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Why Would A Woman Lie About Being Assaulted?

False accusations of domestic violence are incredibly rare and are a distraction from a much bigger problem - but why do they happen at all?

It's unlikely that you've missed the story of what happened between Roxanne Pallette and Ryan Thomas in the Celebrity Big Brother house, but just in case, here’s what happened. Roxanne, an actress who was on Emmerdale, accused Ryan, an actor who used to be on Coronation Street of having assaulted her.

The most important thing to remember when we talk about false accusations, is that they are incredibly rare. The Crown Prosecution Service says that only between 2 and 4 percent of all allegations made are deliberately or maliciously false. So when we talk about accusations of domestic violence, we are almost always talking about victims who are telling the truth about their experiences.

But why, in the very rare circumstances where it does happen, would someone make a false accusation? Carrie Brown, a psychiatrist and director at Dell medical schools explains: ‘Maybe there is a need to blame or malign for secondary gain: attention, fame, money, importance or drama. Maybe the person is not in touch with reality and is retaliating against an imagined transgression. Some seemingly intact people can have paranoid fears at the core. In order to “defend” themselves they act against others. Maybe the goal is to take someone else down for competitive, regressed, or even unconscious reasons.’

In short, a tiny number of false accusations are made by malicious, unhappy, cruel people who want to hurt others. But they are the minority.

The more common reality of an assault allegation is that it sits in a grey area where one person genuinely feels that they have been assaulted and the other does not feel that they committed an assault. It’s not a case of both people knowing an objective truth and one lying, but rather two totally different stances on what happened.

It’s impossible to know what Roxanne specifically was thinking or feeling, but it does seem extraordinary that a person would decide to lie about something which was captured on film.

Perhaps, however objectionable we find her action, the best way to respond to a person who behaves in such an extraordinary way should be more nuanced than just branding her a ‘bitch’ or sending her death threats.’

Earlier this week Women’s Aid came out in support of Roxanne, who was previously in an abusive relationship, explaining how some survivors of domestic violence can be hyper sensitive to violence. Sian Hawkins, head of campaigns for the charity said: ‘Play fighting may not seem serious but if you have been in an abusive relationship it can seem frightening and even trigger memories of the abuse.’

The idea of a false allegation clearly makes the general public incredibly angry. The internet is strewn with comments about Roxanne, calling her an evil bitch, claiming she should be sent to prison, saying that she should never work again. Which is an interesting comparison to the reality of being a man who is accused of assault. Louis CK, for instance is back on the comedy circuit. In fact if you're looking for an example closer to come you can come back to the Big Brother house where Dan Osbourne is currently situated despite having threatened to stab his ex partner Megan Tomlin.

Under any article online about a rape allegation there will be comments accusing the alleged victim of lying. I’ve heard men - nice, sensible, kind men - sitting in the pub and talking about how horrific false allegations are, discussing them as if they’re an epidemic, as if it might happen to them. The language used towards the tiny number of women who do this is loaded with violence and vitriol. The online comments about Roxanne range from ‘psycho bitch’ to ‘evil attention seeker’ and include threats like ‘I’d kill her’ and ‘She deserves a massive smack’. They are more aggressive and more violent than anything I’ve seen written about men like Harvey Weinstein.

It's important to remember that how we talk about Roxanne and Celebrity Big Brother has a direct effect on the lives of women (and men) in the UK who are suffering through violent relationships. Of course It is painful to watch Ryan upset, when he clearly had no ill intention towards his fellow housemates. But, it’s vital that we don’t let this national conversation force victims of domestic violence into silence.

Roxanne has since apologised for her allegations, but in the face of a crowd baying for blood, it’s difficult to see how she could have done anything else.

We don’t know whether Roxanne genuinely felt intimidated by what Ryan did, whether she was maliciously aiming for infamy or whether she wasn’t in a secure enough mental state to be able to flourish in the Big Brother house

What we do know is that an estimated 1.2 million women experience domestic violence in the UK every year. Every week, 2 women in the UK are murdered by a current or ex partner. Domestic violence is a very real issue which costs women their lives. The vast, vast majority of the time, when a woman says that someone is being violent towards her, she is telling the truth