It is estimated that only 10-30% of rapes are reported to the police, while only 6% of those reported end in conviction. Hence as a rapist, you have only about a 1.2% chance of being convicted in any particular incidence of rape. This is really quite good odds – with a 98.8% chance of getting away scot-free, rape is practically legal. But before we denigrate the justice system entirely, there is another clear up rate which it would seem that they are much, much better at. A 2005 study showed that approximately 2.5% of rape allegations were possibly or probably false – extrapolating that to 2009 figures it would suggest that of the 41,000 or so reports filed in 2009 approximately 1025 are false allegations. In the same year 61 women were prosecuted for making a rape allegation, giving a far better clear up rate of approximately 6%. Or to put it another way, you are around 5 times more likely to be prosecuted if you make a false allegation of rape, than to be convicted if you rape someone.
It is already acknowledged that we lock up around 50% more rape victims each year than perpetrators of sexual violence, but lets look at some recent cases where women have been prosecuted after reporting rape more closely.
In January a 16 year old girl was convicted of perverting the course of justice, after she claimed to have been raped the previous summer by her then boyfriend. He claimed that she had consented, while she maintains that she had whispered for him to stop, and had frozen from fear. Witnesses testified to her silence.
In March, this year a 21 year old was sentenced for two years for perverting the course of justice. She had told her boyfriend that her father had raped her the night before, looking to stir up trouble between them. The boyfriend called the police. Over the course of the next 6 months she became more and more unco-operative with the inquiry until eventually she confessed that she had made the allegation up, whereupon an inquiry into the false allegation – initially reported to the police by her boyfriend – began.
In May, a 17 year old who was acknowledged by the judge in his summing up to be vulnerable and to have been taken advantage of, in a case with elements which were “sordid, sad and depressing” was convicted of perverting the course of justice. She had initially contacted the police to say that she *thought* she had been raped, however the investigation was dropped when one of the accused had a recording of her consent on his mobile phone. In addition to the one year suspended gaol sentence, she also received an 18 month mental health treatment order.
In June, a 19 year old was sentenced to two years for perverting the course of justice, after having made up a rape with an unknown assailant. In a mess with money, studies and generally in a bad way, she was encouraged to phone the police by her mother after she told her she had been followed home, making up a rape allegation when the police arrived, however confessed to the deception at a second interview.
These four cases – involving a 15 year old who maintains that she did not consent, and where the only evidence of consent was a lack of non-consent; a 21 year old who told lies to her boyfriend, which later span out of control; a 17 year old who had been taken advantage of and a 19 year old in a bad place in her life who concocted a tale, recanting at the next opportunity – were widely reported in the press, and held up as evidence of womens’ deceitful use of rape allegations.
There are fundamental differences between a sexual assault and a false allegation. In the case of a sexual assault there is an actual violation of one person from another. In the case of a false allegation, there is no such violation except reputationally. In each case the young woman was prosecuted for wasting police time and/or perverting the course of justice – a crime against the state rather than a person
Although the responsibility of reputational damage of a false allegation of rape rests with the woman, the potential real harm caused – that of deprivation of liberty – is done by the state. In two of the cases above, it is alleged that the victim claimed falsely that she did not consent, yet in one, the acknowledged vulnerability of the young woman must bring into question how valid that notional consent actually was, suggesting miscommunication rather than maliciousness, while in the other there are undoubtably questions over how valid the silence of a 15 year old girl is as an indicator of consent. In the other two cases, no sexual activity took place, and in one of those no named assailant, suggesting more care should be taken with forensic evidence prior to the arrest of a suspect.
Worrying though these cases are, there are more shocking incidences of women being found guilty of perverting the course of justice, where there are serious questions to be asked about the investigation.
One of the longest sentences ever given for a false allegation of rape was last year to Layla Ibraham. The evidence of her guilt was that she owned scissors that she claimed had been used in the attack and that she had argued with her boyfriend earlier that evening. Despite injuries to her head, breasts, face and vagina, no history of mental disturbance and forensic evidence, which was later lost during the investigation, it was concluded that she had made the whole thing up and sentenced to three years.
Just a few months earlier Gail Sherwood was sentenced to two years for perverting the course of justice. Despite multiple botches in the investigation, injuries consistant with the attacks, no previous criminal record or mental health issues it was considered that – like Layla – she was making the whole thing up. Over 60 of her friends wrote to the judge describing it as a “total miscarriage of justice”
Shocked yet? Worse to come.
In November last year, a woman was convicted of perverting the course of justice, not because the police or CPS believed that she was lying about being raped, but because she had been raped. Trapped in an abusive marriage and under pressure from her husband’s family she had falsely retracted her claims. She was sentenced to eight months. After this sentence was passed, Dyfed-Powys police reassured victims…
I would like to reassure the public that Dyfed-Powys Police, in line with national requirements, treat, and will continue to treat, all allegations of sexual assaults seriously; this involves the use of specially trained officers to support victims during what is a traumatic experience. I would encourage victims of sexual assaults to contact the police and not suffer in silence.
In the year to August 2011, 30 women were gaoled after going to the police with an allegation of rape. Unlike the six footballers who gangraped a twelve year old. Their initial 2 year sentence was reduced on appeal to a one year suspended sentence earlier this year.