Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: false sexual assault allegations. Despite what the #MeToo movement claims, they do occur fairly often both here on home soil and in other countries. And when they do, they often totally destroy innocent lives.
That was the case for the men involved in all seven of the cases outlined in today’s post. From the tragic and racially-influenced case of Emmett Till to the woman who rolled her eyes at a judge after admitting to lying, these cases remind us just how important it is to always err on the side of caution.
Let’s start with one of the oldest cases – that of a 14-year-old African-American boy by the name of Emmett Till. Till grew up in Mississippi when segregation was still in place; he was a mischievous boy who often indulged in pranks.
When friends dared Till to “flirt with” a local white woman in a drug store, he didn’t think much of it. After walking by Carolyn Bryant towards the exit, he wished her farewell with a simple, “bye, baby.”
But Bryant turned the story on its head. She told family members Till had grabbed her, whistled at her, and behaved in a lewd fashion towards her. Bryant’s husband and brother went to the boy’s house, removing him and holding him captive until they brutally murdered him by the Tallahatchie river.
Carolyn Bryant later fully recanted her story; sadly, her words came too little, too late to save Till’s life. Both men were charged long before she confessed, yet were found not guilty by an all-white jury of their peers. The case caused a media firestorm and widespread protests at the time; it remains one of the most prominent examples of the dangers of false accusations and racism.
VanDyke Perry and Gregory Counts
VanDyke Perry and Gregory Counts were both convicted of rape, sodomy and kidnapping in 1991. The woman who accused them claimed they forced her into a vehicle, kidnapping her, raping her, and transporting her to Central Park, where they continued to sexually assault her for hours.
The case was immediately questionable to multiple law enforcement officers and doctors because the unidentified accuser claimed she had been punched, yet had no marks and showed little evidence of being assaulted. Semen found in her underwear was later tested, and did not belong to either man. Prosecutors succeeded in convicting both men of the crimes, leaving Perry to serve 11 years and Counts to serve a total of 26.
Just last year, the innocence Project stepped in to re-investigate the case on behalf of Counts. After just a few interviews with the woman, she completely recanted all of her accusations, saying it “had never happened.” Counts was released and criminal records for both men were expunged.
Malik St. Hilaire and an Unidentified Football Player
Malik St. Hilaire and his best friend were up-and-coming football stars at Sacred Heart University. They had everything to look forward to in life and little holding them back – until they made a choice to indulge in a little bit of wild sex with Nikki Yovino at an off-campus party.
Yovino indulged willingly, but was afraid of what her friends would think of her for indulging. She made the unconscionable choice to accuse both boys of sexual assault, claiming that they held her down and forced her to engage with them in the tiny bathroom at the party.
Both Malik and the other identified teen both suffered greatly as a result of the accusations. At least one of the boys was ousted from the University and permanently expelled. Both were socially ostracized and forced to give up their college scholarships.
The only bright spot is that Yovino recounted her accusations before the boys served. One declared that he hoped “she knows what she has done” and that his life would never be the same. “I did nothing wrong, but everything has been altered because of this.”
An Unidentified Man in Clyde, New York
Although we weren’t able to find the name of the man involved in this case – perhaps a good thing, since he was later found innocent – this case still holds important examples. In early 2018, 27-year-old Jessica Gallagher, also of Clyde, claimed she met a man from a dating site. She accused the man of blindfolding her, kidnapping her, taking her to a residence in Wayne County, and then repeatedly raping her over the course of several hours.
The problem? Virtually nothing in Gallagher’s story was true, and it isn’t even clear why she lied about it in the first place. A short time after her initial accusations, she recanted and explained that she wanted to hurt the man because she was angered that he wouldn’t drive her home after their date.
It isn’t clear exactly what happened to Gallagher after her false accusations. But one news article reports she was being held on bond as of early July. Hopefully, she is held responsible for her actions.
You’ll notice that we didn’t talk about cases that simply didn’t succeed in a court of law, here, nor did we push the idea that the #MeToo movement is all bad. In fact, the movement and renewed focus on supporting real victims is important; that show of solidarity can and does have benefits for real victims, who often suffer alone in silence. Yet even in the #MeToo movement, false accusations cause harm by diluting the voices and importance of those who really have been assaulted.
Automatically assuming that every victim is telling the truth – that every accuser is guilty by default – is not the answer. It’s incredibly dangerous and stands to tear down the very idea of innocent until proven guilty. Trial by media isn’t justice, which all victims and accused parties deserve.