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How can you help men who are falsely accused of sexual abuse? Notes from the FASO helpline.

by Margaret Gardener

Picture: Margaret delivering a talk at University College London (UCL) on 28th Feb 2019 for the Male Psychology Network.

 

Let me ask you to do a thought experiment:

Have you ever considered the possibility that you could be arrested in your own home in front of your family and friends and neighbours, held in a police cell, interviewed under caution, charged and bailed or remanded to appear in court, when you haven’t actually done anything?

and

That your photograph, name and address, might appear in the local and national press and on TV, insinuating what an evil monster you are?

and

That having been released without charge or with all charges dropped, with your good name and integrity still intact (at least in the eyes of the law) you might be subjected to additional investigation by the social services and other agencies, where you may have no right of representation or comment?

and

That social services could force you to break off contact with your family and children?

and

Without proof, evidence, witnesses, or corroboration you could be convicted and sentenced to several years in prison when you haven’t actually done anything?

Having thought about, how would you feel now if one or more of the above scenarios really happened to you?

 

Empathy is key

When trying to understand the psychology of what the falsely accused feel, you have to firstly put yourself in their position. The first step to helping them is to try to understand how people that seek our support feel.

Some contact FASO regularly; others just occasionally. Some understandably feel they cannot cope and sadly feel suicidal. They tell us that sharing their stories with people who understand what they are going through can be cathartic, and they generally feel better because we know what they are going through.

Families who phone for support for those in this situation feel helpless. They tell us that their loved ones withdraw and won’t speak to anyone. They won’t go out, see a doctor, or take up opportunities for support.  The family member is often scared for the sanity of themselves and their loved ones, including children of course.  Children cry. They can’t understand why they can’t see the accused person. We all feel the huge stress that false accusations bring.

The accused person can experience a huge range of emotions and mental health issues: extreme stress; feeling that no-one will listen despite having to repeat themselves constantly; often having a shaky voice which leads to tears of anger, frustration. Crucially they feel utter disbelief: why would someone make such heinous yet untrue accusations?  Some of the thoughts we hear about are:

  • What made them make an allegation that I am such a monster? Where did such a thought come from?
  • My head is whirling; I feel sick; cannot concentrate; I can’t eat or sleep. I am collapsing and feel suicidal!
  • Where do I go? I won’t go out as friends might believe the allegations. Where/who do I turn to? I am isolated from everyone. I have nowhere to live!
  • My family is destroyed. My partner and children are crying for me as I am for them. 
  • Why is it taking so long to be investigated? How am I to manage in the court – what is it like? I don’t understand what the barrister and solicitor are saying. I can’t even get a lawyer as I can’t afford it. Why can’t all my evidence be used in court – I am told it is not allowed?

 

There is no euphoric feeling if a not guilty vote by the jury is returned

It often takes months/years of heartache, maybe losing the family, costing the earth, losing a job forever with the trauma still within the individual. “No, I cannot get on with life”, they say; “it will never be the same again”.

Note that the above issues are the reactions of those who are newly accused. The reactions of the falsely accused who are in prison is another matter. They have ongoing issues to deal with and more to come when they are released from prison.

FASO has been operating now for 17 years. We are volunteers without any funding. We can offer a sympathetic ear, but we can’t give desperate people the answers or practical support they want or need. We are not lawyers and cannot offer legal or counselling services. We can only perform a “sticking plaster” service of being a friendly, supportive ear and try to signpost people to other services that may be able to help. But those services are in very short supply in a broken criminal justice system. The UK government in 2000 estimated that there were around 120,000 false accusations annually. FASO sees just the tip of this very large iceberg, and the number of people who we cannot help is too overwhelming to contemplate.

 

About the author

Margaret Gardener is the founder of the False Allegations Support Organisation (FASO). Her presentation at UCL on this topic will be on the Male Psychology Youtube channel in early March 2019.

Margaret has a background in voluntary emergency nursing and prior to this a career in the civil service, serving abroad during this time, which helped to improve her communication skills. She was a registered foster carer for special needs teenagers and was catapulted through a family experience, as a volunteer, into the False Allegations Support Organisation in 2001. Her fist role at FASO was Secretarial, she then progressed to the helpline (using her empathy skills, and supporting callers in their distress). As the Director of FASO (UK) she addresses parliament and agencies both criminal and family through the medium of consultations and meetings, whilst liaising with Academia and like-minded groups. She addresses in part the issues of the hidden victims, both children/vulnerable adults and the accused parent/individual on safeguarding issues.

The FASO website, with helpline details, is http://www.false-allegations.org.uk/

Email: support@false-allegations.org.uk

Phone: 0844 335 1992

Monday to Friday, 18:00 to 22:00.

 

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The Christian psychologist: Some thoughts on anger and justice

by John Steley, psychologist.

Image: The Merchants Chased from the Temple painted by James Tissot

 

What do people think of when they hear the word ‘Christian’? Some may react with cynicism but for others it may evoke thoughts of a caring attitude, sympathy and a listening ear for those who need it.

I do not disagree that Christians are called to care for those I need. This includes the call to listen when necessary. (Although most of my training took place in secular state universities I was always mindful of the theologian Paul Tillich’s dictum that ‘The first duty of love is to listen.’) But is there more to it than that? I think there is.

The Christian scriptures call us to care, but they also include a demand for justice. In the Old Testament, prophets like Amos were scathing in their denunciation of the injustices of their day. In the New Testament the news of the birth of Christ was first of all given, not to the rulers or the elite, but to a group of shepherds – people at the very bottom of the social heap. (A point that often seems to be missed in sanitised nativity plays.)

So, when I meet a client my first job is to listen. What is this person’s story? Why has he or she come to see me? What do they want me to do? What does he or she really need?

It may be that reflective counselling, psychological insights and a plan to change behaviour may be enough. These things are of benefit to many people. But I must also ask myself, does this person need justice? Has he or she sought justice and had it denied?

The Bible is also clear that while injustice can come from ‘below’, for example the mugger or the thief, it can also come from ‘above’. How many times have we heard complaints from people who have faced indifference, incompetence or outright hostility from those who are paid to address their needs?

In cases such as this my Christian commitment compels me to say that simply listening, offering insights and helping the person to cope are not enough. At best this would be inadequate. At worst it colludes with the abusers.

When a person has suffered abuse he or she must recognise that their anger is normal and good. (As a Christian I believe it is God -given.) They must then decide what to do with it. Expressing anger ‘safely’ by talking, screaming or writing may be helpful to the person concerned but it does little to address the injustice itself. How many people have a lingering sense of justice not having been done years after the event?

What many people need is a plan to use their anger constructively to face the abuser or the abusive system. This may mean joining, or if necessary forming, a group of like-minded people. It may mean developing skills such as approaching politicians, writing press releases and using social media. It may also mean digging in for a long fight.

However long the battle takes, anger used in these ways can help the person concerned. It can also be a benefit to others and to the community as a whole. I sometimes point out to people that some of this nation’s greatest reformers were essentially very angry people. (Think of Florence Nightingale or William Booth.)

So as a Christian psychologist I want to be sensitive and listen as I believe Jesus did. But that same Jesus armed himself with a whip and threw the corrupt money changers out of the Temple. I have not done that myself but I see in that act an important principle – and a challenge.

 

About the author

John Steley is a psychologist in private practice in London http://johnsteley.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

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