6 Things You Need To Know About False Reports Of Rape
Someone is accused of rape and a media storm ensues. Is it too easy to accuse someone of rape? If we talk about false allegations will it deter other victims from reporting? Psychologist Dr Nina Burrowes offers some perspective.
*A warning to readers - point number 6 may knock your socks off. You may want to read this post with bare feet.
In theory, false reporting of rape shouldn't cause any problems.
We're supposed to live in a society where every victim of rape feels able to report it to the police.
We're supposed to live in a society where someone is innocent until proven guilty.
Unfortunately, we live in this society...
This doesn't help ANYONE
Given that the issue of false reporting of rape is talked about so much here are 6 things that you need to know:
1. The accused person is not best-placed to claim that the allegation is false
Most cases of rape come down to one person's word against another's and the key issue is...
Someone who is accused of rape does not get to decide that the alleged victim consented. Instead they get the opportunity to explain what made them believe that the victim consented.
Even after conviction many sex offenders continue to believe that what happened was 'okay'. But this can simply reflect the kind of thinking that led to the offence in the first place.
What kind of thinking do I mean? That people need to say 'no' if they don't want sex. That being very drunk makes it okay. That of course everyone wants to have sex with me. That it's normal to force yourself on someone...
To find out more about the psychology behind this watch the video 'Why do some convicted sex offenders claim they are innocent?'
2. Victims of rape don't behave in the way we expect them to
Many people expect that a victim of rape will scream, fight and report the crime straight away.
Many people expect that a victim of rape will give a clear and coherent account of what happened.
Some do, but many can't.
Victims of rape often suffer with trauma from their experience. This can make dealing with the criminal justice system very hard.
Imagine treating someone suffering from combat trauma in the same way...
Our misunderstanding of how victims and offenders should behave can lead us to believe that an allegation of rape is false, when it isn't.
To find out how our expectations about offenders can affect our judgement watch the video 'Why are sex offenders able to get away with it?'
3. The level of false reporting is a lot lower than many people realise.
False reports of rape shouldn't be confused with all of the other reasons why a report of rape may not make it to court. Some cases don't make it to court because of problems with evidence. Many don't make it to court because the victim pulls out of the process (because or stress or intimidation).
4. Most false reporting is NOT about revenge
A few people make false reports of rape maliciously.
These cases tend to grab the headlines, but they don't reflect the majority of false reports because most people who make a false allegation of rape do not name anyone as their rapist.
False allegations are made for many reasons. These include seeking attention, sympathy, and a cry for help. Many people who make false reports have mental health problems and sometimes it's clear that they are the victim of some kind of offence - but not rape.
False allegations may take up police time but the level of legal injustice they create is small.
It's the Crown Prosecution Service's duty to prosecute anyone who maliciously makes a false allegation of rape. Over a period of 17 months the CPS prosecuted 35 people for making a false allegation of rape. Over the same time period 5651 people were prosecuted for committing a rape.
It is completely unjust for someone to be the victim of a false report of rape. Because we don't live in an 'innocent until proven guilty' society it can have a terrible impact on their lives. But whilst this injustice exists...
5. It's important to have perspective
The cartoon above is drawn to scale. The elephant doesn't represent all the rapists who get away with their offence.
Just the ones who get away with it because their victim does not report it to the police.
And one of the main reasons why victims don't report the crime?
This is why it's important that we don't allow our conversations about false reports of rape to discourage more people from reporting.
If we're interested in justice or if we want to protect our families from sex offenders we definitely need to focus our efforts on the elephant in the room. Not least because...
6. Men face a much greater risk than false reports of rape
Some people are concerned that it is too easy for men to be falsely accused of rape.
But when it comes to rape the greatest risk facing men is the same as the greatest risk facing women.
Taking data from one report as an example, men are over 300 times more likely to be a victim of a rape than be arrested due to a false allegation of rape. Using the same data women are over 4000 times more likely to be a victim of rape than a man is to be arrested due to a false allegation of rape.
Which is why it's in everyone's interest to move towards this...
We need victims of rape to report the crimes to the police so that our families are protected from sex offenders and so that anyone accused of rape has the opportunity to defend themselves.
The system needs to change - but so do we.
When it comes to something as psychologically complex as sexual abuse it isn't safe to rely on our assumptions.
We need to educate ourselves about the realities.
What can you do to help bring about change?
You can start by watching and sharing these videos: