I usually spend my early morning having a quick breakfast with my wife, savoring that first cup of coffee and catching up with the world by tuning into BBC World News. (For my UK readers, it’s not because I have some love affair with the BBC. It’s the one news program we can get in the US that will tell us about something other than US Politics.)
The other morning they broke in to go live to the sentencing hearing, where Ellie was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for repeatedly lying about being trafficked and raped by Asian gangs.
It was big news. The damage done by her stories was well-documented.
It also reminded me of something I’ve seen with violent crime stories. It was big news because it’s such a rare thing. We don’t see these kinds of big claims proven to be untrue. So when it happens, and when the original claim had turned a small town inside-out, to begin with, there was no way the reversal was going to remain quiet.
As a survivor, I had several responses. The news and the judge’s statements focused on the impacts on the falsely accused and the minority community in England. Those were sad, and it was easy to be angry about them. That anger existed for me in combination with sadness. Sadness about all the victims who might now not be believed because “Look, it happens, people lie about being trafficked and sexually abused.”
We know there are a lot of people out there who refuse to see sexual abuse. Whether it be because they are uncomfortable with the subject or don’t want to believe someone they know could do that, it doesn’t take much for them to dismiss victims. Seeing a story like this fuels the desire not to believe in real victims. A desire that didn’t need much help to begin with.
So what are we to make of this story? Again, I would point out that this was big news because the original claim was sensational, the racist responses were sensational, and the fact that none of it was true was sensational.
Sensational = uncommon.
We don’t create media sensations out of things that happen constantly. This story is such an outlier that it was breaking news. We know that some will try to use this story to explain away other victims. We cannot let them. We must speak up about the thousands upon thousands of victims who are telling the truth and not be deterred by this single example, no matter how much attention it gets.
And we should also be angered the most by her actions. Those who know what this will mean for the next survivor have every right to be angry about this.
Ellie damaged the lives of people she falsely accused. She has also potentially damaged the lives of many more victims who will be silenced because of this.