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False Accusations Destroy Lives – Reality is not a Show

It would be difficult to have missed what has been happening lately around the Roxanne Pallett and Ryan Thomas incidents on Celebrity Big Brother.  We all watched as a simple innocent act turned into an attempt to ruin someone’s life and resulted in the ruin of another.

An overview of events

If you aren’t aware of what happened here is a brief summary.  Ryan and Roxanne engage in what can only be described as a momentary play fight.  He shadow boxes her and he may have caught her with his hand.  Roxanne says “Ow that hurt”, he apologises and they laugh and joke about the washing.  Roxanne then enters the bedroom, holds her side and muses “I’ve just been beaten by Corri’s Jason Grimshaw”.  However, she then goes to the diary room and asks to speak to a producer before telling Big Brother that Ryan hit her, that it hurt and that she feels very uncomfortable.  Big Brother is reassuring to Roxanne that they take her complaint very seriously, reviews the footage and gives Ryan Thomas an official warning to be more careful with his behaviour.

Roxanne then goes on to express how she’s been assaulted and that she wants Ryan removed from the show.  She says that she is scared to be in the same room as him and spends the night in a separate room.  The next day she continues to request that Ryan is removed from the show and when he isn’t she confides in other house mates in an attempt to win their support, reenacting the incident with exaggeration.  Eventually the truth comes out and as the housemates start to question Roxanne coupled with her hearing chants from the Big Brother audience “Get Roxy Out!”, she decides to leave the show through the back door.  Since leaving Roxanne has received condemnation from the entire country for her behaviour, has been fired from her radio show, dropped from an upcoming panto and labelled herself “the most hated girl in Britain”.

That is a very brief overview of events but the impact of what happened (on multiple levels) is really what we should perhaps be considering.

Very quickly we see how the impact of the false accusation effects Ryan, as he breaks down and becomes increasingly distressed and upset over the couple of days.  His relief when he hears the crowd outside prompts another overwhelming release of emotion.  As has been pointed out by several people since the events unfolded, if the incident had not been caught on camera Ryan would very likely now be ruined in terms of his career and his life would be changed forever.  It is easy to see how this incident has been a traumatic experience for Ryan and it is likely to have a lasting effect even though the course of events were relatively brief and ultimately with a positive outcome for him.  It is also seen just how easy it is for a woman to make a false allegation and potentially ruin a life.

False accusation
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The reality when you’re not on a reality show

Let us then consider for a moment those people who are falsely accused where the events are not caught on camera.  Whose accusers will be believed and who have no way of proving their innocence.  We are led to believe that these incidents are rare.  It is not the case.  Thousands of false accusations are made every year.  Daily, people (mostly men but other genders also) are suffering the incredibly traumatic experience of being accused of something they just haven’t done.  Domestic violence and abuse, sexual assault, and rape are commonly used as crimes of false allegation.  While Ryan’s ordeal lasted a few days in the Big Brother house, false allegations can hang over a person for YEARS while being investigated by the police.

We hear from men who have waited several years to hear whether they will even be charged with a crime.  In the meantime, their lives are put on hold – or worse.  There is no anonymity afforded to someone who has been accused of a crime and in many cases the details are picked up by the local, nation and social media.  Gone are the days of “innocent until proven guilty”. Many lose their jobs, their families, their children while they wait to get a result – many are attacked and abused by members of the public.  Even when they receive a “NFA” (no further action) from the Police, the incident may stay on their record and may be disclosed (although not usually) in a criminal records check.  They will always carry the emotional scars of their ordeal.  And, of course, there are some who spend time in prison and may or may not ever be cleared of the crime there have been falsely accused of and charged with.

The accuser, in contrast, will be given lifelong anonymity – even if the accusation is found to be false.  They may even receive compensation of up to £20,000 – which they will not have to pay back if the allegation is found to be false.  The only recourse for a person who makes a false accusation is that they may be charged with “perverting the course of justice” or “wasting Police time”.  However, often the CPS does not pursue these cases as the falsely accused is often required to stand as a witness and often they decline to do so because of the further risk of false accusation – the “there’s no smoke without fire” attitudes of many people.  Understanding this then helps us to understand just why these false accusations are more common than we are led to believe.

People who have been falsely accused often feel helpless, confused, ashamed, anxious and suicidal.  Anxiety levels can go through the roof and many people describe fearing to leave the house during and for many years after their ordeal.  People often say “well if they didn’t do anything they’ve got nothing to worry about have they”.  It is a grave lack of understanding that isn’t able to see or even consider how a false accusation might affect someone.  Not just the falsely accused, but their family, their friends and everyone who loves them.

Wider impact

Societal impact of the Roxanne/Ryan case has both positive and negative consequences.  It has been a very public expose of what is happening to people every day and it has raised awareness of the issue of false accusation like none other to date.  The nation has condemned the behaviour and this is a positive thing.  A further down side of Roxanne’s behaviour of course, is that there is an increased risk of legitimate crimes not being reported, or not being believed – an aspect that has been the focus of much of the condemnation towards her.

If you, or someone you know has been affected by false accusation please know that there is support and help available.  The group is incredibly supportive to victims and their families and friends.  You can also find more resources and support from our resources page.  To help with the trauma and to provide emotional and mental support please do use our Find a Therapist directory.  


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