The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Bolt’s Theories On Theophanous’ Accuser: “Deeply Ashamed Woman” Or Gold-Digger?

Posted by Clem Bastow on October 22, 2008

You will have read in the past week of Victorian MP Theo Theophanous’ being accused of rape, which led to his standing down from his duties. The media has followed the emerging case keenly – Theophanous was questioned, alone, for an hour at St Kilda Road police complex yesterday – as police have begun their investigations. Theophanous has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing as his accuser – the woman remains anonymous – stands by her claims.

Now everybody’s favourite columnist Andrew Bolt has offered his two cents on the matter (I no longer make a point of regularly reading Bolt’s work – it’s not good for my blood pressure – so thanks to Dawn Chorus pal Ben for the heads up). He begins by discussing the effect an accusation of rape – in particular a false one – can have on a man’s career; while it may seem unfair to discuss such matters in the face of a woman’s distress, it is true that false allegations can have devastating effects on a person’s family and professional life, even long after accusations have evaporated. But it is a fine line to walk in discussing such matters for the sake of balance as while false accusations are a huge problem for the accused, scandalously low rape conviction rates (or even report rates) are surely still a far more pressing issue, and giving air time to the former can seem to belittle the latter, particularly when you consider how many actual rapes (and unsolved/unreported cases) outweigh false accusations and their fallout.

However Bolt doesn’t stop at the impact the allegations will have on Theophanous’ career, which would have been difficult territory but at least an understandable (if not necessarily palatable) point to raise, instead going on to begin an efficient smear job on Theophanous’ accuser. Here are some highlights:

What’s more, Theophanous’s accuser – unlike him – has her identity kept secret by journalists who clearly know her name. She – unlike him – risks no public shame should her claims prove to be baseless.

Bolt conveniently forgets that the law protects rape victims, who remain anonymous precisely because of the implicit “shame” he predicts will befall Theophanous; why else would cases like Tegan Wagner‘s become such high profile stories? Anonymity protects victims’ privacy and dignity, when so much of that has already been removed by the crime. Men may not want to be tagged as rapists, but I’d hazard a guess that not many people want to be known as rape victims, either. And who’s to say that these “journalists” know the woman’s name, either? He continues:

Another odd thing: The alleged victim claims Theophanous pestered her for years after the alleged rape with text messages, some sexually explicit. He tried repeatedly to see her again.

If true, is this the behaviour of a rapist with something to hide, or merely of an adulterous man who thinks he has a willing lover?

And we’re told the woman decided two years ago to bring Theophanous to account for this alleged rape.

But, rather than go straight to the police to report a crime, she contacted a Melbourne barrister to initiate legal action. It was only last May that police interviewed her.

I agree, all this may be just what you’d expect from a deeply ashamed woman, scared and scarred by rape.

But it might also be what you’d expect from a troubled or even spurned woman, regretting an affair and trying now to exact revenge – or even cash.

As I said, this sounds harsh, but it would also be harsh to accuse an innocent man of rape, ruining his name and career on your mere word. And, as yet, none of us can possibly know where the truth of this matter lies.

Why is the assumption in these cases always “oh, she just wants money”? Yes, there will be many people wondering why Theophanous’ accuser did not report these matters earlier, but there is no reason to assume that her apparently tardy accusation means she’s late on her mortgage repayments. As many cases have shown – last year’s finding that Geoff Clark led two pack rapes in Warnambool 36 years ago is one recent high-profile example – sometimes it can take a long time for a victim to feel ready to face the reality of their attack.

What strikes me about Bolt’s column is his decrying of Theophanous’ apparent “trial by media”, when he then goes on to offer his own thoughts in that exact vein (though far be it for Bolt to be expected to distance himself from such journalistic hipocrisy).

Soon – or possibly not so soon – the truth will be revealed, but I can’t help but feel such smears as Bolt’s effort today should be left for the day (if it happens) when the claims are proven to be false. After all, Bolt is so keen for Theophanous to be innocent until proven guilty, so why should this woman not be afforded the same respect?

7 Responses to “Bolt’s Theories On Theophanous’ Accuser: “Deeply Ashamed Woman” Or Gold-Digger?”

  1. Leah said

    I agree Clem, such speculation is so unhelpful. Of course Theophanous might be innocent, and Bolt has a right to point that bleeding obvious fact out, but making that point does not by any means need to be followed by speculations about the accuser…yes he might be innocent…or he might be guilty…perhaps judgment of both him and the accuser should wait until the case is tried in court…

    On that point, I do actually think people accused of crimes should not have their names publicised. In situations like these, I always think ‘What treatment would I feel was fair if I was accused of a crime?’ And I think that until an accusation becomes more than an accusation, then the presumption of innocence stands and the accused’s name should not be made public.

  2. caitlinate said

    I think the fact that we are even talking about ‘balance’ here is problematic. In that no such thing is occuring. The status quo seems to be to immediately doubt the person who was raped and expect them to provide evidence and or proof of the attack on them – things that are almost impossible to provide in the case of rape, particularly if the assaulter has even half a brain. We see ‘yes’ as the default of consent where any who has been assaulted has to prove they said ‘no’ rather than the defendant having to show consent was given.

    The fact that many women don’t come forward straight away (which i think is totally fair enough and justified seeing as when women do they are disbelieved, ridiculed and viewed with suspicion) only adds to their difficulties. The rate/percentage of ‘false accusations’ for sexual assault in Australia is at around 2%. The same as for murder, aggravated assault, robbery, etc. Yet when it comes to rape (where the majority of people being assaulted and thus reporting the crime are women) everyone immediately questions their motives, their honesty, their character – the media will generally tears them to pieces all in the name of ‘balance’.

  3. Leah said

    Caitlinate, if I understand you correctly, what you’re criticising is the presumption of innocence, and if you are then I must disagree with you. When a person accuses another person of a crime I think it’s imperative that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, it’s one of the basic tenets of our justice system. And I think that stands for accusations of rape as well as murder, shop lifting, drug dealing, whatever. Having said that, the justice system in Australia is DEEPLY flawed, particularly in its dealings with rape. There’s plenty of reforms that would improve it, though, without throwing out the premise of innocent-until-proven-guilty.

    I do agree, however, that it is so blatantly sexist the way people are quick to be sceptical about rape accusations, when you rarely (if ever) hear people casting doubt on murder or assault or theft accusations. I can’t imagine reporting to the police that my car had been stolen, for example, and having it inferred by them, or the media, or opinionated strangers, that I was making it up – whereas sadly this happens with rape claims all the bloody time.

  4. Scal said

    Leah, the skepticism about whether rape has actually occurred is because the occurrence of the crime itself depends on the nature of the relationship between the perpetrator and victim, while the happening of murder or theft are (usually) objectively provable (by, say, a body or a missing car).

    I think it is appalling that women who make allegations of rape become the focus of so many critical media reports – and I am interested in your point about the publication of an accused’s name.

    The presumption of innocence is so important. My mother, who is a university lecturer, once had a female student accuse her of sexual harassment. My mother’s position was suspended while the university conducted its investigation. It could have been the end of her career, and it was a pretty devastating period for her.

    In the end, it was determined that the student had had some kind of fixation on my mother. After the investigation, the student kept sending her (erotic) letters and followed her around – the uni ended up having to provide full-time security for my mother. The student never suffered any repercussions for her behaviour, while on the other hand, my mother could have lost everything.

    In instances where the claim is easy to make, difficult to disprove and potentially devastating for the accused, it is so important that people keep an open mind.

  5. Scal said

    And by “relationship”, obvs I meant one of consent or not. I didn’t mean to infer that, for example, a spousal relationship disproved an allegation of rape!

  6. tina_sparkle said

    supression orders only apply for offences committed by juveniles or while someone was a juvenile. supression orders generally also apply in sexual assault cases where there is one victim. in cases where several victims come forward however, the accused’s name may be printed.

    ultimately though it’s up to the magistrate or judge whether they decide to impose a supression order on the media. in this case they’ve decided against it. I’m not sure on what basis they make this decision, but I’d say it has something to do with it being in the community’s interests to be aware of the allegations against the person. in sexual assault cases involving multiple victims, publishing the accused’s name may also motivate other victims to come forward.

  7. caitlinate said

    I’m not so much talking about the presumption of innocence being thrown out but talking about how the presumption of guilt is always thrown onto the accuser. If someone I lived with was murdered and I turned around and said ‘I think it was the guy who came and checked the gas meter the other day – he seemed suspicious’ what I said would have more credibility that if I say ‘this person raped me and this is what happened.’ It’s not that I feel the presumption of innocence should be thrown out for the accused but that the people, mostly women, who are coming forward and reporting their assaults should be listened to and believed – or at least have what they are saying taken seriously.

    I would like to say that we should or could hold judgement until a Court has heard the case and ruled. Except that only 1 in 5 cases that are actually reported go to court and only 1 in 10 of those results in a conviction. The court isn’t actually doing anything about it. Not to mention that SOCA – the police unit that in in charge of reports of sexual assault is made of people who aren’t exactly trained in dealing with survivors of assault and have a very limited knowledge of what sexual assault and rape actually are.

    In the end I just don’t understand why the general perception of people who report rape and assault is so suspicious. Why would anyone put themselves through the 8 hour police interview, the time and expense of a lawyer or lawyers, the multiple court dates stretching out over a year or more – in which the accused can make all sorts of allegations about the person they potentially assaulted and where their lawyers can cross examine their victim til they break. And all to, most likely, have a not guilty verdict come in anyway. Not because the survivor is lying but because it is a crime that is almost impossible to prove. And all that doesn’t even touch on the fact that most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knew, so they have to deal with all the socialn and familial consequences of reporting as well as deal with seeing that person that they once loved in court all the time and deal with all the emotions that come with it.

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