Bitter separation battles and unrequited love are among the reasons why people falsely accuse others of sexual abuse, according to legal professionals.

Lawyers contacted by The Sunday Times of Malta came across several examples of cases when people, often women, made false claims that they or their children had been abused.

Lawyer Roberto Montalto gave the example of one situation where a woman claimed her children were abused by her husband’s colleague.

The case dragged on for eight years and the man was acquitted after the court found that the woman lied because she felt humiliated when the man rejected her.

Such lies were often driven by some form of pique or revenge, he said, adding that there were also genuine cases.

In one case, a woman who was raped by a stranger mistakenly identified his client whose eyes were similar to those of the aggressor.

Another lawyer, who preferred not to be named, said that experience taught him that false claims were usually spurred by bitter separation proceedings. He also came across cases of young gay people who claimed abuse to justify their sexual behaviour.

“Such cases of false accusations are not one-offs,” the lawyer said. In fact, just this week two cases were brought to light.

A man was acquitted of defiling a girl after a court found that a false report had been made because he did not approve of her boyfriend.

Then there was the much publicised case of 48-year-old Emanuel Camilleri who, on Monday, was temporarily released from prison where he was serving a two-year jail term for sexually abusing his daughter when she was seven.

The case was reopened after the daughter, now 20, declared she had not been abused and that her mother told her to say she was.

The mother is now facing perjury charges.

Educational and child psychologist Victor Martinelli said it was “not difficult at all” for an adult to get a child to repeat false claims.

An adult could get a child to say, and even believe, what they wanted them to by promising things or being suggestive about what they would like them to say.

Children were likely to lie for someone they loved and trusted or for someone who blackmailed or threatened them, he said, adding that children’s moral development was not yet completed.

Some children might not realise they were lying. Some might not distinguish a lie or partial lie from a fact.

They may even start believing the lie, he said.

“Children do not always say the truth. We cannot always accept their versions as being the absolute truth,” Dr Martinelli said.

Roberta Lepre, from voluntary organisation Victim Support Malta, cautioned that the publicity recently given to the case of alleged wrongful conviction risked discouraging victims of sexual abuse from coming forward.

She said it was important not to lose focus of the fact that many victims did not wish to report their case to police.

“While I’m glad to see a strong public outcry against a man who may have been wrongly convicted of sexual abuse, I would also like to see this public response in the cases of victims who never get the justice they seek,” she said.

If you have an experience to share contact ccalleja@timesofmalta.com.