Dispelling Rape Myths

Dispelling Rape Myths

The report couldn't have been clearer. So-called 'false allegations' of rape are 'very rare', according to Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions.

But that didn't stop Radio 1's Newsbeat running a story with the headline "False rape claims devastating say wrongly accused".

The Newsbeat report, which was linked to from the BBC website's main news page, told us that 'two people a month are being prosecuted for making false allegations of rape and wasting police time' and 'it's the first time details for England and Wales have been compiled, showing how common the problem is.'

Not very common at all, actually. As Karen Ingala Smith, of domestic violence and rape victim support charity Nia, told HuffPost UK: "If 35 out of 16,041 reported rapes result in a conviction for a false allegation, that's less that 0.2 per cent of reported rapes."

Women's groups were quick to criticise the Newsbeat report while a BBC spokesman said it was "confident that our article accurately reflects the findings of today's CPS report."

I'm not so sure. It would have been one thing to interview a victim of a false allegation to provide balance to the story.

But to report a study intended to dispel a myth by actually perpetuating that myth is quite an achievement.

A closer inspection of the Newsbeat story reveals an informative little box at the side of the article concentrating entirely on the 35 false allegations. As if that weren't enough there were three links to reports of successful false rape claim prosecutions in Nottingham, Cumbria and Wiltshire.

Feminist blogger Hannah Mudge says: "Today, evidence from a high profile public figure that clearly backs up what we have been saying for years is making headlines and Newsbeat instead chose to propagate rape myths. The story will of course be viewed mostly by young people, and since we're dealing with a crime that affects so many young people, the last thing they need is to be reading something that might discourage them from speaking out."

When I wrote for Huffington Post UK last month about the latest calls for anonymity for sex-case defendants the main topic in the comments section was false allegations.

We know that our justice system isn't perfect. We know that in the past innocent people have been accused of all kinds of crimes and innocent people have been convicted. And yes it is devastating when that happens for all concerned.

But what today's CPS report also shows us is that our justice system does take false allegations seriously with 35 prosecutions in 17 months.

Many will argue that even being accused of rape or sexual abuse carries a unique stigma. If that really is the case why don't the sentences reflect this?

What we do know is that since October last year when the Savile story first broke, rarely has a week passed without a new revelation of abuse.

And yesterday a high-ranking police officer warned that failings that allowed Jimmy Savile to get away with his crimes could happen again.

Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, admitted issues that arose in investigations into the late DJ's behaviour still exist today. Savile is now believed to be responsible for 214 specific crimes, including 32 rapes.

Even as the Newsbeat story was debated yet another arrest was being made. Martin Brunt, reported for Sky that a 70-year-old man was being questioned regarding claims of historic sex abuse at Swaylands School in Kent.

Victims and survivors are now coming forward in the hope they will finally be believed and taken seriously.

But it's clear the focus still needs to move from the 'falsely accused' to the women, men and children who are living with the all too real consequences of rape and abuse.