Saturday, 14 January 2012

Rape, false accusations and The Daily Mail

*Trigger warning* This post talks about rape, sexual violence and the lasting impact of those crimes on women's mental and physical health.

There's always been a lot of 'what about the men-ery' when we talk about feminism, particularly when we talk about the issue of violence against women and girls. This conversation has mainly had two angles - the first focusing on how men are victims of rape, sexual assault and intimate partner violence too (from both male and female partners) and the second focuses on false accusations of rape and domestic abuse. And I have a sense that since I started engaging with feminist debate, particularly online, it has been towards the latter that the conversation has become more heavily weighted.

Because I am talking about false accusations, I will be talking in terms of male violence against women and girls. This is not to deny that there are male survivors (or female perpetrators), but because when we talk about false accusations, the conversation is, as far as I can tell, always about women falsely accusing men. I will also mainly be focusing on rape and sexual violence.

It seems to me that now whenever I write about rape and sexual violence, or speak about it, or see or hear any other conversation about it, we are almost immediately confronted with a comment that goes something like this:

'Of course, rape is awful. But let's not forget - a false accusation of rape can ruin a man's life'.

I believe that this response to conversations around rape is not only unhelpful, but completely skews our perceptions about rape and sexual violence. Firstly, because it suggests that false accusations are as common as rape (they're not. Reports differ but on average there are 90,000 rapes in the UK each year according to the Home Office. Only 15% of those rapes will be reported based on 6 year average from the BCS, and between 1-5% of accusations are false.) (  And it suggests that the impact of a false accusation is worse than rape. This response argues that the rape is something that happens once, on one occasion and then is over. Meanwhile, according to our common commenter, the impact of a false accusation goes on, and on, and on. Whilst I'm not denying that the impact is there and must be awful, I will explore more later about why this summing up of the impact of both crimes is problematic.

This response to conversations about violence against women and girls is now so common that it is having a profound impact on the way our media and politicians talk about and approach issues of sexual violence. In 2010, the coalition government tried to pass a law that would give anonymity to those accused of rape, and only those accused of rape. This proposal was completely based on the idea that false accusations could ruin a man's life and was influenced by the perception that false accusations are common and the 'norm' - an assertion based on a belief that more often than not, women lie about rape. The proposal was defeated, but it showed starkly how the belief that women lie is so prevalent and accepted. It was used to suggest a law that would have likely dissuaded women from reporting rape, and could reduce the conviction rate even further from the paltry 6.5% it already is (from incident to conviction). I base this assertion on the fact that by naming an accused rapist such as John Worboys, his other victims are more likely or able to come forward. I also base it on the fact that if you are working from a base line that women are likely to be lying, then you are hardly empowering women to come forward and talk to you about what has happened to them.

Another incident involved a lawyer I heard on Radio 4 discussing the cuts to legal aid and the exemption given to domstic abuse survivors (an exemption that isn't really working in practise). He expressed concern that this exemption would encourage 'more false accusations of domestic abuse'. This suggests that there's an engrained belief in our culture that fale accusations against violent men happen off the cuff, 'willy nilly', by irresponsible women looking to save a buck. The actual important debate about how the cuts are impacting women trying to flee violent homes is then forgotten, in favour of another debate around false accusations.

The media plays a big role in the assertion that false accusations are as common (if not more) than rape and in implanting the belief that the majority of rape accusations are false. This appears to be a twist of logic around what being convicted of a crime means. It goes thus - the rape conviction rate is 6.5%. Therefore, the argument opines, every rape that is not convicted must be a false accusation. However, this ignores the fact that a false accusation of rape is also a crime.

Of course I am going to pick on the Daily Mail as they really are the worst offenders when it comes to deliberately misleading their readers over what a false accusation of rape is. When you search for 'falsely accused of rape' on their site, you are greeted with a list of headlines where the word rape is always presented in inverted commas ('rape'; 'sex attack' 'rape victim'), a punctuation device that implies disbelief. Stories where the man has been acquitted are presented as 'cry rape' stories and deemed to be false accusations - even when no-one has been found guilty of that crime ("Cry rape victim's hell: Mr X was found not guilty of raping the woman last year after she claimed he had taken advantage of her while she was too drunk to consent to sex."). When someone has been found guilty of false accusations then this story is likely to be printed, despite the fact that the 2,000 rapes that happen each week in the UK rarely make the headlines. This means that there is an over-representation of stories on a rare crime, and a real lack of representation of a far commoner crime. The women who make false accusations are vilified and "face public shaming" (as one headline put it) far more than the men who rape (I don't agree with vilification BTW, I think it 'monsters' people and prevents us from examining and challenging what causes rape - i.e. patriarchy). Meanwhile, editorial from Melanie Phillips, Richard Littlejohn and Peter Hitchens repeat and perpetuate the myth that most claims of rape are false, stating that unless a rape is by a stranger, and accompanied with additional physical violence or weapon, then they are incidents where the woman regrets consensual sex the next day.

'a woman is encouraged to claim she has been raped when, for example, with the benefit of hindsight, she may become aggrieved about what she voluntarily allowed to happen, particularly when she was rather the worse for wear.'  - Melanie Phillips

'[if the] women had met a man in a Tiki Bar on St Lucia, got off her head on rum punch and invited him back to her hotel room for a drunken tumble. The following morning, through her hungover haze, she was consumed by self-loathing. Would she be entitled to cry ‘rape’? There's a world of difference between a violent sexual assault at the hands of a complete stranger, or gang of strangers, and a subsequently regretted,  alcohol-induced one-night stand...That’s not how the self-appointed Boadiceas of feminism see it.' Richard Littlejohn (proving that once again, he doesn't understand anything or use correct grammar!)

'Of course all rapes are bad. But some rapes are worse than others. The extension of rape, to cover any situation where a woman says she has been raped, is a huge difficulty for a fair legal system that relies on actual evidence before deciding guilt.' Peter Hitchens

So what we have here is a constant drip feed of two narratives. One, that rape isn't very common because most rapes are consensual sex where the woman regrets it in the morning (there's also a lot of slut shaming in this narrative around women who have consensual sex). And two, false accusations of rape are very common and they ruin men's lives.

Because these two narratives are now so much a part of our cultural conversation around rape, I find increasingly as a feminist I have to caveat every conversation around sexual violence with a 'and of course, false accusations happen and are awful too'. But it's time to reframe the conversation. Yes, let's talk about false accusations but let's not conflate the crime with rape.

As I said earlier, the dialogue we usually get around false accusations and rape is that being falsely accused ruins lives. As Melanie P puts it:

'the fact [is] that men who are cleared of rape still leave court with their reputations trashed, even though the evidence against them may have been tenuous in the extreme.'

I'm not denying that the impact of a false accusation must be awful, although let's not forget that some men who are accused of rape or assualt (or even found guilty!) still manage to carry on with their lives, careers, stardom reputation intact (and enhanced). Chris Brown, Tyson, Polanski, DSK, Assange anyone? I am not here to mitigate the horrible impact of being falsely accused of a crime though, the impact it would have on career, family, relationships, mental health - all of this is of course awful and those falsely accused require support and justice.

However, I find that when people comment on the impact of a false accusation, I always hear this eery silence around the impact of rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault. As I said earlier, it seems that there's an idea that rape happens, one night, one day, and that's the end of it. It's horrible when it happens, but then it's over. Meanwhile, a false accusation goes through the courts and drags on and on. And it's because this idea is so offensive and so palpably untrue that I feel we need to shift the dialogue. So that when we talk about rape, the impact of that crime is not silenced by a discussion about the impact of another, unrelated crime.

Rape doesn't just happen and that's it. A woman may be raped many times. She may be left with post traumatic stress disorder, an STD or infection, physical injury, nightmares, depression, an unwanted pregnancy. She may be judged by her community, or left infertile by infection. In a country where abortion is illegal (which includes Northern Ireland) she may have a child. A quick search on Google of 'suicide rates of rape victims' produces a South Carolina study on mental health of rape survivors that found:
  • 31% of rape survivors developed PTSD
  • Rape survivors were 6.2 times more likely to develop PTSD than women who hadn't been raped
  • 30% of rape survivors had experienced at least one major depressive episode (compared to 10% of women who hadn't been raped)
  • 33% of rape survivors said they had suicidal thoughts (compared to 8% of women who hadn't been raped). According to, 13% of rape survivors attempt suicide.

The counselling directory ( believe that the emotional cost of domestic abuse costs employers and the state £23 billion per year.

What I am trying to illustrate with these statistics and studies is that when we talk about rape and false accusations, we're not talking about a crime that happens and then is over, against a crime that has a lasting impact. Both crimes have lasting impact and, I would argue, the physical and mental health impact of rape on survivors is likely to be far greater than that of false accusations. And because rape is far more common, this impact is happening to women you know, right now. These crimes are not the same, they are not analogous and let's stop talking about them as if they are.

Let's talk about rape. And let's talk about false accusations. But let's stop prioritising one narrative so that survivors seeking support and justice are confronted with proposed laws that harm their case, and jurors and judges and politicians fed on a diet of Daily Mail articles refuse to believe rape happens that often in the first place.

BTW, this is worth reading:


gherkingirl said...

Brilliant post Sian!

One thing that gets left out of the figure on 'actual' false reports of rape (ie: that 1-5%) is how did they establish that it was false?

I used to be friends with a woman who was charged with perverting the course of justice after her claim of rape was deemed to be false. She was held on remand, found guilty and given a suspended sentence. The entire reason that the claim was deemed to be false was that she had been raped as a child by her father, had mental health issues because of that and the police believed that she was a) an unreliable witness and b) it was impossible that the same woman could be the victim of two unrelated rapists in the same lifetime. Starting from those two premises they failed to investigate her account or provide solid evidence that she lied. So he got away it and they got a real life example of 'false accusations' to crow about.

So how accurate is that percentage? Was there actual evidence of lying in every single case or did the same things that give us the low conviction rate (lack of investigating, poor knowledge of victim behaviour, allowing rape myths to dominate for eg) cause those figures to be skewed?

I'd like to know how accurate the false reporting stas are before they are allowed to carry much real weight.

sian and crooked rib said...

Absolutely. Am so sorry that happened to your friend. As EVAWHD just said to me on twitter, there is a real confusion (deliberate?) around false accusations and malicious accusations.

There was a case last year where a woman went to prison for falsely retracting a true accusation and this article in the Guardian shows how false accusations can easily be a mistrial of justice:

With the prejudices that exist against women reporting rape, the rape myths that exist and cases like the ones you cite that show such a lack of understanding of rape, I do have to question whether those stats reflect actual real malicious accusations, or are miscarriages of justice.

Robin D. Ader said...

Let me first commend you for addressing this issue. Unlike vandalism, theft, or even murder, the very special nature of sexual assault must be approached differently. To expand on what you say, an accusation of thievery does not carry the same stigma as an accusation of rape. On the other hand, a television set can be simply replaced, while a woman’s humanity may not be so easily reconstituted.

The assertion that “most” women cry rape out of shame for getting drunk and losing inhibitions or as lover’s remorse is an inane argument that is clearly debunked by the statistics. However, those statistics – as you cite – also show that the vast majority of rape going unreported. This is disturbing.

Suggestion #1: “Decriminalize” the accusation of rape. A woman should not be assaulted, again, by the system that immediately assumes – perhaps presumes – her reframing of a consensual encounter. Allowing women the unmolested right to report their rape might result in a drastic increase in the collection of forensic evidence that would result in a higher rate of righteous conviction. Removing these men from society would prevent them from perpetrating their crimes on additional victims, and the assault rate might decrease.

Suggestion #2: I believe that anonymity of the accused, at least in the initial stages of an investigation to determine if there is any evidence that might lead to a conviction, is essential. Once that evidence is presented and verified, then public exposure – perhaps bringing additional victims forward – would be valid.

Suggestion #3: The accusation of rape is a sexually transmitted disease. Men should take precautions not to put themselves in a position where consensual sex can be reinterpreted as an assault, and this does not mean that they should just cover their tracks. Some civility – allowing an intoxicated woman to go unharvested – is the right thing to do. Every woman who’s made herself vulnerable through drink or drug should not be considered a target. On the other side, women should not put themselves in the position, which is not a couched way of saying, “She asked for it,” it’s looking at the situation in the real world where people are responsible for not putting themselves in harm’s way.

Sex without sober consent is rape. Rape without proof is a nightmare for the victim. Accusation without guilt is a nightmare for the accused. There are no simple answers.

gherkingirl said...

I lost touch with my friend when she was sectioned after trying to kill herself. No one helped her when she was sexually abused as a child and then to be accused of lying when it happened again was just too much for her and she couldn't cope.

But of course the 'false allegation' chorus never talk about that or the case you reference, do they?

I would never report rape again because having done it twice before, I am sure I would be prosecuted the next time or explicitly branded a liar.

Knowing that I could be raped again and that the perpetrator absolutely would get away with it and I might suffer even more consequences has made it very difficult to get over my previous rapes and genuinely makes me not want to leave the house ever again.

Forty Shades Of Grey said...

Love this post Sian, but have one quibble about stats. *puts nerd hat on* You say 13% of rape victims commit suicide, but it's actually attempt suicide. It would also be useful to include the rate of attempted suicide of the general population - 1% according to those stats.

Most attempted suicides (especially by women) are unsuccessful. I know this doesn't detract from your post in the slightest, but we've all seen the 'AH HA! You were slightly wrong about one thing therefore your whole argument is invalid!' line from anti-feminists, and it will probably save you some hassle :)

Really, really like this post though, very useful links and discussion.

Gherkingirl, you raise some very good points, and I'm very sorry about what happened to your friend. Is she the person the Guardian wrote about a few months ago? The story sounds very similar. Horrid.

Ray Filar said...

Oh god, all of this.

I hadn't even thought of the way in which we implicitly treat unproven (in court) rape cases as false accusations. It's so true.

So many women I know have experienced rape or sexual assault. None, as far as I am aware, have ever tried to prosecute. It just doesn't seem worth it.

@robin d. adler

"Some civility – allowing an intoxicated woman to go unharvested – is the right thing to do."

allowing an intoxicated woman to go unharvested????! Women are humans, not fields.

sian and crooked rib said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sian and crooked rib said...

Nat - you're completely right, sorry was my mistake! Have changed now.

Ray - totally agree.

SUIRAUQA said...

It is a great post. I came over by way of Twitter and found much to agree with. Rape is despicable and coming from a country where it is rampant, I share your outrage.

However, one matter that gave me a pause was your reference en passim about 1-5% of false accusations of rape. One commenter asked how they established it was false. It seems to be that such enumerations would greatly depend on the efficiency, wisdom and goodwill of the investigative agencies and the legal systems.

Rape is a violent act and serious offence. Making false accusations is also criminal. If even 1% of men are falsely accused, the justice system should be able to prevent a punishment to the not-guilty, right?

Not in India, it seems. While perpetrators of actual rape may go unpunished (e.g. "Shiney Ahuja" case), falsely accused men have been known to serve prison sentences. Consider this: a couple of weeks back, there was this huge news story about a Canadian family of Punjabi origin - who had ordered a hit on their own daughter, for her 'crime' of falling in love beneath her station. Not just that, they paid a woman in India to falsely accuse the hapless husband of rape, and he was found guilty and sentenced to prison!.

False accusations only serve to take aware from the seriousness of the crime of rape and hinder honest effort to curb (hopefully, stamp out) this barbaric act of menace.

SUIRAUQA said...

Yeeesh!! So many typos! So sorry about that. Please make the following corrections in your mind while reading my comment:
1. Reference *to* (not 'about')
2. Seems to *me* (not 'be')
3. To take *away* (not 'aware')

I have since expanded on my reply in a blog post.

AllyFogg said...

Hi Sian,

a couple of points I'd like to make.

First is that the crime of rape and the crime of making a malicious / false allegation are entirely different to each other. The MRA types make a huge mistake when they attempt to compare the impacts of the one crime against the other, drawing some kind of equivalence between them. You're quite right to point out the flaws of the trope 'Of course, rape is awful. But let's not forget - a false accusation of rape can ruin a man's life'.

However there's a flipside to that. It is similarly flawed to say 'Of course, false accusations are awful. But let's not forget - rape can ruin a woman's life' - which I think is precisely what you do in this article.

It is undoubtedly infuriating that the MRAs see any article about rape and start talking about false accusations. But you begin this blog by saying you are going to talk about false allegations, but you don't really, you spend most of the blog talking about rape. Where you do actually address false allegations, it is largely to downplay their prevalence and impacts in comparison.

The other major problem I have here is that I don't think you really engage with the serious difficulties of how we deal with false allegations, and instead fall back on ideological positions which don't really up to the job.
Examples: in responding to the "false allegations can ruin a man's life" quote you say:

"it suggests that false accusations are as common as rape (they're not... And it suggests that the impact of a false accusation is worse than rape."

No, it doesn't. There's nothing in that claim, implicitly or explicitly, that suggests either. That statement could be entirely true even though false allegations are vastly more rare than rapes. That statement can be true without denying that rape ruins lives far more often than false allegations do.

You say:

"In 2010, the coalition government tried to pass a law that would give anonymity to those accused of rape, and only those accused of rape. This proposal was completely based on the idea that false accusations could ruin a man's life and was influenced by the perception that false accusations are common and the 'norm' - an assertion based on a belief that more often than not, women lie about rape."

That's a gross simplification of an incredibly complex legal-judicial-political question. As above, it would be perfectly rational to argue that only a tiny proportion of rape allegations are false, but that the consequences for the victims in those rare cases are sufficiently serious to require changes in procedure. (I'm not saying I agree with that, FWIW, just pointing out that it is a perfectly legitimate position, and I suspect the position held by the great majority of those who proposed the change.)

AllyFogg said...

Final point before I leave you in peace, not really about this blog but about the broader engagement of feminists / feminism with the issues of false allegations.

It makes every sense for feminists (particularly victim support organisations) to hold the line that every woman reporting rape should be believed 100%, without question. That's the only humane position to take.

However it does NOT make every sense for the legal/judicial process to hold the same position, it can't. Police, CPS and courts must consider the possibility that the accuser might be lying (or mistaken about identity or whatever), because of the presumption of innocence in law.

That's relevant to this debate, because in any discussion about attrition rates, conviction rates, court processes, police investigations etc, there will always be the nagging question "but what if she's wrong? What if she's lying?" The mere existence of those few percent where she is wrong or lying is sufficient for there to be reasonable legal doubt in situations where it is one person's word against another.

I think false allegations are (or should be) a feminist issue, and not left to the MRAs. This is primarily because every time a false allegation is proven, it does immense damage to the vast majority of rape complainants, who are telling the truth, but whose chances of getting justice are severely undermined by the behaviour of those other women. But also because feminism is, above all, a social justice movement. I don't believe you can win real social justice for one section of society while remaining indifferent or oblivious to injustices happening to others. If someone is a victim of rape, that is a terrible thing and they deserve compassion and justice. If someone is a victim of false allegations, that is a terrible thing and they deserve compassion and justice. I don't see why that should be controversial.

Sorry for the rant, I couldn't find the off switch ;-)

sian and crooked rib said...

Hi Ally, no need to apologise!

I think fundamentally we agree with one another. It is difficult to deal with all the complexities of a debate like this in one post of course.

What this post attempted to discuss was how so often a discussion around rape or vawg leads to a response of 'huh, you say you care about vawg but what about all those men who are falsely accused? Why don't you care about them?'. And of course, as ppl we do care about victims of any crime, and as feminists in particular we care about this as it creates doubt and harms conviction rates. As I say at the end of the post, victims of malicious accusations need support and justice.

My concern is that because some sections of the media and some mps have latched on to malicious accusations, they receive a disproportionate amount of coverage that leads to a derailing of cultural conversations about rape. And because this media reads 'not guilty of rape' as 'guilty of malicious accusation', they build an impression or belief that most women lie about rape. Coupled with the narrative of peter hitchens for eg, that most rapes arent even 'real', then an inaccurate picture is created that juries take with them into the court room. And this as we all know has a huge impact on convictions, which in turn has a huge impact on reporting..

So my argument was never that we shouldn't care about false/malicious accusations - both as feminists tackling low convictions and humans who want justice and support for victims. But that we need to challenge the way conversations about rape are derailed so that justice is won for everyone. And my second point was to challenge the myth that the impact of rape is self contained to the moment of the crime, and doesn't potentially have lasting physical and/or mental heath impact - something I think the debate sometimes brushes under the carpet.

AllyFogg said...

Yeah, I don't think we're far apart either Sian, it is more about the tone of the argument than the content.

I think one of the biggest problems we have with false allegations of rape is that we know so little about them. The Home Office doesn't collect statistics for them separately, so we don't even know how many people are charged each year, or how many people are convicted. (Of course we can never know the true extent of false allegations, short of omniscience)

Another problem is that there are two different offences someone can be charged with if they are believed to have made false allegations. One is wasting police time, the other is attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Personally I think it would help if there was a distinction in law between making an untrue report of a sexual/violent crime which didn't actually happen(which could remain as 'wasting police time') and making a malicious allegation against a named individual. I think the latter is much less common, but much more serious. I'd like a distinction to be made in the debate between the two, and it would really help in the broader debate around how we prosecute rape.

In more general terms, I'd really like the govt to commission some serious research into the extent and consequences of false rape / abuse allegations. Stern covered the issue a little, but didn't have any hard data upon which to work, it really needs some serious cosideration.

Finally, and this is probably where I risk falling out with some people, I'd really like feminists to be much harder on this amongst themselves. Organisations like Women Against Rape hold a position on false allegations which is downright grotesque - they say that no woman should ever be prosecuted for making a false allegation, even if it results in an innocent man being jailed for years, because such prosecutions deter genuine rape victims from reporting it. (You'll find many individual feminist writers and activists who will make a similar point). It's that kind of position that drives a huge wedge between feminism and (almost) everyone else on these issues, and are largely responsible for a lot of the resistance to feminist arguments on these topics. Unless feminism acknowledges the serious problems raised by the possibility of false allegations in these debates, it are really going to struggle to be taken seriously. I'd really like to see the bulk of the feminist movement explicitly distancing itself from that kind of radical extremism of WAR et al.

One of the reasons I've bitten your ear so extensively on this thread is that I'd really like feminists to be debating this topic among themselves. There's a big black hole in the rape debate at the moment, where false allegations should be.

cim said...

AllyFogg: The thing is, I don't think we need a "false allegation" debate about rape any more than we need it about any other crime. Even ignoring "are you sure it's false" the rate is below 5%; Kelly, Lovett and Regan (2005) found in passing that most of those allegations marked as false do not have a named suspect (which is backed up by other research). That's a rate comparable to other crimes, and we don't feel the need as a society to mention "what about false allegations" when the other crimes are discussed.

(Indeed, if we do need that debate about any crime, it's terrorism.)

Regarding the stance on false accusations, I think it's correct not to prosecute them for rape - partly because of the "how do you know" question, and partly because the disproportionate reporting of the cases that Sian describes is not in the public interest.

In the specific case you mention, involving the accusation somehow being discovered to be maliciously false several years after the original court case resulted in a conviction, I'd perhaps make an exception since that case is so unlikely to occur it probably makes no difference whether you prosecute or not. The difference between "never" and "only in unlikely theoretical edge cases" is unimportant to me.

AllyFogg said...


That's a rate comparable to other crimes, and we don't feel the need as a society to mention "what about false allegations" when the other crimes are discussed.

The thing is, we don't talk about prosecution of other crimes the way we do about rape. There's no extensive debate of the attrition rate for reports of non-sexual common assault (which is about 3%, iirc, about half that of rape). If there was an extensive debate on prosecution of common assault, all those questions would arise - did the assault really happen? Is the victim giving a complete account of what happened? etc etc etc. Indeed if you go to an assault case trial, all those questions invariably are asked.

Where there is a debate about, for example, thefts of mobile phones, it will be really common to hear that many of the reported thefts are insurance jobs. But of course there is (rightly) not the same concern about disbelieving a theft victim than a rape victim.

Regarding the stance on false accusations, I think it's correct not to prosecute them for rape - partly because of the "how do you know" question, and partly because the disproportionate reporting of the cases that Sian describes is not in the public interest.

In the specific case you mention, involving the accusation somehow being discovered to be maliciously false several years after the original court case resulted in a conviction, I'd perhaps make an exception since that case is so unlikely to occur it probably makes no difference whether you prosecute or not.

This is exactly the type of comment that I find so deeply depressing. (Forgive me for pulling a rhetorical device here, but it's the only way I can think of to make the point) can I ask you to imagine that someone makes a malicious allegation of rape against your father, your brother, some other significant man in your life. He is convicted of rape and goes to prison for years, then new evidence emerges to prove that he was innocent, and the false accuser confesses the truth. Can you honestly say you would not want that person punished for what she has put him through? Are you honestly saying that in such circmstances she should not be punished, under a civilised judicial system?

Of course this scenario would be exceptionally rare, but there are well documented cases of men who have been falsely accused and spent long periods on remand or even after wrongful conviction before having their names cleared.

There are also several suicides that have resulted from wrongful conviction. One elderly man in Blackpool, victim of a blackmail scam, accused, arrested and held on remand, before his doctor confirmed that he was medically impotent and the allegations made were a physical impossibility. He drowned himself in the sea shortly after being released.

There was another case not so long ago when a specific and detailed allegation of rape against a named individual was thrown out when a CCTV film turned up showing the entire, and entirely consensual, incident.

Cases like this are very rare in comparison to rape. But they are real, and are wicked, appalling acts which can have dreadful consequences. The argument that the victims of such crimes should be content to be collateral damage in the bigger struggle for genuine rape victims, seems to me to be simply barbaric.

cim said...

AllyFogg: Sure, it happens. Still, what's that saying about trials? "Better to let ten guilty men go free than to convict one innocent man." I don't believe the general prosecution of false allegations accomplishes that: the same factors that make it difficult to get a rape conviction will make it easier to get a false allegation conviction. (And there have been some very unsound looking ones of those)

Of course, the 10:1 ratio is describing cases where a mistake generally means convicting someone unrelated to the case - mistaken identity, etc. By definition in false allegation cases if you convict someone innocent you're convicting the victim of a crime who trusted the justice system to help them.

As I said, extremely rare cases where it's absolutely clear cut and there is no other explanation than a maliciously-made false allegation can be an exception. But to convict on false allegation you are effectively saying that beyond all reasonable doubt no rape occurred and the accusation was malicious. That seems highly unlikely to be safely provable outside extreme cases, and I don't think the CPS should be trying because of the risks (even if the case might meet their normal 50%+ threshold) .

(For what it's worth, I'd apply the same "not unless it's extremely clear" rule to false allegation prosecutions related to non-sexual offences, for the same reasons)

[assault non-attrition] is about 3%, iirc, about half that of rape

Sure, but it's difficult to compare between crimes. Assault has a much higher proportion where the assailant's identity is unclear; it's on average a less serious crime so with limited resources will be treated as less urgent for investigation.

But also with assault/theft there is not a general assumption among a noticeable proportion of the population that assault/theft victims are usually making it up. The police can announce a crackdown on assault/theft without anyone saying "but what about false accusations". It's generally assumed that they happen - especially theft reports for insurance fraud - without there being a feeling that cracking down on theft is "too risky" and "what about the thievez" because the majority of reports are culturally assumed to be true.

We don't need to talk about theft and [non-domestic] assault in the same way we talk about rape, because for those crimes we can assume that the justice system will behave as designed. (And as designed can be racist, classist, etc. so I'm not saying the design is by any means perfect ... but sexual offences have a whole extra layer of historical and continuing failure on top of that)


Below is link to research undertaken by David Lisak et al on false rape accusations and their findings are that only between 1-5% of all reported cases are false. But of course what is defined as a 'false allegation' depends on how one views heterosexual relations. Dominant beliefs are that men are entitled to use verbal coercion and/or to assume unless a woman says 'no' in an assertive manner and reinforces this no with threats of violent action, then rape has not occurred because 'she didn't mean it when she said no.' Men continue to adhere to the belief their definition of what does and does not constitute rape is the definitive definition and takes no account whatsoever of the female victim's experience. So if a male uses verbal coercion and/or physical threats then he is supposedly merely enacting his male sex right to women. Women however know that they have to trust an individual man will respect their sexual autonomy and we all know men commonly do not choose to respect a woman's sexual autonomy if that differs from what the man demands/expects/claims he is entitled to. So you see false rape allegations are not as easy to define as men claim.

At the core is men's belief they have male sex right to any woman and they not the woman decides when and if they will enact this right. Why oh why are men so convinced women are innate liars? Because men believe misogynistic lies that women are innate liars as are children apparently whereas men always tell the truth do they not? Actually they do not routinely tell the truth. However, the issue as I said above is the fact men have accorded themselves the power to define what is and is not rape from the male perspective and it this perspective which ensures that lies continue to be bandied around that women are innate liars and most men never ever force any woman into unwanted sexual activity.

Just as male violence against women is supposedly rare so to are male rapists and these lies have to be constantly reasserted because on no account must men's behaviour particularly their pseudo male sex right to women be challenged or denied. Most men who commit rape deny their accountability and most men who do not commit rape refuse to hold those men who do accountable and so it continues men backing other men up and meanwhile women continue to be subjected to male sexual violence and our male supremacist legal system claims 'but we can't do anything more because so many women make false allegations against innocent men!'

AllyFogg said...


But to convict on false allegation you are effectively saying that beyond all reasonable doubt no rape occurred and the accusation was malicious. That seems highly unlikely to be safely provable outside extreme cases

The number of women prosecuted for making false allegations is minuscule. Home Office don't keep records, but I've seen it estimated at about 30 a year (which would be less than 10% of all cases of false allegations, even at the lowest estimate of about 2%) It is every bit as difficult to prove an allegation false beyond all reasonable doubt as it is to prove an allegation true beyond all reasonable doubt. Those cases which are prosecuted are almost invariably what you call 'extreme cases' where there is evidence beyond all reasonable doubt, and that is how it should be. Nobody should be prosecuted for false allegations without very concrete evidence against them.

Of course if there are ever cases of people being wrongfully convicted of making false allegations it is a terrible tragedy. But that can never be justification for not prosecuting people for committing crime.

However to go back to my point of much earlier, I'd really like to see a systematic review of how false allegations are treated by the justice system, a look at the evidence and the cases, to establish whether there *is* a problem with innocent rape victims being wrongly charged with fabrication, or for that matter whether there's a problem with people making false allegations with impunity (as Lord Campbell-Savours has famously argued).

Most of this debate is conducted on the basis of comparing anecdotes and assumptions, and that makes it very difficult to know what policies are needed.

Rebecca said...

Ohhh I so deeply hate the Daily Mail. I wanted to expand on your point "This means that there is an over-representation of stories on a rare crime, and a real lack of representation of a far commoner crime". Not long ago I wrote about the availability heuristic, which is when the "availability" of something in our minds (due to recent experience, or over-exposure) leads us to overestimate the frequency of something occurring. In this context, making prominent stories about "crying rape" will make it stand out in peoples mind more than the actual under-reported atrocity of rape itself.

I know that it's only one of a thousand things wrong with the DM, and that finding one of their problems is like trying to find a tree in a forest. But the media has very real consequences, and I cannot yet call ours an "ethical press". Sad.

But thank you for this post, it makes the point in better ways than I could, and I'll surely be linking to it in future.

sian and crooked rib said...

Rebecca - thank you! I really hope that Leveson takes the submissions from women's orgs about sexism in the press seriously and perhaps we will see a change. I'm not optimistic though...