Luke King, 23, of Whitehaven, Cumbria, England, committed suicide on 23 May 2014. King had been falsely accused of rape in 2010 and detained for two days until the accusation was thrown out. In the aftermath of his temporary detention King struggled with drugs, and depression, before eventually taking his own life.
It's perhaps easier for someone older to place such a harrowing experience in life's context, especially if they have no significant mental health issues. But for a 19-year-old, just or almost out of adolescence, the ordeal of a false rape accusation can be truly horrendous, especially if that person also has a tendency towards depression.
Plenty of crimes spark outrage and condemnation, but rape accusations seem to be in their own class. Of all violent crimes, including murder, when victims are women and the most likely suspect(s) men, it is rape that generates the greatest outrage among both sexes.
Most people accused of a crime are presumed guilty by the public, but this tends to be true of females less than males. When it comes to men accused of rape, suspects are guilty even when they are proven innocent.
Why? It likely arises from instinctive fears around maintaining social cohesion within "the tribe". Rapists violate an instinctive social contract with both the women and men of this tribe; women must feel safe with men, since women produce new members of the tribe and are the principal caretakers of same.
Yet rapists also injure other men by disrupting the relationships they have with women, and more significantly, endanger men's female friends and relatives. So rape undermines the tribe's ability to thrive, and its cohesion (Women accused of not providing adequate care for their child are likewise often simply presumed guilty, as this offence also poses an existential threat to the tribe.)
With stakes this high, the mind plays it safe, assuming an accused rapist is indeed guilty. Formal legal processes have no power to undercut this reaction.
It is certainly possible for a person accused of rape to turn this natural, and universal, loathing of the crime inward, despite knowing he was innocent. If someone has a natural tendency towards depression, adding a false rape accusation and youthful shortage of perspective may well add to the chances of tragic self-destruction.
We are no longer tribal people, lacking ways of evaluating rape accusations. CCTV and police cameras are all over cities and in buildings. We have forensic science and polygraphs, reason and logic well-developed to evaluate statements by suspects and purported victims alike. We have evolved. But our tribal in-born instincts persist.
Yet there is no reason why, today, we can't attempt to override our instincts. We can be aware of our knee-jerk reactions to men accused of rape (or women of providing inadequate child care) in ourselves and others, and take them into account when forming opinions.We can do what western societies pride themselves on, and apply the principle of law and ethics we'd all appreciate if accused of wrongdoing: presumed innocence until guilt is proven.
This is a just standard, so why should it be ignored when a woman accuses a man of rape?
Presumed innocence isn't just a fair, ethical criminal standard, but often a life-saving one -- assuming of course you value the lives of men.
Matt Campbell writes for Men's Activism, a website that tracks news and information about men's issues from around the world, and promotes activism in support of men's rights and equality.
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