Who among us has not rolled over, bleary-eyed and foul-smelling, to an unfamiliar bedfellow, and thought: oh God, what have I done this time? In such situations, most of us have the good grace to scold ourselves for one too many tequilas, order a cab home and get on with our lives.
Some people, however, decide to exact revenge on their sexual partners, sometimes in retaliation for their own poor choices, sometimes for a variety of other, peculiar psychological reasons. It’s what I call “slut’s remorse,” and it’s the reason we need to keep the names of rape suspects a secret until they are charged.
Two pertinent examples of bogus rape accusations have appeared in the press recently.
The first was the case of Nigel Evans, a British Member of Parliament who was accused of behaving inappropriately toward a young man. Pretty blond boys in Westminster are the subject of relentlessly wandering hands and crudely camp innuendo from creepy, fat MPs; they put up with harassment considerably more outrageous than anything handed out to their female counterparts. The atmosphere is extraordinarily sexually charged. In other words, the fact that Nigel Evans got off means he must have been beyond reproach, because securing a conviction for sexual harassment in that place can’t be hard. But Evans had to resign as Deputy Speaker before the court found him innocent. Meanwhile, he watched in horror as his private life was examined by the newspapers.
The second was that of former Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan, aged just 21. It is possible that some undergraduate might feel she had been taken advantage of, yet it was not so: no charges were brought. Fortunately, Sullivan and his parents have had the good sense to blitz the papers with interviews about his harrowing experience after these “poisonous” allegations. Had they not done so, Sullivan’s life could have been destroyed.
Idiotic professional windbags such as feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez must now be feeling a bit stupid about that defamatory letter they wrote, most likely in contempt of court, demanding Sullivan’s removal from the Oxford Union. Or maybe not, I don’t know; these people are so shameless. In any case, this situation cannot continue. For too long, men have been a silent class of victim in rape cases, unable to protect themselves from the consequences of victimless drunken fumbling and, yes, from vindictive bitches–whether male or female–lashing out in frustration about their own self-loathing.
I should say, before I attract allegations of misogyny beyond the obviously unavoidable, that I am an equal opportunities slut-shamer, happy to condemn both slutty men and slutty women for getting pissed, having a shag and then crying rape–or the vile practice of malicious rape allegations, as I suppose I should call it. In 2010, I watched a friend’s life torn apart by claims from a former boyfriend that the former had repeatedly raped and beaten the latter. Photographs were circulated via email of bruising to the wrists. It seemed cut and dry. My friend was readying himself for life as a bitch in the slammer.
But, just before the case was heard in court, a recording of a voicemail message surfaced in which the accuser was heard to say: “I love it when you use me, and beat me […] I want you to hurt me bad.” The whole thing collapsed; the boy admitted he had called the police out of spite after their break-up and he now regretted the matter had “gone too far.” And that was that. My friend, a public sector solicitor, had of course already lost his job.
As the law currently stands, men can have their lives and reputations ruined before charges are even brought against them. Not everyone has the resources or nous of an MP or Oxford student, and all it takes is the word of a remorseful sexual partner–or, for that matter, anyone bearing a grudge. A rape allegation is uniquely toxic–far more personally damaging than tax evasion or theft for instance, as indeed it should be. But an arrest can be made merely on one person’s hearsay, so we need to think a lot more carefully before we throw innocent men like Evans and Sullivan to the wolves.
Both men are now campaigning for a change in the law to protect men from specious claims. As yet, the only person in Parliament currently discussing anything similar is former culture secretary Maria Miller, who is on the warpath trying to make an obscure internet curiosity called “revenge porn” illegal. (Needless to say, it’s all about the men–not a word about women who, in today’s smartphone-saturated world, are surely just as likely to share compromising images and video of their ex-boyfriends.)
Slut’s remorse, which is of course analogous to buyer’s remorse, is a specific sort of anxiety that probably indicates underlying psychological disquiet on the part of the supposedly injured party. But, unlike buyer’s remorse, which if left unchecked results merely in hefty credit card bills, slut’s remorse can ruin lives–particularly if the malicious accusations are made about men in public life, or men who are otherwise personally or professionally vulnerable to claims of sexual assault. Which makes sense, doesn’t it, when you consider the motivation behind the claims: self-loathing and spitefulness.
I can’t account for why the young women who made insupportable claims about Ben Sullivan were moved to do something as serious as calling the police. What had he done to deserve such vengefulness? Perhaps someone better versed in the mysteries of the female psyche can tell me. Nor can I discern why poor Nigel Evans was singled out when there are so many predatory men in Parliament who do deserve to be hauled into a courtroom. (Ask anyone who works in Westminster and they’ll give you a few names.) But what seems obvious from all this is how desperately a change in the law is needed.
It need not be the case that every allegation of rape would qualify for automatic anonymity: where children are involved, for example, it isn’t obvious why a suspect should not be drawn to his community’s attention. But it’s time to start protecting the men whose lives are destroyed because a misunderstanding turned into malice, because they forgot to text back, or because they simply moved on to someone else. We laugh about women scorned, but it’s no laughing matter when a man is burned so badly he spends a decade trying to put his life back together, all through no fault of his own.