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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

False Rape Allegations: Ignorance is Never Bliss

Few crimes in the world have the power to envoke such disgust as rape. Even the mention of the word can make a person’s skin crawl and for the brave survivors of such an evil, this horrific ordeal can understandably leave scars for life. In light of this, it should be our common goal to discover and prosecute cases of rape and sexual assault with a particular and unrelenting prejudice across the world. The label ‘rapist’ should and does stain a person for the rest of their life, yet with the weight and caliber of such a sentence, there comes an equal and opposite responsibility to ensure the culpability of the accused. When we don’t, we risk offering an innocent man or woman to that same group of monsters who we so rightfully revile. As put by Sir Matthew Hale CJ1 “It is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent”

False rape allegations have acquired a cultural stigma in no small part due to the fact the issue has become somewhat of a political football (especially in the US), wherein feminist groups widely and vocally advocate for false rape allegations to be ignored during rape cases as they constitute a relatively tiny amount of cases2, and their consideration unjustly harms the victim by placing them in a position of doubt by the judicial system. Many of these groups, with steadfast and admirable goals of victim advocacy, commonly cite “2%”3 of cases can be conclusively labeled false. Any divergence from this statistic is often met with claims that inquiry into the issue harms so many more (usually) women in their own rape cases. This particular statistic comes from the infamously controversial RollingStone story: “A Rape on Campus”, which itself was proven to be a false allegation of three young men which nearly destroyed their lives.

Whilst the validity of this statistic will be the focus of this article, later on, it is important first to establish exactly what this means if it is true. One would be justified but mistaken to conclude that this means that therefore 98% of rape cases are proven to be true, the fact of the matter, in fact, is more complex. For one, this 2% figure includes only cases of rape accusations which have been demonstrably proven to be false, it does not include cases never taken to court, cases dropped or undecided cases either way, which unfortunately make up the vast majority of rape cases, 44.9%3 according to the same source, “did not proceed”. One study conducted in 2005 found as low as 5.7%4 of cases that were shown to be conclusively true.

This is in absolutely no way an attempt to suggest that false rape accusations are anything near common, nor is this to portray rape victims in a negative light or to in any way tarnish their reliability in court. It is not, however, mutually exclusive to respect the testimony of victims and to acknowledge that false rape allegations are more common than is regularly claimed. The ‘believe women’ mentality of placing trust on the accuser as the claimed victim is simply not compatible with the concept of judicial impartiality. It is only right for a judge and jury to expect reasonable proof behind an allegation, as it would be equally principally wrong to place trust in the defendant for the sake of being a defendant. It must all come down to evidence.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, unfortunately, neither party to the case can reasonably prove their account. The common enemies here to both legitimate rape victims and victims of false allegation are the liars who try to manipulate the judiciary for their own selfish and overwhelmingly cruel motives. They drain the judicial system and waste the time of the court; they can irreparably damage the lives of innocent (usually) young men who will never be able to escape even the accusation of such a heinous crime. Most importantly, they impede the plethora of hurt, (usually) women who seek justice from the people who wronged them. It’s the real victims of rape, who have their stories and their voices unreasonably doubted on the basis of a minority of sick minded individuals.

Nonetheless, it would be an equal injustice in principle, to sacrifice the minority of innocents to the majority of the survivors. A balance must be found between due process and compassion in a legal system already full of difficult hurdles for rape prosecution. The reality of a considerable number of men having to face the extreme injustice of being falsely accused of something as horrific as rape cannot be ignored. Considerable, granted, not in the sense of representing a statistically large amount of people but considerable in principle. Even one miscarriage of justice should be cause for reflection and especially in something so socially significant as rape. The amount of people who suffer from this wrong is especially dwarfed by the number of rape cases in total but the two need not be in conflict. It is not necessary to consider the issues of false allegations and legitimate allegations to be combative to each other. Rather, in the interest of rape victims especially, we should not shy away from or ignore the issue of false allegation, but root it out and condemn it as an infinitely offensive parody of the real harm of rape.

From even a brief search, one can find examples of demonstrably lying (usually) women who seriously and irreparably damaged the lives of men through lies. Whilst a court case may prove someone innocent, even the accusation and process of a rape case can destroy the reputation and social standing of an individual. One extraordinary example comes from Jemma Beale5, whom over the course of 3 years, falsely accused 15 men of sexual assault or rape. As a result, one man served two years in prison and another fled the country. She also received £11,0006 standard compensation, a clear financial motive to lie. This, however, should never translate towards automatically suspecting an accuser of lying. It is a relevant factor to be considered in some cases, to the judges' discretion.

These cases, therefore, given their overwhelming significance to the lives of innocent men, cannot simply be disregarded due to statistics, especially considering the inclusion of a potential financial incentive to lie. Though this case can and should only be reasonably considered as an extreme outlier, unfortunately, there are documented examples and academic studies which paint a startlingly different picture from the 2% figure. A study conducted by

The Symposium on False Allegations of Rape7 reported on one university over a 10-year period and found that provably false allegations totaled 5.9% of cases. This figure didn’t include mistaken accusations either, which actually play a far more significant role in these statistics as one may expect. Another study8 which focused on a metropolitan area with an area of 70,000 over the course of 9 years. This study shockingly indicated a total of 41% of cases were officially declared to be false allegations. The range of these false allegations on a year-by-year basis was shown to be from 27% and 70%, with no clear and direct explanation. It has also been argued that police investigators and others with the first-hand experience actually have a more accurate experience of false rape allegations than academics, one US journalist claiming that “A command officer in the Denver Police sex assaults unit recently told me he placed the false rape numbers at approximately 45 percent.”9 Though one struggles to identify the officer for proper citation.

The charity, Women Against Rape offered statistics that 10910 women have been prosecuted from 2009 to 2014 for false rape allegations. As we can recognise from our analysis of the previous statistics offered, this cannot be understood to mean that only 109 women have committed a false rape allegation, accurate information as to how many false allegations are made across the country doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist for the simple reason that many cases of false rape allegations could in no way involve the police or an authority of any kind. Allegations between friends, family or other connections could never be recorded. This is in no way a blind assumption that with the inclusion of ‘informal’ allegations would add substantially to this figure of 109. But one finds it difficult to assume it wouldn’t grow at all, based merely on probability and admittedly unsubstantiated by anything more than that.

Overall, I can only make it abundantly clear that false rape allegations are rare and should never be used as evidence without reasonable certainty that it, as a phenomenon, has relevance to the case at hand. Survivors of rape go through unimaginable difficulties to seek rightful justice from their attackers and deserve ours, and the courts, respect, compassion, and belief unless we have evidence to the contrary. This, however, can never be a blindsided favouring of one party to a case, as that would irreparably damage the fundamental value of judicial impartiality.

It just may seem that false allegations are not as rare as we may believe and rather than shying away from this issue, it must be confronted and stomped out to ensure proper fairness.

Michael Baker

Criminal Law Section Feature Writer

5 January 2019



1.(Schafran, 1993). Hale (1847) (p. 634)










Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are listed in the bibliography above.

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