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Unseen Victims, by Emma Wells – a review

'We can find the actions of some characters in UV reprehensible, until we try to think a mile in their prison plimsoles.'

Emma Wells has been deeply involved with the false allegations movement for some years, and as an individual who has seen things from all sides. Her new Unseen Victims isn't a book explicitly about false allegations per-se, but more a handbook on how to cope if you or someone you love finds yourself caught up in the intractable machinery of the 21st century criminal justice system in the UK.

A sometimes bewildering mix of reportage and fiction, the book takes in Emma's own story with the pseudonymous 'Robert', plus academic articles from experts such as Dr Michael Naughton of the Empowering the Innocent (ETI) organisation, and a forensic retelling by James Barnett of a Barnett Survivors Limited case as a denouement.

The raw feeling held in all the above indicates how the professional and the personal become blurred when it comes to he/she/they said cases, how the truth of matters almost always becomes subjective, and how those grey areas can be exploited by activists and lawyers alike. Who was more guilty, Johnny Depp or Amber Heard? Increasingly it seems to depend on with whom the audience identifies most.

Art and literature has always played with this ambiguity, which is why moral judgments sit uneasily: we can find the actions of some characters in UV reprehensible, until we try to think a mile in their prison plimsoles. Then there is the way the 'believe the allegation' policy has opened up the whole area to a postmodern place beyond right and wrong, into intoxicants, consent and compensation.

Two things we do learn is that the lawyers always win, and that some prison officers are nicer than others. Nasty bags, red flags and exploitative ITV documentaries abound, until Wells decides to take the reins of her own twisty journey through the British justice industry, seeing its perspective-based manipulations and showing how two can play at that game. Exciting but shifty new lovers, couples who have fallen out of love, troubled children getting attention and bored, cynical police are all sketched, and a picture of a sexually exploited working-class starts to emerge.

This exploitation isn't necessarily in the form of trafficking or pimping, but more in the way the legal system will bamboozle citizens unprepared for its convoluted language and counter-intuitive semantic snake-charming. While every part of the media – not just the tabloids – sees people accused or convicted of sexual offences as the only group left to demonise, Wells shows how it is in fact their loved ones (who stand by their partners more often than most might think) who are equally destroyed by an intentionally destructive process.

Sent to prison for a dodgy one night stand after a Plenty of Fish date? Your partner, their children and extended family and colleagues will be riven. There are more and more of these cases occurring, as the media gaze swings Sauron-like from Operations Midland to MeToo to Bluestone to Soteria: Unseen... is thus an exasperated howl, saying 'Enough demonisation, a little more understanding, we beg you'. People can be messy and complicated, and Unseen Victims gradually unpacks this complexity with a good dose of humanity.

By Sean Bw Parker

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