One of the most heinous of crimes is rape, and it rightly deserves severe penalties. However, a recent case in the High Court has revealed another dark side to this subject.
In a landmark legal case a young man called David Brown successfully sued a woman after she alleged to police that he had raped her at a party in August 2007. The allegation was withdrawn 35 hours later and no charges were brought against Mr Brown.
The defamation case is the first of its kind to have been brought in Northern Ireland, and it was settled in the High Court after both sides reach an agreement. One of the stipulations was that the woman is not to make any claims of rape against Mr Brown.
To pay for the action, his family will have to meet significant legal costs, but as his mother Mrs Alana Brown pointed out: “We wanted to clear David’s name. Why should he be labelled as a despicable person. There is a real stigma to rape.”
There is a considerable danger that, even though a claim of rape is withdrawn, a “whispering campaign” could cause considerable damage to a person’s reputation. However, it takes courage and persistence for a person in this predicament to re-open this painful episode publicly, and to seek redress through the courts.
Another disturbing fact is that the police informed Mr Brown that they had intelligence to indicate that his life was under threat. The family also received two anonymous phone calls telling them to drop the case. Commendably, however, the Browns showed great courage in persisting and in the words of David’s mother they decided they “could not be bullied into not going ahead”.
In yet another twist, Mrs Brown revealed that although the woman had withdrawn her rape allegations to the police some 35 hours later, her son was not told about it until 15 days later.
It is not difficult to imagine the trauma which the entire family was suffering, and they are certainly entitled to seek an answer from the Chief Constable. No doubt the police procedures take time, but it is difficult to understand why it took more than two weeks for the PSNI to tell David Brown that the allegations against him had been withdrawn.
The brief legal facts do not bring out the human distress involved. Mrs Brown described the nightmare of hearing about the allegation, and the way it affected her son, even after it had been withdrawn.
She described how a man with a “bubbly” personality had become moody and withdrawn, and became afraid even of going outside his house. This, in effect, was a long nightmare for the family in a situation where they had to help themselves to clear David Brown’s name.
The entire case is a graphic reminder of the seriousness of a situation where an allegation of rape can seriously affect someone’s life, even after that allegation is withdrawn. It shows also how people can make assumptions that are not based on all the facts, and the damage that can threaten a person’s reputation. David Brown and his family have shown courage, and they deserve credit in finally clearing his name.