A friend peered over my shoulder while I was carrying out research for this piece, and asked what on earth I was googling. I explained the rationale behind the article, and she shook her head and remarked that it was ‘dangerous territory.’ I think it is precisely those topics classed as ‘dangerous’ or ‘thorny’ or ‘controversial’ which deserve more attention in the media because they polarise populations and breed extremism if left unacknowledged. Importantly, they must be addressed in a nuanced, balanced and respectful manner.

So, I am about to address one such polarising topic: Rape.

‘I’m terrified of the police because you tell the truth and they don’t believe you’

Guilty White Men

Coverage of the recent Eleanor Williams trial and the Johnny Depp case has brought the issue of false allegations to the fore. But these are extreme, high-profile cases, and not representative of the broader issue. There is a lack of recognition in the mainstream media of the problem — and of the flaws in the justice system exposed by the inhumane treatment of those falsely accused. It concerns a small minority — most of whom are straight men — but that doesn’t mean the issue should be swept under the rug. The impact on the lives of the thousands of people falsely accused every year is traumatic, devastating and seismic.

I interviewed an anonymous individual, who will be referred to as ‘Sam’ in this article. Sam was falsely accused of attempted oral rape in 2021. When asked to sum up his experience of going through the justice system as a falsely accused individual, he says:

‘I was terrified every minute of every day. I still am sometimes. Every time I hear a car pull up outside my house, I think it’s the police. I have a lasting trauma from it. I don’t trust authority anymore, at all … I’m terrified of the police because you tell the truth and they don’t believe you. You provide concrete evidence of the truth and they still act like they don’t believe you. They act pissed off that they can’t take you down — for what? The crime of being a man?’

False Accusations Are Not That ‘Vanishingly Rare’

Most journalists shy away from this subject because it is true that the percentage of false accusations is relatively low. In the mainstream media, false allegations are presented as ‘vanishingly rare’ and affecting ‘almost no one.’ There is more balance emerging, but the emphasis tends to be on the uncommonness of false allegations, rather than on granting falsely accused individuals a voice. David Lisak’s study, published in Violence Against Women, identified as provably false 5.9 per cent of reported rapes at an American university over ten years. However, a larger proportion of reports (44.9 per cent) were classified as ‘Case Did Not Proceed,’ which includes reports that could ultimately be determined as false allegations.

Sam emphasises that the 5.9 per cent figure is: ‘based on accusations that are provably false … 1-2 per cent of cases end in a conviction, some go to court and a lot of them result in a not-guilty verdict before a jury and a lot of them end before that … the scientific way of viewing it is that if they say there’s not enough evidence, then there is simply not enough evidence. It’s like a false hysteria that’s been built by feminists to say things like “98 per cent of rapists get away with it.” There are so many reasons to make a false accusation of rape. You might be providing an alibi for yourself or explaining infidelity, you might want the benefits and attention victimhood brings in our society today. You might just want to hurt someone, the way bad people — who are men and women — sometimes do. Rapists just want to hurt people. Why not do it this way? when there will almost certainly be no consequences, even if you are caught. In the UK, there is material gain at stake as well: my false accuser might have been given £10,000 of taxpayers’ money from the CICA even though she quite provably lied.’

Rape and sexual assault are grey areas when it comes to bringing about justice. It is difficult to establish a strong evidential basis for a conviction because everything rests on the word of the alleged victim and perpetrator and on evidence from phones and social media. Forensic evidence can only be acquired in the immediate aftermath of the alleged crime. Some withdraw their complaints after being asked to hand over their phones. Few rape cases go to court, less than one in 60 lead to a charge and rape prosecutions are falling, according to data acquired by a Home Affairs Select Committee. What this suggests, is that we shouldn’t be wilfully blind to the reality that some rape accusations are false. Moreover, regretful or drunk sex can blur the issue of consent, and complaints are frequently retracted. Sam believes the legal system needs reform:

‘I think we need to account for regretful sex and grey consent areas in our legal system far better than we currently do. And we also have to come back to the question of “innocent until proven guilty.” You cannot just take someone’s word and their tears, and assume that because they’re emotionally hurt, something horrible must have happened.’

Given that the proportion of rape allegations which result in a conviction is even lower than the proportion of rape allegations that turn out to be false, one can see why my friend suggested this was ‘dangerous territory.’ It has justifiably been suggested that drawing attention to false accusations might dissuade genuine victims from reporting an assault, for fear of not being believed. Even just raising the issue of false allegations ostensibly threatens to undermine the achievements of the #MeToo movement.

But there is no reason why we cannot, simultaneously, laud the cultural shift which has enabled more women to open up about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault while also highlighting the detrimental impact that false accusations have. If an individual comes forward claiming they have been sexually assaulted, it will be duly investigated, regardless of whether or not we actively recognise the fact that some accusations are false. Obtaining justice shouldn’t depend on the proportion of true-to-false accusations. The evidence should speak for itself.

As more women (and men) come forward in the wake of #MeToo, the number of false accusations has naturally increased. The statistic which emerged from Lisak’s study (5.9per cent) is a small proportion, but if you consider the number of false accusations this equates to, the claim that they are ‘vanishingly rare’ becomes offensive to the thousands of individuals who are falsely accused every year. In 2022, 70,633 rape offences were recorded by the police, a 20 per cent increase from the previous year. That’s 4,167 provably false allegations. Over 4000 lives ripped apart and put on hold. Over 4000 victims left with complex and debilitating trauma.

Guilty By Default

‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a cornerstone of the UK justice system. This means that anyone accused of a crime should be treated with respect and humanity because they are not considered to be a perpetrator until it has been proved in a court of justice. When it comes to rape, the reality is that the accused is treated as a rapist, with all its heavy connotations. Sam argues that what he was accused of shouldn’t even be classed as rape:

‘I didn’t even do it, but even if I had done what I was accused of, it shouldn’t be a crime to suggestively push someone’s head slightly towards your penis [when it’s] someone you have had sex with several times before, while all indications thus far have been that they are consenting. And then they softly resist, you stop immediately and get up and put your clothes on. How is that attempted rape?’

The arbitrary subjectivity of the police means that individuals accused of sexual assault are nearly always dehumanised and treated as guilty. There seems to be something of a gulf between how the justice system works in theory and how the police implement it in practice. I asked Sam how he thinks the issue should be resolved given the difficulty of gathering evidence for sexual crimes:

‘I think you accept that if you are to agree with the principle of innocent until proven guilty you can’t prosecute as many of these alleged crimes as people would want to.’

An Abuse of Power?

The unwarranted way those accused of rape are treated is a reflection of a one-sided feminist narrative. Its one-sided nature threatens to overshadow the experiences of a minority whose encounters don’t align with the classic feminist worldview. This view actively propagates the idea that women are habitually victimised, oppressed and controlled, while men have all the power. It is true that almost all of human civilisation has been patriarchal for millennia. Yet it is also true that things have started to change for the better. Women exercise the same rights as men in the Western world and feel more empowered than ever before. Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to such ongoing issues as sexualisation, the porn industry, women’s body image and the treatment of women in oppressive cultures. But despite this, feminism has accomplished the bulk of its objectives.

The darker side of feminism is that women can abuse their new-found power. Centuries of anger against men have accumulated to create a feminist culture in which it is supposedly legitimate to indiscriminately ‘punish’ the opposite sex as a whole. This tendency has made the inherent systematic bias against men justifiable — even if it erodes their human rights, as well as the truth.

Feminists who truly care about justice should support bringing the issue of false allegations into the public consciousness. In doing so, they will be protecting those that really have been victimised by rape. If we clamp down on false accusations, people will start to realise that they can’t get away with lies. The majority who really are victims will know that the truth is held in esteem. All these crimes — rape, sexual assault and false accusations of sexual crimes — are awful and deserve to be brought to justice by a legal system that is equipped to do so. One way to achieve this is to filter out the liars from those that speak the truth.

‘There’s no appetite in the justice system for prosecuting false accusors’

Staying Alive  

Being falsely accused of any crime is traumatising. It rips your entire life apart. This is exacerbated in the case of rape because of the associated social stigma. Sam is now undergoing EMDR therapy to deal with the PTSD caused by his ordeal. He talked to me about his terrible mental health during the long stretch of time — fourteen months — between being accused and being acquitted:

‘For the first six months or so, I basically just stayed alive. So, I would wake up, and I would experience what I’ve subsequently been told by therapists is depersonalisation. Sometimes I would just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for hours … I drank a lot. I still drink a lot, but there was a period of maybe the first eight to ten months, where, without fail, every single day, the first thing I did when I woke up would be to take a double shot of a spirit … . Every time I woke up, I usually had nightmares so I would be anxious. I’d be like, “Ah, f**k, I have to face another period of consciousness, of staying alive.” Sleep was respite. So I liked going to sleep but I could never get to sleep because every time I closed my eyes, if I was alone, I would just see the same images of what she did to me in that room.’

The woman who did this to Sam will never be brought to justice. ‘It’s very, very difficult to prove that someone is lying about something,’ adds Sam: ‘If you can imagine the CPS not wanting to take most rape cases to court, because even if they might legitimately believe there is a case to answer, they don’t have the evidence … Imagine then taking a woman who is willing to cry and lie and present herself as a victim of something abhorrent, and try to put that in a Crown court, and prove that she is doing wrong. That’s why the CPS only advance these cases when there is concrete proof. There’s no appetite in the justice system for prosecuting false accusors because there’s a myth that it’s so rare and there’s a myth that it discourages real victims from coming forward.’

It’s time we accepted that some individuals make false accusations. Unlike Eleanor Williams, the majority who do this will never face justice. Given how much is at stake and how lies can destroy an innocent person, a more candid picture of the issue of false rape allegations should be revealed for the world to see.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.