Interminable Indeterminacy: How False Allegations on Restraining Orders May Be Worse than False Allegations of Rape

Posted on November 23, 2014



Journalists who recognize the harm of facile or false allegations invariably focus on rape. This ignores the harm done to women by false allegations, of course, and shows ignorance, besides, of a significantly more fertile yet equally damaging source of wrongful prosecutions: the civil restraining order.

Unarguably there are few miscarriages of justice worse than when rape is falsely alleged and the victim of the false accusation is nevertheless found guilty. That’s a life brutally scarred or ruined for absolutely nothing—and ruined not by a lone malefactor but by the state itself.

Most negative commentary on rape allegations, though, focuses on cases where the evidence is less than conclusive or is found to be utterly false.

Just as there’s no quantifying the effects of being raped, there’s no quantifying the effects of being falsely accused of rape. The stigma is devastating, and public sympathy is nevertheless scant. Even online support groups for victims of false allegations of rape may be accessible to screened subscribers only, so distrustful and averse to scrutiny are the men who are maligned this way.

If, however, an allegation of rape is officially determined baseless, its victim has at least the solace of being able to say so. This hardly dispels the psychic effects, but it does mitigate external ramifications, like access to jobs.

False restraining orders, in contrast, often aren’t discerned as false (and restraining orders may be awarded in spite of false allegations’ being detected), and the consequences their recipients must live with are more than psychological. The damning records are preserved indefinitely. In some regions (like Massachusetts), to merely be accused of domestic violence in an ex parte civil court procedure is to be recorded in a state registry as a violent offender. Even if claims are later dismissed when the accused is given an opportunity to defend him- or herself, that is, even if a judge later recognizes on record that s/he’s “innocent,” s/he’s still “guilty” according to the system, and “guilty” is all a background check will reflect.

The implications of restraining orders, what’s more, are generic. There’s no specific charge associated with them. They’re catchalls that categorically imply everything sordid, violent, and creepy. They most urgently suggest stalking, violence, and sexual deviance.

Rape, it should be noted, may be among the actual allegations made by a restraining order applicant—and unlike in a criminal trial, a judgment grounded on such an allegation, amid others, may be affirmed in spite of the allegation’s merits’ never having been assessed.

Restraining orders don’t determine anything. The procedures from which they issue are too accelerated and loosey-goosey to be conclusive.

That no punishment attends the issuance of a restraining order is a tacit acknowledgment by the state that it may be based on nothing more substantive than hearsay and innuendo, and that its implications should be discounted.

They aren’t discounted, though. They’re regarded just as gravely in some respects as felony sentences. Restraining order recipients are denied jobs, leases, and loans. Some are prohibited from working with or around children—and even from attending their own children’s school events (sometimes based on accusations they’re never granted the practicable opportunity to contest in court—and always based on accusations they’re at most given a few minutes to controvert, typically without benefit of legal counsel).

Restraining order rulings are inevitably sketchy at best. They’re indeterminate but nevertheless treated as decisive—and they never go away.

“On the force of the plaintiff’s testimony, the court concludes it’s a crocodile.”

Victims of false rape allegations are socially disgraced and alienated, and psychologically tormented. Victims of false restraining orders may be, too, and besides may lose everything of value to them or have it taken from them by the state. People report spending as much as $100,000 or more to defend themselves in protracted litigations whose seed was an accuser’s filling out some paperwork and having a few-minute chinwag with a judge. They report losing their homes, becoming estranged from their children, and being permanently barred from employment in their fields of qualification and expertise.

Negative associations that attend a charge of rape are unquestionably more sensational and severe than those that accompany the issuance of a restraining order, but on balance the lived consequences of a restraining order may be comparable if not worse.

False allegations of rape should emphatically be called out by reporters to check the impulse that prevails today to credit finger-pointing as fact (particularly finger-pointing by women). Because the implications of rape are so loud and urgent, revelations of false allegations are loud and urgent, too. They arouse consciousness and conscience.

The question that they should stimulate and have yet to, however, is that if people will lie about rape, what won’t they lie about and what quieter and subtler lies and their consequences are being overlooked?

Exposure in the press would indicate that newsworthy instances of dubious or false allegations of rape are few. The problem with giving exclusive attention to them is that it hides more than it reveals.

The cancer of false allegations is far more advanced and widespread.

Copyright © 2014