False Allegations of Sexual Misconduct: Basics for Young Men and Their Parents
The experience of a false accusation can be devastating to young men, especially if they are up against a legal or academic system that views an allegation as proof of guilt. False allegations can result in everything from expulsion from school, to job loss and legal nightmares– and overwhelming feelings of shame and anger. Moreover, young men and their families may face loneliness or social isolation due to the real or imagined circumstances that their social circle harbors a misguided premise that believing all women is always helpful. The guide below is not intended to be a comprehensive guide. It is just a basic discussion of the value of work in hard times; the process of finding a supportive therapist; and the delicate balance parents face between offering support and colluding with a debilitating belief that this situation is so devastating that the young man’s life must remain at an indefinite standstill.
The reason for focusing on the importance of work here is that one of the worst parts of a false accusation is that it can upend a young man’s life at the exact point when college and work were supposed to be his focus; and losing focus in these areas at such a critical point in life can have long term consequences on the young man’s mental, social, and economic health if he is unable to regain his focus. Parents want to help, but they also need to be careful of “helping” the young man so much that they prevent him from learning to find his stride and move forward. Moving forward may sound impossible, but please know that it is not impossible; in fact it is essential. Failure to move forward will only trap you deeper in your false accuser’s web– the healthiest thing to do is to get help and rebuild yourself, so that one day this nightmare will be a distant memory.
For Young Men:
If you find yourself derailed to the point where you have been expelled from school and feel stalled in your academic or professional life, and you are living with your parents due to your lack of resources: Please remember that there is dignity and empowerment in work. Work can be therapeutic in situations where you have been debased. If you need extra help motivating yourself some people may find it helpful to consider that oftentimes, living well is the best revenge. How do you live well? Well, for starters you must take good care of yourself and think well of yourself. To jumpstart yourself with at least the dignity of work and the ability to one day be able to provide your own resources: if at all possible it may be best for you to return to school or take whatever job you can find (even if said job is not to be your lifetime career but just a stepping stone while you get back on your feet). Even working part time in a volunteer capacity helping others can be a therapeutic starting point.
Hopefully, you already know that it’s normal (even healthy!) to feel intense emotions at a time like this. Some days, you may feel profound anger or shame; other days you may feel numb or depleted; and other days you may feel surprisingly normal. It’s essential that you pay attention to your feelings, since this will help you understand what kinds of self-care behaviors you might need to practice. For example, anger is often a natural emotion when we feel our boundaries have been violated or an injustice has occurred. The healthy response to anger is often appropriate actions to address the problem– so in the case of a false accusation, you might channel your anger into the action of doing any support work for your own legal or Title IX case if it’s still active; or volunteering for groups that advocate to support victims of false allegations regardless of whether your case is closed. Intense physical exercise can also be helpful to release some of the natural “fight” energy that can arise when our boundaries have been violated (I consider a false accusation of sexual misconduct to be an extreme boundary violation). Other emotions, like sadness, can sometimes cue you to spend some quiet time with a helpful book or writing in a journal, or get together with some good friends who will help you cheer up– what’s healthy will vary according to your particular situation, but paying attention to your emotions will often help point you in the right direction.
Seeing a therapist:
If it has been more than a month since your ordeal was resolved (I realize that your ordeal may not feel “resolved”, but for the purposes of this blog I mean “resolved” in court or under Title IX) and you are still unable to return to any semblance of your previous capacity for work, then you may want to be evaluated by a mental health professional. I know it is extremely difficult to find an understanding mental health professional in this particular situation. Some victims of false allegations have told me they had to visit up to 15 different therapists to find the right person. This does not surprise me. Even for regular everyday issues many people have to visit a few therapists to find the right person. So, if what’s holding you back from going to therapy is that you have not found the right person, and you are not working or going to school: Please know that even just making a commitment to visit one new therapist per week until you find the right person could be a good starting point for taking action towards good self care.
Feel free to ask the therapist to share their stance with you on the “believe all women” position that many therapists (and many people in general) seem to embrace. I suggest that you make it clear that you do not wish to be confrontational or change their mind if they disagree with you. Instead, explain that you are only asking because you feel it is important for you to have a therapist whose belief system does not stipulate that all women must be believed, because this implies that men (including you) must be disbelieved. If the therapist makes you feel uncomfortable in a way that seems adversarial or unsupportive, you may want to just end the session by politely thanking them and explaining that you just don’t feel it’s a good fit. On the other hand, in some situations you might want to tell them how they’re coming across to you. The time to do this would be if it seems possible that perhaps you might be just feeling defensive based on what you’ve been through, and the therapist would actually be glad for the chance to reassure you once they learned that you were feeling insecure because you felt they might be against you.
If you are in any danger of harm to yourself or others then of course you should call 911 and go to the nearest emergency room. If you’re in a situation where your functioning has declined to the point where you’re a danger to yourself, you may want to commit to seeing almost any therapist recommended by the hospital to help you get your baseline functioning back a level where you’re no longer in any danger of physical harm to self or others (confirm their license of course but most hospitals are generally vetted and insurance-approved referral sources) while you shop around to find a therapist who really seems like the perfect fit and seems ready to help you learn to process your ordeal of false allegations.
Shopping for a Therapist
Seeing one therapist who seems like they’re helping at least on a mediocre level but continuing to shop around because you’re curious to see and learn about other techniques is perfectly fine, and in many cases is much better than nothing– especially if self harm is on your mental menu in any way whatsoever. Just be open about your “shopping plans” with your current therapist because it may be relevant to the therapy. If you feel afraid to tell your current therapist that you’re seeing other therapists, that’s kind of a therapeutic issue in itself. You may even want to actually share the ambivalence you felt with them about the decision to be open about your desire for additional perspectives. In most cases a therapist should be affirmative and supportive and even praise your decision to make sure you’re doing whatever you need to get better. They may also want to know what they can do to help improve your experience with them. Sometimes this can be a helpful conversation.
There are also situations when clients keep shopping because it’s hard for them to ever really go deep or make changes, or they may be addicted to secondary gains of being falsely accused (such as no longer being expected to work or go to school, or getting more leeway from sympathetic parents on issues like finances, disrespectful behavior, drinking or drug use), or they may have had significant issues even before the false accusation– and so they nix every therapist they see because deep down they’re actually uncomfortable with the idea of therapy. Your therapist may raise these possibilities and ask you if you think this might be your situation. Don’t feel like you have to say yes– in many cases it’s just that the therapist is a poor fit or they have a belief system that contradicts with your reality… but it may also help to be open to the question, especially if you find yourself on therapist number 20 and have not even had one therapist with whom you were able to have even a somewhat helpful conversation about anything.
Parents have a very difficult balance when trying to be supportive without becoming enabling or actually prolonging a young man’s return to a path of strength and independence. In some situations, parents may do well to sketch out a timeline of how much longer their financial support of a young man will continue, especially if he is an able-bodied and/or able-minded young man who is of college age or beyond yet he is neither working nor attending school. Being able to support yourself is an important milestone for nearly all adults– but especially for young men, the ability to (at least one day, hopefully) become a provider is part of a healthy cultural identity in many situations; and being able to meet your own basic needs facilitates resiliency. While it is essential to be supportive, parents must not become co-dependent or enablers by tolerating disrespectful behavior from their son “because he’s having a hard time right now” or creating a situation where he is allowed to be in a “holding pattern” longer than necessary. Such a dynamic ultimately hurts everyone even more (especially the young man). Parents may want to go to their own therapy as well if they need help learning how to set healthy boundaries and positive expectations for their son.