No. Most people like to think that they are good a spotting a liar. But we’re rubbish at it and we are particularly rubbish when it comes to something as complex as sexual abuse. If we are honest with ourselves we tend to have a picture in our mind of what a victim of sexual abuse should look like and how they should behave. We want them to look innocent. We want them to give us a clear account. And we want their story of abuse to fit our ideas of what abuse should look like. If they don’t fit our image we think they are lying – which plays perfectly into the hands of sex offenders who’d like to continue to avoid being caught and prosecuted.
The reality is that there is no standard victim and no standard response to being sexually abused. Many people go so numb they may seem detached and aloof. Many people are full of shame and doubt and may come across as cagy or defensive. Many people will be confused and may have a patchy recollection of what happened, they may tell the story slightly differently each time or even contradict themselves. Rather than being evidence of a false allegation this can all be evidence of someone who has experienced trauma – which in turn can be evidence of abuse. Trauma affects the regions of the brain that help people make sense of events and remember things like space and time.
Malicious reports of rape are incredibly rare but they do occasionally happen. When they do they have a terrible impact on the person wrongly accused and they are a waste of police resources. But, if you have your doubts about someone who is reporting a sex offence it’s much more likely that you are listening to someone who has experienced some form of abuse but is struggling to give a plausible account of it rather than someone who is maliciously trying to get revenge or waste your time.
For more information about false reports of rape please read this article.