False Rape Allegations Rare, But 'Damaging Myths' Harm Real Rape Victims, Says CPS' Keir Starmer

'Damaging Myths' About False Rape Accusations Harming Real Victims

Rape victims are being punished because of "damaging myths" about false rape and domestic violence allegations - which are much less common than previously thought, a new Crown Prosecution Service report has found.

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, will on Wednesday set out the evidence the CPS has gathered after looking into cases of perverting the course of justice and wasting police time over a 17-month period.

The "trailblazing" research, the first of its kind, has discovered that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are "very rare", with only a very small number of cases where there was enough evidence and it was considered in the public interest to prosecute.

Around two false rape allegations are made every month, the report found.

Starmer said he hoped the figures would help counter any "over-cautious" approach to allegations, especially in the light of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Starmer said: "In recent years we have worked hard to dispel the damaging myths and stereotypes that are associated with these cases.

"One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are rife. This report presents a more accurate picture.

"Where false allegations of rape and domestic violence do occur however, they are serious - reputations can be ruined and lives can be devastated as a result.

"Such cases will be dealt with robustly and those falsely accused should feel confident that the criminal justice system will prosecute these cases wherever there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so."

There were 5,651 prosecutions for rape for the period between January 2011 and May 2012 the study looked at, but only 35 for making false allegations of rape.

Likewise, there were 111,891 prosecutions for domestic violence, but only six for making false allegations of domestic violence.

A further three people were charged with making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.

The study found that a significant number of these cases involved "young, often vulnerable people, and sometimes even children".

Around half were brought forward by people aged 21 and under, with some involving people with mental health difficulties.

In 38% of those investigations, the initial complaint of rape or domestic violence was made by someone other than the suspect. When the alleged victim was under 18, that figure rose to 50% and often involved a parent.

"From the cases we have analysed, the indication is that it is therefore extremely rare that a suspect deliberately makes a false allegation of rape or domestic violence purely out of malice," Mr Starmer added.

"It is within this context that the issue should be viewed, so that myths and stereotypes around these cases are not able to take hold."

The report's publication comes after Mr Starmer last week announced radical measures in the way the criminal justice system tackles child sexual abuse to prevent "another Savile moment in five or 10 years' time".

"There's an understandable concern by both investigators and prosecutors that false allegations may be out there and that may lead to an overcautious approach to the way that we deal with these cases," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"Because a false allegation of rape is so devastating, understandably people are cautious when an allegation is made.

"That's why it's very important to put this into proper perspective."

Women's rights groups have "warmly welcomed" the findings. The End Violence Against Women Coalition and Rape Crisis England and Wales said in a statement: "In the handful of [false rape] cases proseucted, far from being malicious allegations, many of these cases involve young, vulnerable people, some with mental health problems.

"We hope that this will inform a more reasoned, evidence-based debate about these issues in the future and put a stop to the very negative messages that victims receive from the media about whether or not they will be believed or treated with dignity.

"Public debate must now focus on the real issues of improving criminal justice and statutory responses to women and girls who have experienced sexual and domestic violence, and ensuring that all survivors have support from Rape Crisis Centres and specialist domestic violence projects, whether or not they choose to report to the police."

Last month, it was reported that police at a specialist sex crimes unit in Southwark, south London, had manipulated crime statistics by failing to record sexual assault allegations in 2008-09, according to a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The watchdog said police pressured a woman to drop a rape claim against a man who went on to murder his two children.

Before You Go