Thursday, 21 March 2013

False rape accusations: perceptions, proportion, paranoia and problems

False accusations of rape ruin lives. Only an idiot would dispute this. Anyone who is a fan of justice is not a fan of false accusations for any crime, especially one that carries the stigma of a rape conviction or a rape charge which is later disproved in a court of law. As well as the great personal cost to the falsely accused, false accusations cost public money and waste court time. As such, it is appropriate that false accusers are punished within the boundaries of the law. None of this should be disputed.

What should be questioned is whether there is a plague of false accusations sweeping the nation. A study released this week would indicate this is not the case at all. The study, released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), found that over a 17-month period in England and Wales, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 prosecutions for domestic violence. Over the same period of time, there were just 35 prosecutions for false rape allegations, six for false domestic violence allegations, and three for false allegations involving both rape and domestic violence. So, in a country of more than 60 million people, there were 117,542 prosecutions for rape and domestic violence in total, compared to a grand total of 44 prosecutions relating to false accusations. Over the 17-month period of the study, 159 suspects were linked to allegedly false claims.

It would be lovely to live in a world where there were no false accusations of rape or domestic violence, but when the false allegations are massively outnumbered by the successful prosecutions, it is pretty clear that a sense of proportion is required.

It is certainly important to look at who makes false accusations and why they happen, but it is extremely important to focus on preventing rape and domestic violence from happening in the first place. The domestic violence figures, in particular, are shockingly high and a national conversation is required to find out why there has been an increase of 11% in cases reported to Citizens Advice in the last three months of 2012 compared with 2011.

It is heartening to see advertising campaigns here in Britain that focus on telling rapists not to rape rather than blaming the victim. The If You Could See Yourself television advertising campaign (TRIGGER WARNING) is a welcome step away from telling women what they already know about unattended drinks and walking home alone, or reinforcing the Taliban mentality that what you wear means you're asking for it. But what the government gives with one hand, it takes with the other with the privatisation of sexual assault referral centres. Inexplicably, the government has given a contract to manage some of these centres to G4S, a company best known for their incompetence in handling security at the 2012 London Olympics,  No private company should profit from handling sexual assault cases - that is completely immoral. Meanwhile, on Sky News, Lorna Dunkley interviewed the British woman who alleges a hotel manager attempted to sexually assault her before she escaped by jumping over the balcony of her room in the Indian city of Agra. It is a shame Dunkley felt the need to ask her if she felt there was anything she could have done differently to prevent the assault. Like what? Not travelled alone? Not requested a wake-up call to catch an early train?

And in the meantime, the "Bitches ruin men's lives!" cries from rape apologists just keep on coming. Let's look a little deeper into the figures, shall we?

Of the 159 people linked to allegedly false claims over the study's 17-month period, of which 44 were prosecuted, 92% were women, almost half were aged 21 or under and in 38% of these investigations, the initial complaint was made by someone other than the alleged suspect. None of this should come as a shock to anyone.

There is no one-size-fits-all profile of a false accuser any more than there is a one-size-fits-all profile of a rapist. False accusations are often a symptom of an immature person trying to deal with relationship issues in an immature way. False accusations can also happen as a result of mental illness. False accusations can happen when a vulnerable person is used by another who seeks vengeance. False accusations can happen when well-meaning but ultimately misguided parents mistake their offsprings' consensual sex lives as rape. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that for many false accusers, the situation raged out of control and they felt unable to stop the legal process. Then the waters are muddied further by cases of women who have been raped but then retract the rape claim and, as such, find themselves on the end of a false accusation charge. And so on and so forth...

So what is to be done? Of course, false accusers deserve punishment - it is a crime that destroys people and they make it harder for rape victims to come forward and report the awful crimes committed against their bodies. But this is largely because of the myth perpetuated by many rape apologists that false accusations are pandemic.

As a result, we end up with loud voices, such as the campaigners to free Ched Evans, a footballer convicted of rape and sentenced to five years in prison, adding to this myth. Leaving aside the issue of guilt, Evans' campaigners are obsessed with stereotyping women, especially women who sleep with footballers (not a crime last time I checked...), as a horde of greedy, lying harridans. One of them called me a slut, a slag, a libtard and a cunt via Twitter this week, which doesn't exactly help the credibility of the cause. The cause's website also hoists the campaigners by their own petard. It features a large section dedicated to unused witness statements. This is a catalogue of inadmissible evidence, such as a statement that the victim had left the club with other men on previous occasions. Having this information on the internet for all to see could seriously prejudice a fair retrial.  

In punishing false accusers, just as in the case of punishing rapists, rehabilitation is as important as retribution. If there are mental health issues or evidence of past abuse experienced by false accusers, this should be dealt with compassionately. Equally, a sane justice system should offer its full support to those who have been falsely accused, and convicted rapists need rehabilitation to reduce the risk of re-offending and have them emerge from prison as better, more educated people.

False accusations ruin lives. Rape also ruins lives. If we lose sight of that, Steubenville-type incidents will keep on happening, victims will continue to be blamed, victims will continue to be too scared to come forward and the false reporting myth will be grotesquely inflated and this will continue to harm women.

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