False accusation of rape on social media
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What to do if you are falsely accused of rape on social media
Each year our law firm takes on dozens of cases on behalf of victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault, whose voices otherwise will never be heard. Sometimes we also take on cases where there has been false accusations of rape, particularly on social media. We do this because when people make false allegations on social media, they harm the cause of real victims whilst needlessly destroying the lives innocent people. Our law firm gives voices to those who are oppressed on the internet and on social media, whether they are victims of a crime, or of false accusations.
Rape is a very serious matter which would often traumatise the victim for their entire life. It is important that the voices of victims are heard and that they are given an opportunity to bring their abusers to justice. There are, however, people who post false accusations on social media and this behaviour is unamendable. Posting false allegations of rape on social media is a particularly sensitive issue which needs to be handled with care but without prejudice to the person being falsely accused. Having dealt with dozens of true allegations and with as many instances of false allegations by individuals who accuse others of committing hideous crimes on social media, it is important to understand why some individuals would abuse social media platforms to exercise free speech, and to post false allegations.
There are several reasons why accusers may go on social media to make accusations of rape. Naturally, you would expect victims of rape to go to the police and have their complaint properly investigated. In some cases, which we have fought for our clients, the accuser did go to the police, but after carrying out an extensive investigation, the police concluded that the evidence did not support a prosecution. This does not necessarily mean that the allegations were false but it did mean that it was impossible to substantiate them.
It is often difficult to speculate on the reason, or a combination of reasons that lead the police to take a view that there was no case to answer for the person accused. However, the only place where a fair security of the evidence can take place, is the criminal court, where everyone will have their opportunity to put their side of the story in a fair and objective manner so that justice wins. Justice should be afforded to everyone; to the accuser and to the person being accused.
As an alternative to the legal process, some accusers use social media as a kangaroo court where they can have their say in full, and in a selective manner without having the accused being able to fairly answer the allegations or within being asked difficult questions, which would possibly disprove their allegations. Using social media as a so called people’s court is an act which resembles dark days with the mob giving itself the privilege to accuse, judge, convict and sentence an accused without giving the accused person a fair opportunity to defend himself. Lynching has been sanctioned in the past to carry out summary judgements by an incited, angry group of people, often on the basis of hearsay.
When allegations of rape are made against someone on social media, the accused has no fair opportunity to defend himself because any attempt by the accused individual to place his side of the story on record, is most likely to result in further attacks on his character. In some cases, social media accusers, who accuse someone of rape, have never made their allegations known to the police. This means that their evidence has never faced scrutiny or assessment by trained law enforcement officers. In those cases, the allegation on social media is often made through a friend, or an anonymous internet user, or by the accuser herself. Often, the individual accused is not initially named in the social media posts but the accuser would leave sufficient clues for those who know him to enable identification. In other cases, the accuser reports their alleged rape to the police whilst at the same time starts a campaign against the accused person on social media. This is of course unlawful because this type of conduct has the real potential to frustrate any police investigation and to interfere with the course of justice.
The aim by the accuser, whilst utilising both the police and social media at the same time, is to put public pressure on the police to press charges against the person they accuse of rape but also, ironically, at the some time, to frustrate the police investigation because the accuser might not want their case to go to court because they do not wish for their evidence to be subjected to any degree of scrutiny. There are cases where victims of rape decide to post their allegations on social media out of genuine frustration, because they believe that their complaint has not been take seriously enough by the police. Having scrutinised the evidence in dozens of cases of this nature, with a few exceptions, it is very rare for the police to be dismissive of rape allegations and in all the cases that we have seen, where a complaint was made to the police, the police have left no stone unturned with their investigation and have pursued every possible avenue to try and substantiate the evidence of the accuser.
False allegations of rape on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram often spread like wild fire, initially as a rumour against an unnamed individual, but only until someone eventually names the accused person, after which, matters often escalate fast. Either way, there is no real opportunity for the person accused of rape on social media to defend himself without being subjected to further attacks and character assassination. This is often by people they have never heard about before and who have no balanced knowledge about the circumstances of the case. The reason some accusers of rape on social media give for posting their allegations on the internet is that they want to warn others about engaging with the accused individual. They would then portray the accused as a dangerous, a conniving and a sneaky person, which means even if the person accused tried to defend himself against the allegations, by posting a rebuttal, no one would believe them anyway. After all, why would anyone believe a conniving and a sneaky rapist?
If you have been falsely accused of rape on Twitter or Facebook or on Instagram, you should act fast. First, report the post to the social media platform in the usual way. At the same time, seek legal advice because it is likely that the platform will not be removing the offending post in a speedy manner, and as time is of the essence. You will be better off arming yourself with all the information you need to enable you to fight back. Therefore it is in your interests to have a specialist lawyer on board and to be prepared to make balanced decisions from a position of clarity.
If your accuser has already reported the case to the police, it is likely that your accuser had posted their allegations on social media either because the police decided that their account was not credible or that it was highly exaggerated, or that their account was credible but was impossible to prove in a criminal court. In these circumstances, only you and your accuser would know what had really happened and as the battle is now one of reputation and public opinion, if the accusations against you on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram are false, you must do whatever you can to have them deleted as quickly as possible.
If you know the identity of the person who posted the false rape accusation against you on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you might want to consider the possibility of confronting your accuser directly through a legal latter. The person who posted the false allegations against you on social media might not be the same as the person who made the allegations in the first place. You need to remember that if the alleged victim believed that their evidence would stand legal scrutiny, they would have possibly pursued their case through the civil courts even if the police had decided not to pursue the case through the criminal courts. In the civil courts, the standard of proof is much lower than the standard of proof required in the criminal courts. In the civil courts the standard of proof stands at 51%, whilst the standard of proof that the police would need to apply to take the case to a criminal court is more likely to be closer to 95%.
This means that before sending a cease and desist letter, you and your solicitor must be as sure as you possibly can, that your accuser will not be able to prove that their allegations are true, even on balance of probabilities. If you sue them for defamation and they stand by their accusations, they will only need to prove that it is 51% likely that you had raped them. The burden of proof is on the person making the accusations, which means they will need to prove their accusations rather than you having to try and disprove them.
Our role as lawyers is to facilitate justice without prejudice.
Before we advise clients to send a cease and desist letter to an accuser on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, be assured that we will scrutinise the evidence to make sure that we are confident with our clients’ position. If you do not know the identity of the person who posted the rape allegations against you on social media, your lawyer will promptly apply for a disclosure order form Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, who will need to then provide all the information they have about the individual who posted the accusations of rape against you. In most cases, obtaining a disclosure order and sending a cease and desist letter, is sufficient bring a campaign which is based on false rape allegations on social media to an end.
It is possible to obtain an injunction to stop the spread of false allegations, including allegations of rape, on social media. The injunction might be under defamation law or under harassment law or under both. Whilst the court would rarely grant an interim injunction in cases of defamation, it is still possible to apply and obtain an harassment injunction to prevent harassing publications on the internet. The term interim injunction, means an injunction which is given immediately pending trial and before all the facts of the case had been properly scrutinised by the court. The interim injunction would be made permanent after a final judgment by the court in your favour. Whether your case is a case of defamation or a case of harassment would often depend on the nature of the social media campaign that is being conducted against you.
There are cases where the court was willing to grant an interim harassment injunction where the harassment involved the posting of defamation on social media, but there are also cases where the court exercise more caution, whilst leaning more towards the right to free speech, where it insisted that the injunction will only be granted at the end of the proceedings. At the interim stage, where you will be seeking an interim injunction pending trial to stop the spread of false allegations of rape on social media, the court will be balancing the damage caused to an individual who is falsely accused of rape on social media, against the right to free speech of a person who claims to be the victim of rape.
This is often a tough call for the court to make so you need to make sure that your case is well prepared both strategically and in terms of evidence and the legal arguments. Often, the difference between the grant of an interim injunction to a refusal to grant it at an early stage of the proceedings is the difference between a short, sharp and cost effective legal proceedings and a prolonged, often stretched and expensive period of legal battle until the matter is successfully resolved.