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.
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 …”
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.
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.