After 10 months in custody for a sexual assault that never occurred, Stephen Black, 46, sued the police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution last November, 2014.
Miscarriage of justice is now a real danger, in a “terrible climate” clouding the truth in sexual assault cases.
Wrongfully charged for raping a teenager from the time she was aged 10 to 14, Black wasted away within the walls that housed rapists and murderers.
Despite being refused bail three times, his freedom eventuated when a separate report made by the same girl was falsified.
In this separate case, the then 17 year old claimed to have been walking the streets of Baulkam Hills when she was abducted by five men in a car and gang-raped.
It took extensive investigations by 10 officers to disprove this grim tale.
Rape is among the most difficult crimes to prove or indeed, disprove with its ‘he said/she said’ dilemma.
Pooled from faded childhood memories, evidence is especially unreliable where the alleged victim is underage and litigation is delayed.
However, errors in recall could indicate a false report and must be examined.
There were clear inaccuracies in the girl’s written statement, which contradicted her mother’s account and Black’s physical features – inaccuracies the police negligently overlooked.
The girl described Black’s penis as circumcised when it was uncircumcised, and insisted that she could tell the difference.
Familiarised with the statement and having inspected the suspect’s genitalia during a strip search, the police would have been well aware of this inconsistency.
Were it not for their failure to raise this topic during a three hour interview with Black, he would likely have been released immediately.
Instead, he was unable to defend himself, later protesting, “I can disprove every point she made but I was never given the chance.
I was just sent to jail.”
Moreover, the police admitted they knew Black was probably innocent.
He awaits apology from the police for unlawful arrest conducted in a “high-handed, calculating, humiliating and oppressive manner”.
Black’s Lawyer, Greg Walsh is concerned that the mass hysteria surrounding child sexual assault prevents fair trial for the accused.
Sex crimes have gradually moved to the public forum following a string of highly circulated cases including the conviction of ‘Hey Dad!’ lead, Robert Hughes, and a Royal Commission inquiry into child sexual assault.
With State support, rape victims have become more likely to report their experiences.
The number of reports to NSW police skyrocketed to a four year high in 2013.
These climbing figures are easily misinterpreted as an actual surge in sex crimes, fanning community concern and sympathy for victims.
While rape victims were once unduly shamed, their accusations are now automatically believed.
Today, the victims of the system are the falsely accused who are “guilty until proven innocent”. The result is equally unjust.
While on remand, Black lost his job as a commercial landscaper and has struggled with re-employment, even after charges were dropped in September.
The horrific ordeal has tainted Black’s once “easygoing” character with bitterness.
Litigation and its financial pressures has distressed the whole family, possibly contributing to his father’s death.
These are the real repercussions of unfair process.
Ultimately, despite Black’s suffering, the false accuser remains anonymous due to her psychological condition.
Neither Walsh nor the police intend on pressing charges against her.
This over-arching decision has been supported by Bravehearts director, Hetty Johnson, who fears that charging the accused would intensify the”silence, secrecy and shame” of actual victims.
Rape victims rarely step forward, with only an estimated 2 to 10 percent of rapes being reported. The risk of community slander and legal punishment if they fail to prosecute their attacker would only discourage them further.
The flaw of this logic is that showing compassion for false accusers generates more false reports, squandering valuable resources and proliferating myths about women that ‘cry rape’ for revenge, attention or other personal motives.
As Walsh explains, the “pendulum has swung too far.
It has to come back somewhere in the middle”. Rape is a horrendous crime, and so too is the imprisonment of the innocent.
To protect the public against both, the accused’s right of self defence must be balanced with gender-sensitivity. Only then can the truth be uncovered.
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