THE BLOG

Men Falsely Accused of Rape Also Deserve Justice

06/10/2014 15:19 BST | Updated 04/12/2014 10:59 GMT

If someone is falsely accused of a very serious crime and ends up in prison for something they did not do and find themselves being abused and having urine thrown over them and they and their family are forced to endure all the stress and shame that goes with all that - then you would have thought that there would be general agreement that this is a very serious matter and that the perpetrator would be punished appropriately.

However - people seem to take a very different view if the accuser is a women and the false accusation is one of rape.

Rhiannon Brooker - a trainee barrister - made a series of allegations of being raped and beaten by her boyfriend Paul Fensome which caused him to be imprisoned for 36 days during which time he was abused and assaulted.

Mr Fensome was able to provide firm alibis and Ms Brooker was subsequently charged with perverting the course of justice - an offence so serious it carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and she was finally sentenced to three and half years in prison. The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, asked the Court of Appeal to increase the sentence - which they declined to do.

Quoted in the Guardian - the shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, said she was surprised the Solicitor General had considered the sentence unduly lenient and argued that the government's priority ought to be ensuring more rapists were successfully prosecuted.

She said: "Ms Brooker, a mother with a young child, received a custodial sentence of over three years for a non-violent offence. The court of appeal considered that there was nothing wrong with the sentence." She went onto say "I think the priority of the law officers should be to address the widening gulf between the soaring numbers of rape allegations made to the police and the dwindling proportion that ever get prosecuted."

The support group Women Against Rape also criticised the Solicitor General for seeking an even longer sentence. They argue that women should not be prosecuted for perverting the cause of justice - that if they are they should remain anonymous - that any prosecution will put off women coming forward with real allegations and that Ms Brooker is innocent anyway.

It is a subjective judgement after all as to how long a person should spend in prison and perhaps three and half years was enough but some people take the argument further and argue that women should not be prosecuted at all in these circumstances.

Their central argument seems to be that false allegations should be ignored because they would tend to feed a myth that many women make false allegations and that punishing a women who makes a false allegation would put other women off reporting real allegations.

It is worth noting that Lord Jeffery Archer was sentenced to four years - and his false testimony did not lead to anyone going to prison accused of a very serious offence.

I am sure that many rapes go unreported and that women fear they will not be believed I am fairly sure that some women are not actually believed when making genuine allegations and that is an injustice.

I also think women suffer from gender discrimination at many levels of society - in the work place - in the media and in the criminal justice system. Women suffer from misogyny and abuse from anonymous people on the internet for doing no more than expressing their views. Young women seem to suffer from what is misleadingly called a 'lad culture' in universities when it should really be called an abuse culture. More needs to be done to protect women who are victims of such crimes and the criminal justice system needs to get better at it.

I think all this is true - but I don't think that that injustice means it is right to deny men justice when they suffer imprisonment and disgrace for something they did not do.

Emily Thornberry described the offence as a non-violent one - well yes in the sense that Ms Brooker did not use actual violence - but I would say 36 days in prison accused of a very serious sexual offence was much worse than many things the law regards as violent. As for government priorities - what about justice for everyone including men? Emily Thornberry may be the next Attorney General and so will have a good deal of influence on policy matters and so we should note what she says about these matters.

It is almost as if the various critics of this prosecution and appeal think it means nothing for a man to go to prison and to face that level of disgrace for something he did not do.

Men who commit rape and abuse and harass women should be brought to court and should receive a punishment that fits the crime. Police officers and prosecutors who are so stupid and bigoted that they assume women are always making up rape allegations should lose their jobs but none of this means that few that do make false allegations should escape justice if they lie and have someone sent to prison for something they did not do.

Women deserve justice and the law often does not serve them well but justice should be blind and men deserve its protection as well.