show that the chances of coming to the correct assessment of truth-telling based on demeanour is about 50/50 and that in fact the man in the street will probably get it right about 54% of the time whilst Judges and police will probably get it right only about 45% of the time.

      Sexual abuse cases should only be decided on provable facts, and if there are no provable facts then, as with other types of crime, charges should not be laid.

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