Crying rape falsely: rare or common ?

by Nigel Hawkes  (first published in ‘Straight Statistics’, May 23rd 2010)


Lest we forget – 2014, four years on

It is now more than 4 years since Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks revelations hit the headlines in April 2010. And not long after that a European Arrest Warrant was issued on 18 Nov that year in London, allegedly for rapes in Sweden. Assange had by August 2012 exhausted all the options that could have kept him out of the clutches of Swedish law and subsequent US law.

Julian Assange’s lawyer says his client sought political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he believed he would not “see the light of day for 40 years  if he was extradited to Sweden.” Originally Assange estimated it would take 12 months before he could leave the embassy but he has been into a made a house prisoner there for 2 years.


The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is claiming that a dirty tricks campaign lay behind the charges of rape and sexual assault laid against him by two Swedish women last week.

The rape charge has been dismissed as groundless by the Swedish authorities, who are still investigating the charge of sexual assault, The Times reports today (p 25). Mr Assange met the two women ten days ago. He denies the charges, but fears that they have damaged him and his organisation, which recently published 70,000 confidential frontline reports on the Afghan war, causing fury in the Pentagon.

Sweden has the highest rate of reported rape in the world, 46.5 cases per 100,000 people, almost twice that of England & Wales. But it also has a low conviction rate: around 10% of cases reported in Sweden end in convictions. In general, there is a roughly inverse relationship between the reported rape in individual countries and the proportion of these reports that end in conviction.

The difference in reported rapes has almost nothing to do with the actual level of these crimes, unless you believe that Swedish and British men are 10 to 20 times more likely to commit rape than are men in, say, Portugal (reported rate 3.2 per 100,000) or Hungary (2.2 per 100,000). They are related, rather, to the willingness of women to report rape.

Some of these reports are false, as in Mr Assange’s case, but searching the data to tease out how many is a thankless task. Official publications in this country claim levels of false reporting that range from a low of 2% to as high as 10% -12%. Some of those involved in investigating rape and in defending those accused of it believe the level may be much higher.

The issue is live because, to the surprise of many, the coalition Government has put the issue of anonymity for those accused of rape back on the agenda. That is hard to justify without any evidence that men’s names are being blackened by false accusations. Before the recess, Justin Blunt MP, junior minister at the Department of Justice, faced a barrage of criticism in Parliament from Labour MPs arguing that there is no higher level of fraudulent claims in rape than in any other offence.

In the debate on 8 July, he promised to publish an independent assessment of the current research and statistics on rape, commissioned from the director of analytical services at the department. It would be published in the final week of July, he promised, but it wasn’t. It is now scheduled to come out in the autumn.

What might it say? Mr Blunt’s remarks in Parliament suggested, curiously, that he did not believe the granting of anonymity to defendants had anything to do with the level of false accusations. That may be because he also accepts the long-held Home Office view that false accusations of rape are proportionately no higher than those of any other crime.

Others disagree. In a recent letter to The Times (19 July 2010), two barristers, David Wolchover and Anthony Heaton-Armstrong, say that they believe concoction is much commoner in rape trials than in other offences.

They sought, under the Freedom of Information Act, to get a breakdown of false allegations by offence type, in order to see if the official figures were justified. They were turned down on grounds of cost, and encouraged Baroness Stern, who was conducting an inquiry on behalf of the Government Equalities Office, to seek the same information. She, too, was rebuffed, they say.
Her report quotes police officers, Crown Prosecution lawyers and judges as saying that false accusations are very rare. But the two barristers say they listed a “huge number of established cases of concoction” in Criminal Law and Justice Weekly (April 24, 2010).

Official documents offer a range of figures. The Crown Prosecution Service’s Rape Manual, in a section called Societal Myths, states that “studies have indicated that only 2% of all reported rapes are false, which is slightly less than false reporting in all other crimes”.

It gives no references to these studies, but the 2% figure originates in the US and has been frequently cited. An attempt to trace it to its source by a US lawyer, Edward Greer, found that it originated in the feminist writer Susan Brownmiller’s 1976 book Against our Will, using data quoted by a judge that in turn came from the Commander of the New York City Rape Analysis Squad in the mid-1970s. There appears to be no published report to substantiate the claim, nor any evidence of how the statistics were collected.

In fact, the US literature on the subject provides almost any estimate for false accusations of rape you care to choose. One study, published in 1994 by Eugene Kanin, found that in a small unnamed community in the Mid-West where every reported rape was carefully investigated, 41% turned out to be false. The study covered 109 reported rapes over nine years and false claims were only classified as such when the complainant admitted fabrication.

More recent British studies come up with figures of 8% -12%. Liz Kelly and colleagues from London Metropolitan University in a 2005 report for the Home Office (A gap or a chasm: understanding attrition in reported rape cases)  found that of 2,643 cases in their data set, 216 were classified as false allegations (8%). But as a proportion of the cases not proceeding beyond the police stage (1,817) this represented 12%.

These were judgements made by the police, which the authors of the report were reluctant to accept. In addition, there were 318 cases where the victim withdrew the claim (17%) and a similar number (315, also 17%) where the victim declined to complete the initial process, which the report attributes largely to poor handling of the initial complaint by the police, or the fear the women had of court proceedings and of being judged.

Such fears are entirely understandable, but it is also possible that some of these withdrawals represented false allegations which the complainants were reluctant to acknowledge. Of all the rapes reported, 12% failed to make any progress because the complainant declined to make a formal complaint, refused to have a forensic examination, failed to give a statement or withheld information.

Pity the poor civil servant who has been asked by Mr Blunt to produce “an independent assessment of the current research and statistics on defendant anonymity in rape cases”. The statistics are so open to interpretation that what you believe they show depends very much on the preconceptions you start out with.


Celebrity Witchhunt – Get me out of here ! !

It is more than just a coincidence that the report, “Are juries fair ?”, (pub in Feb 2010) was sponsored by the Min of Justice and not the Home Office [see ].

For those who have advised the Home Office from time to time (since 1999) on such matters, this choice of title is more than just a simple truth that juries have to be listened to –  it is a revelation in official circles ten years in the making.

We now have an “official” ministry paper on what has really been going on with regard rape reports, juries and convictions. Such a paper could not have been contemplated 10 years ago.

ladette_knickersAt that time the Hone Office policy team (mostly women, it has to be said) decided that they were going to pull the net so tight that no man charged with a ‘sex related crime’ would ever in future, and I quote, ‘slip through the net’. It was their intention therefore – because they were of the school of thought that there could be “no smoke without fire” – that any a man suspected and detained for questioning must therefore be guilty.

These women – and they may have been radical feminists in political outlook – were convinced, and indeed, fully expected, that every man charged would be convicted. That would be achieved by removing the barriers that constituted a ‘fair trial’. Only then would society be safe for women and if that meant suspending human rights, so be it, if it meant altering the rules of evidence, then that was but a small price to pay.

What they could not tolerate, because it smashed their paradigm, was the phenomenon of the “falsely accused” and the innocent wrongly convicted. Officialdom still has to recognise this category of prisoner. Omitting them in every reports will not make them go away. In fact, the HO team (unlike the FBI) didn’t care about such travesties of justice.

All these unseen machinations culminated in what the public now knows as the Sex Offences Act 2003. This brings us neatly to the present crop of sacrificial lambs. A motley bunch of individuals, I grant you, but all entitled to a fair trial – which of course, they will not get.

The fact that they are media ‘celebrities’ is a bonus – and thank God for it, because they will probably have the £50,000 to £100,000 it takes to employ a competent defence team – something the average Joe just can’t hope to pay for.

The entire topic of sexual offences and the circumstances surrounding it has been deliberately manoeuvred and elevated upwards, and is now resting on an unsustainable pedestal.

Blood letting

So, who are the present alleged culprits ? Firstly, there is  Lord Rennard whose crime is so miniscule it would seem that if he uttered an “I’m sorry” it would all blow over (but of course, it would not stop there – once admitting to “it” he could then be profitably sued to damages).

Whose next is in the frame for an ‘alleged’ sex-related offence ? Dave Lee Travis (veteran DJ of Radio 1), now aged 68; William Roache, a “star” of TV’s Coronation Street soap. aged 81; even older is Rolfe Harris (83); mischief-maker-extraordinaire Max Clifford, aged 70 (who must surely feel hoisted on his own petard having represented several gold-digger false-rape claimants in the past); and last but not least, Freddie Starr, also aged 70.

The last of these candidates earmarked for public humiliation, Freddie Starr, reminds us that all these purported offences happened in the 1970s or 1980s and are not at all (so far as we have been led to believe to date), serial in nature or premeditated over decades, as per the case of the Jimmy Savile saga, which gives everyone the shivers.

Tell us the rules

Some behaviour was always objectionable and criminal, as in the case of Jimmy Savile. Most men behave within the expected rules and are happy to do so, but when these rules change some 30 years later they find themselves vulnerable to prosecution.

The First World War was notable for its slaughter on a monumental scale – 10,000 dead in one day. Our modern perceptions would dictate that Lord Haig and Kitchener should be put on trial for mass murder but in their day that was the acceptable way to conduct warfare. Today, it is inconceivable that Generals would inflict the same scale of casualties in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan – because the rules of engagement and public expectations have changed.

In a way, thank goodness for “retro TV” channels such as Alibi and Gold, for there we can see the contemporaneous use of ‘me ol’ China’ phrasing and attitudes of ‘Del Boy’ that would today be seen as unflattering to women generally – though even at the time none was ever intended.  In these old TV serials we see a secretary making tea for the boss or getting a friendly pat on the bum, being referred to a ‘Luv’ and ‘Darlin’, being taken out for a drink/meal and never expected (by the man / men), to pay for a round.

The New Rome

Since then, the ‘groupie’ culture of adoring fans has been superseded (and on arguably a larger scale) by the “ladette” culture where drinking alcohol to the point of being legless is de rigueur and leaving home for a ‘night out’ entails tanking up on alcohol even before leaving home.

ladette_cultAs the picture here depicts (left), it is open to conjecture whether some girls might lose their underwear as a result of abusing alcohol – aping some Bacchanalian drinking frenzyor some fleeting sexual encounters with a stranger.

Most of the complaints made against the current crop of celebrities – for it is not the first time this has occurred – appear to fall within a certain age range. Both the ladette culture and the unreliability of rape claims made by younger women are explored further in, “Precarious Rape Data – 16 to 25 year olds” (see

rape_comp_byageWe also have to bear in mind that this era (post 1960), also saw the emergence of groupies that followed rock bands around the country and would be wiling to do anything to get a ‘back stage pass’ or spend the night with one of the group. This is not to say it was wholly edifying at the time but those were the moral values, social norms, choices and trade-offs, the quid pro quo, thought acceptable at the time.

And to a degree that obsessive behaviour (mostly by young women) is still in evidence today. In fact, it has almost become normalised into our culture and is rarely noted. However, what and where the “ladette” culture’s quid pro quo is located still remains obscure.

The nature of the allegations, the celebrity status of the accused, the sensationalistic journalism and the heightened public awareness (or voyeurism lapsing into prurience ?), lends an amphitheatre-like atmosphere to proceedings.

One can foresee that perhaps the one redeeming feature of this orchestrated assault by the organs of the state against a class of individual is that at least the arthritic system will get the much-needed exposure which for too long  it has been able to avoid.

Politically enslaved

Proof is not longer essential in rape cases,  and gone too is the need for collaborative evidence. So instantly any case is proceeded with on shaky ground. But this is a rape trial, remember,so these things are so important.

Enhancing a complainant’s legal position in court while diminishing that of the defendant is no justice at all. If “Justice delayed is justice denied” then it surely must follow that “Justice denied is no justice at all.

In fact, the HO team back in 1990 when they were organising for the 2004 Act didn’t care about such travesties of justice. Having a mandatory minimum sentence tells the reader all there is to know about the inherent bias in rape trials.  Not having of maximum term in years but only a minimum will always be counter-productive to a fair trial and seen as repugnant to a fair-minded juror.

If not a ‘rape of the justice system’, then it certainly amounts to a perversion and corruption of it for  consider a moment what has happened. Adopting US-styled ‘rape shield’ measures (heads you win, tails I lose) in order to convict has resulted in ‘arrested’ judicial process.

Contrary to popular belief (and many previous government reports), juries actually convict more often than they acquit in rape cases. There is, as this site and author has pointed out for many years, an average conviction rate of 50% + every year (not the 6% as claimed by the Home Office), and yet it took the Stern Review to legitimate this hard fact.

The elephant in the room is the uncomfortable fact that since about 1990 girls have not tried at all costs to keep their virginity but have positively y raced to aloes it at the earliest age possible.

Returning to the publication  “Are juries fair ?“, cited above, it notes that jury conviction rates are high for female complainants but low when rape complainants is male , adding:

  • This challenges the view that juries’ failure to convict in rape cases is due to juror bias against female complainants.

For more than 10 years our newspapers and women’s magazines have been filled with misleading headlines. Central among these was the claim, all too often made, that juries have particularly low conviction rates for certain offences, such as rape. Prominent among these authors were Liz Kelly et al. (2005). in ” A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases”. Home Office Research Study 293, published by the Home Office and within which she wielded a degree of influence at one time.

The Min of Justice report of 2010, however, says its findings differ from figures authored by Kelly and published by the Home Office in 2005. Liz Kelly had claimed that where a full rape trial took place, an acquittal was more likely than a conviction. The Min of Justice dismisses this. It says Kelly work used only a “very small” sample of 181 trials in a selected of number of court. By contrast, the Min of Justice report used data from “all 4,310 jury verdicts for rape in 2006–08 across all courts in England and Wales.”

Tragic rush to accuse

Readers might recall the Mike Tyson rape scandal of 1991 – 92. Desiree Washington aged 18-year-old claim she has been raped after agreeing to go to Tyson hotel room late at night. The judge did not allow evidence to be admitted that Desiree Washington had made false allegations before. [1] Even before the trail had begun she had lined up lucrative book and film deals. In the UK it has been common to sell such lurid stories to the Sunday tabloids for impressive monetary amounts.

Some years later, in 2006, Crystal Mangum, aged 28, and a former stripper and escort girl, made false accusations of rape against three members of Duke University’s men’s lacrosse team. In Nov 2013, Crystal Mangum was found guilty of murdering her boyfriend in 2011. [2]

By April 2007, it was clear to North Carolina’s Attorney General, Roy Cooper, that the charges had no substance and all three players were declared innocent. Summing up the microscopic analysis the players and their families   had been subjected to, Roy Cooper called the litany a “Tragic rush to accuse.”

In the UK Dave Lee Travis is on trial accused of ‘groping’ a young woman, aged 23, who had “won the key” to his hotel room at a British Airways corporate party ! !



Knowing how sensitive the issue of rape has been made and how embittered are its protagonists that the ministry of Justice backed off associating itself too closely

  • The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the Ministry of Justice (nor do they represent Government policy)

Running scared

So intimidated is the political class that they fall silent in regards the unremitting attack launched by activists and lapped up by the press.

Misconceptions about jury verdicts in rape cases:

Contrary to popular belief and previous government reports, juries actually convict more often than they acquit in rape cases (55% jury conviction rate). Indeed, the conviction rate is higher than for most crimes.

  • Other serious offences (attempted murder, manslaughter, GBH) have lower jury conviction rates than rape.
  • A previous Home Office study stating that jury acquittals were more common than convictions was based on a small number of verdicts (181) in a few courts. Current findings cover all jury rape verdicts in all courts in 2006–08 (4,310).
  • Jury conviction rates for rape vary according to the gender and age of the complainant, with high conviction rates for some female complainants and low conviction rates for some male complainants. This challenges the view that juries’ failure to convict in rape cases is due to juror bias against female complainants.
  • Juries are not primarily responsible for the low conviction rate on rape allegations.

Rape allegations – the “post-Savile spike”

The following is taken from Mr. Chris Saltrese’s blog site. Chris Saltrese is a solicitor with huge experience in defending people accused of sexual offences, so his comments are worth a wider audience (See ).

It becomes abundantly clear from his narrative that the dimension and coverage of rape and sexual offences are being both skewed and suppressed – in the same way as I found them to be when the BBC mounted an ‘all channels’ offensive about domestic violence (they even had American and Australian ‘soap’ scripts altered one year before being aired in the UK).

Below, Chris Saltrese talks about the BBC ‘fluffing its lines’ and my experience of being on a BBC Steering Committee, in the early 2000s, is one where the ideological message wanted by the all female producers overrode the need to give a balanced view.

So I can validate where Chris Saltrese is coming from.

BBC – looking the wrong way yet again

By Chris Saltrese, Tuesday, 8 October 2013

On Sunday 6th October I went along to the BBC studios in Salford to take part in a BBC Radio 5 Live programme , discussing the rise in the number of allegations of historical sexual abuse post-Savile. Or the “post-Savile spike” as it was rather gruesomely described.

There was a great story to be told here, or so I thought. A story of police and prosecutors, of charities and charlatans (aka personal injury lawyers), whose individual and collective moral blindness has contributed to the greatest series of miscarriages of justice in the history of the criminal justice system in this country; where hundreds (if not thousands) of innocent men have been sent to prison for vile crimes which they have not committed (for more on this see the works of the late, great Richard Webster

But, as is customary these days, the BBC fluffed its lines. It failed completely to get to grips with the real story behind the epidemic of historical abuse allegations and instead of giving listeners a ‘Sunday morning treat’, it dished up the thinnest of gruels: a dismal pot pourri of pre-recorded propaganda from the usual suspects; the nice policeman saying how terribly difficult it is to investigate and prosecute these cases (nonsense, there is no investigation required and they are a piece of cake to prosecute); the nice man from the NSPCC bleating on about the usual stuff they bleat on about (I cannot recall a word he said); and the anonymous “victim” who had the great misfortune to be abused by two choirmasters, had then gone on to join the police and had managed to unburden himself only after a course of therapy (no comment necessary).

[Yes, there is always the anecdotal ‘victim’ wheeled out and used in Rad Fem literature as if to prove a universal point – RW ].

And then there was me, an afterthought, no doubt drafted in to maintain the BBC’s love of “balance”; given a minute’s airtime to state my case only to be told by presenter Adrian Goldberg that I am in it for the money before being ushered out of the studio by the ‘gofer’. I now know how Nigel Farage must feel, the poor chap.

Had I been extended the courtesy of five minutes on the subject here’s what I would have said:-

  • The increase in historical allegations post-Savile has very little, if anything, to do with brave “victims” summoning up the courage to report their abusers. Rather it has everything to do with complainants making false allegations (for whatever reason, but money often comes into it) safe in the belief that their stories will not be subjected to the slightest scrutiny by the police and the prosecuting authorities.
  • For these complainants (and more especially their money-grubbing lawyers) have picked up clear signals that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are on their side and that their allegations will be gratefully received and unquestioningly believed.
  • Nowhere is this signal stronger than in the Metropolitan Police’s infantile report on the Savile affair itself (Giving Victims a Voice). In its breath-taking disregard for both logic and common sense the report, co-authored by the NSPCC, assumes that because the allegations against Savile were made, ipso facto, the offences were committed. And it goes on to solemnly declare that 214 incidents of abuse have been “formally recorded” as crimes. Nowhere in the report is there mentioned the possibility that a single one of these allegations might be false. This is not so much a retreat from scepticism as a dereliction of duty.
  • Yet no one at the BBC or in the mainstream press (with the notable exception of Charles Moore at the Daily Telegraph) has dared to question the report’s methods or conclusions. Rather the BBC has responded by setting up its own expensive internal investigation, which has rubber-stamped the Met’s findings, and has devised its own scheme for compensating victims (seven grades of compo available if you’re interested); and all of this paid for by the licence fee, naturally.
  • [On the day 3 more BBC personalities are in court facing alleged sexual offences from 30 or 40 years ago, more of the licence-fee payers money will no doubt eventually be diverted here too. – RW].
  • We now live in a country in which, like the old Soviet Union, an unsupported allegation is enough to send a man to prison; where we rejoice in the hounding and prosecution of old men (and this is for the most part about men) for uncorroborated offences that, in some instances, are alleged to have taken place before the introduction of decimal coinage, before they put a man on the moon, before England won the World Cup, before the Beatles.
  • That we have allowed this moral panic to so consume us is a national disgrace for which we should all hang our heads in shame. And yes, it is the handiwork of the police, the lawyers and the Courts, all of whom have the blood of the innocent on their hands. But the journalists must also take their share of the responsibility: for theirs is the sin of omission. And that applies particularly to the journalists at the BBC who, although best placed to get to the truth at the heart of the Savile affair (eg the panorama team), have, as October 2013 lamentable efforts so amply demonstrates, insisted on looking the other way and in so doing have helped to send others to a living hell.


Rape – truths and half-truths

The Truth, The Half-Truth, and Nothing Like the Truth

Reconceptualizing False Allegations of Rape

Br J Criminol (2012) doi: 10.1093/bjc/azs036 First published online: July 30, 2012

Candida L. SaundersHYPERLINK  \l “corresp-1”*

Candida_S_notts*Dr Candida Saunders, School of Law, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK;

[ bold and italics added – RW]


  • There is a longstanding dispute between criminal justice professionals on the one hand and researchers and commentators on the other regarding the prevalence of false allegations of rape.
  • Prevalence, however, is contingent upon definition. If the various protagonists’ definitions of a ‘false allegation’ do not coincide, it is virtually inevitable that their estimates will diverge.
  • Drawing on original empirical data from in-depth research interviews conducted with police and Crown Prosecutors, this article explores the following important but much-neglected question: When criminal justice professionals tell us that false allegations of rape are common, what precisely are they talking about ? What ‘counts’ as a false allegation?


The prevalence of false allegations of rape is a contested and controversial issue. On the one hand, mainstream socio-legal rape research and commentary claims that false allegations of rape are rare, or at least no more prolific than false allegations of other crimes.

On the other hand, front-line criminal justice professionals reportedly tell us that false allegations of rape are a common occurrence. The disparity between these rival estimates is clear and well documented (Gregory and Lees 1996; Harris and Grace 1999; Lees 2002; Temkin 2002; Kelly et al. 2005; Rumney 2006; Brown et al. 2007; Kelly 2010).

It is also characterized by remarkable longevity. Apparently unconvinced by three decades of research findings indicating the low prevalence of false allegations of rape, criminal justice professionals are sticking to their guns.

In one recent UK study, for example, while researchers estimated that 3% of a sample of police-recorded rape cases contained ‘probable or possible’ false allegations, police officers maintained that ‘a good half’, ‘a lot’ and even ‘most’ rape cases are false (Kelly et al. 2005: 50–1).

It seems almost incredible that trained professionals at the criminal justice coalface – the police and prosecutors who deal with rape cases on a daily basis – should get it so very wrong, and for so long. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that false allegations of rape are not as common as front-line criminal justice professionals perceive or report them to be.

Dismissed as ‘inflated’ and ‘exaggerated’, professionals’ estimates of the prevalence of false allegations are presented by researchers and commentators as further evidence of the scepticism and stereotypical attitudes endemic to the criminal justice system, and society at large, which adversely affect the treatment of rape complainants and the investigation and prosecution of their complaints (Gregory and Lees 1999; Lees 2002; Temkin and Krahé 2008).

Beyond academe, senior criminal justice figures and policy makers also frequently and publicly castigate police officers and prosecutors for their sceptical attitudes towards rape complainants, failure to take rape allegations seriously, and inertia and mediocrity in the investigation and prosecution of rape cases.1 In this battle of perceptions, academic voices undoubtedly prevail.

Examining the available research, however, quickly reveals that the prevalence of false allegations of rape is far from empirically settled (see also Rumney 2006; Ministry of Justice 2010; Home Office 2010). As recent incisive reviews have highlighted, false allegations have been found to represent 1.5 % of rape cases, 90% of rape cases and virtually every other figure in between (Rumney 2006; Lisak et al. 2010).

  • Explaining these vastly divergent research findings is relatively straightforward. Prevalence is contingent on what precisely is being counted, and who is doing the counting (Greer 1999; Turvey 2004; Rumney 2006; Lisak et al. 2010). Although seldom, if ever, acknowledged in the literature or surrounding debate, this methodological explanation for striking variation among research findings also has implications for the disparity between researchers’ and professionals’ estimates.

Put simply, if researchers’ and criminal justice professionals’ definitions of the false allegation do not coincide, they will not be ‘counting’ the same things, and their estimates will differ as a result. It is curious, then, that, as quickly as researchers and commentators are to report (and repudiate) the frequency with which criminal justice professionals claim to encounter false allegations of rape, the literature reveals little, if any, attempt to discern how those same professionals define the false allegation (Jordan’s New Zealand-based research provides something of a rare exception; see Jordan 2001; 2004).

The current article begins to address this interpretive void by exploring front-line criminal justice professionals’ understandings and working definitions, in their own words, of the false allegation. The analysis begins with a brief critical examination of the definition of the false allegation presently favoured by the academic mainstream. It then shifts towards a more naturalistic style of analysis, in the tradition of Cicourel (1964; 1973; 1995, first published 1968) and Hawkins (1992; 2002).

Drawing on original data from research interviews conducted by the author with police and prosecutors, the definitions and meanings ascribed to the false allegation by respondents, both explicit and implicit in the characteristics and features emphasized in the cases discussed by respondents under the rubric of the false allegation, are explored.

The insights gained here inform a more nuanced and context-sensitive understanding of the nature and scope of false allegations of rape. The analysis gives rise to two claims.

  • First, criminal justice professionals and researchers and commentators do not subscribe to the same definition of the false allegation of rape.
  • Second, there may, in practice, be more consensus regarding the (in)frequency with which complainants allege rape when, in fact, no rape occurred than is currently acknowledged in the research literature and associated debate.

The implications of these, admittedly provisional, findings are considered in the article’s closing sections.

Before the exposition can commence, however, it is necessary to first give an account of how the data presented were generated and, in the process, highlight the key methodological and analytical limitations. The analysis draws on original qualitative data produced in the course of a separate empirical research project examining prosecutorial decision making in male-on-male rape cases.

That research, referred to throughout as ‘the male rape study’, relied primarily on the careful and detailed content analysis of a small sample of prosecution case files (n=17) combined with in-depth, semi-structured research interviews conducted with the rape specialist Crown Prosecutors (n=14) responsible for decision making in the individual sample cases. The study was further informed by, inter alia, exploratory interviews conducted in the early stages of the research with five Crown Prosecutors in their capacity as Area Rape Coordinators; two of whom were subsequently interviewed in the course of the study-proper in their capacity as prosecuting lawyers in sample cases.

Supplementary research interviews were also conducted with a small number of police personnel from a single county police force corresponding geographically with one of the three anonymised Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Areas participating in the study.

As was the case with Crown Prosecutors, police respondents were selected for interview either on the basis of their direct involvement in cases from the male rape sample (n=3) or by virtue of the respondent’s role in the development and implementation of local reforms to operational practice in investigating and prosecuting rape (n=3).

It is important to emphasise that the male rape study did not set out to examine false allegations of rape, either quantitatively or qualitatively, and was not designed to that end. It is also worth noting that all of the male rape cases sampled were considered by respondents to have constituted genuine rape complaints. Nevertheless, the spectre of the false allegation loomed large during research interviews, with all six of the police respondents and 13 Crown Prosecutors spontaneously raising the issue of false allegations either in the abstract or via concrete examples.

While respondents were invited to clarify and expand on their comments, no attempt was made by the author to access additional case files in order to verify respondents’ ex post facto accounts. The data presented here are thus largely anecdotal and must be read with appropriate caution. In the absence of further research, any inferences drawn from them are necessarily tentative and provisional. Comprising the uniquely situated accounts of 23 front-line criminal justice professionals2 with hands-on experience of investigating and prosecuting rape cases, these data nevertheless shed valuable new light on an under-explored facet of an otherwise extensively researched, and heavily criticized, area of criminal justice decision making.

Defining the False Allegation: The ‘Commonsense’ Perspective

At first blush, the meaning of ‘false allegation’ is self-evident and unproblematic. A false allegation is an allegation that is false; the victimization alleged by a complainant did not, in fact, occur (Rumney 2006: 130; Lisak et al. 2010: 1319). Prima facie, the definitional boundaries of ‘false allegation’ are similarly unambiguous. If the crux of the false allegation is that the alleged victimization did not, in fact, occur, then, as a matter of commonsense and logic, reported victimization which did in fact occur is not a false allegation, but a true or genuine one.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this basic, ‘commonsense’ definition of the false allegation is not disputed in the research literature. Where definitions do differ is in relation to the means by which researchers determine—the criteria they adopt or the evidence they require in order to be satisfied—that an allegation may be coded as false. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for such criteria to be omitted from research reports with the result that what constitutes a false allegation for the purposes of a particular study is often implicit, if not altogether unclear. What is clear, however, is that different studies utilize different coding criteria—or definitions—and produce different prevalence rates as a result (cf. Cicourel 1964).

The inevitable variation among research findings leaves claims regarding the (in)-frequency of false allegations on shaky empirical ground. A number of commentators have therefore sought to distinguish between more and less robust studies (cf. Rumney 2006; Kelly 2010; Lisak et al. 2010). Generally, this is done on the basis of whether a study’s criteria for determining whether individual allegations may be categorized as false fall within what Lisak et al. (2010: 1319) refer to as ‘the parameters of accepted definitions’, which they summarize as follows:

  • ‘To classify a case as a false allegation, a thorough investigation must yield evidence that a crime did not occur.’ Notably, those studies that define the false rape allegation along these lines tend to produce lower estimates. And, with reported prevalence rates ranging from 2% to 11%, they tend to do so (fairly) consistently (see, e.g. Harris and Grace 1999; Kelly et al. 2005; Feist et al. 2007), prompting Lonsway (2010: 1358) to conclude ‘[a]t this point, there is simply no way to claim that “the statistics are all over the map.” The statistics are now in a very small corner of the map’.

However, these purportedly more rigorous and credible studies (Lisak et al. 2010; Kelly 2010) do not systematically investigate and comprehensively measure false allegations of rape. Rather, at least in relation to the relevant UK studies, they subject one element of police crime recording practice to external scrutiny through ex post facto evaluation of certain ‘no-criming’ decisions in rape cases.

Since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard in 2002, the rules governing the recording of ‘notifiable offences’, including rape, are contained in the Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime (currently Home Office 2012). In addition to detailing when police may record notifiable offences, the counting rules deal with the circumstances in which an offence that has been recorded (i.e. ‘crimed’) in error can subsequently be removed from the official crime statistics (i.e. ‘no-crimed).

At present, the ‘no-criming’ rules are set out in Section C of the General Rules and provide that a recorded crime should be classified as a ‘no-crime’ if any one of six criteria is met. The criterion typically associated with false rape allegations is contained in ‘section C(B)’ and covers the situation,

  • ‘[w]here following the report of an incident which has subsequently been recorded as a crime, additional verifiable information is available which determines that no notifiable crime has been committed’.

This, like its various predecessors, is not an official definition of the false allegation of rape. Rather, it is an administrative rule detailing one of the six limited circumstances in which a previously recorded crime – namely any notifiable offence, not just rape – can be wiped from the official tally. In other words, institutional counting protocols do not tell us what a false allegation is; they tell us when one can be ‘no-crimed’.

Analyzing how often recorded rapes have been correctly ‘no-crimed’ is, of course, an important and informative research endeavour and, moreover, one that sheds some light on the prevalence of false allegations. Nevertheless, tallying up ‘no-crimes’ is an inadequate method for establishing how often false allegations of rape are reported to the police.

False allegations that did not satisfy the strict criterion for ‘no-criming’ and faltered in their criminal justice tracks for other reasons—for example, on the basis of insufficient evidence to support a prosecution—are not included in these counts. Neither are false allegations which were not identified as such by investigators and, for example, simply went undetected or, more worryingly, perhaps even proceeded to trial.

If we also factor in those false allegations that were not crimed by police in the first place (meaning that there was nothing to subsequently ‘no-crime’), it becomes clear that prevalence rates based on ‘no-criming’ decisions will be inaccurate. Although clearly conducive to reliable (i.e. consistent) measurement, operational definitions of the false allegation based on ‘no-criming’ rules exclude much from the ‘count’ and are less conducive to valid (i.e. accurate) measurement as a result (cf. Cicourel 1964; 1995; Phillipson 1972).

Moreover, definitions based on technical ‘no-criming’ rules do not reflect ‘commonsense’ or lay understandings of the false allegation. It is extremely doubtful, for example, that, if stopped in the street and asked to define the false allegation of rape, the average Joe would reply,

  • ‘It is an allegation of criminal victimization falling within the legal definition of rape which was initially recorded as a crime by police but later “no-crimed” in accordance with Home Office Counting Rules’.

The lack of correspondence between the false allegation as it is increasingly defined and observed by researchers and the phenomenon as it is more commonly understood has implications for the conclusions and inferences that may reasonably be drawn from research. Citing evidence of low levels of ‘no-criming’ in rape cases, for example, in order to contradict criminal justice professionals’ higher estimates of the prevalence of false allegations is meaningless unless professionals subscribe to the same esoteric, ‘no-crime’-based, definition of the false allegation.

Although not explicitly tested or explored in the research, the assumption that there is (or ought to be) such definitional agreement among the relevant groups is implicit in the mainstream critique. This assumption, in turn, presupposes that there is a shared understanding of what a false allegation actually is. That is to say, it is assumed that researchers and criminal justice professionals all agree that (1) the essence of the false allegation is reported victimization that did not, in fact, occur; and (2) an allegation may only be described—as opposed to being officially ‘no-crimed’—as false when ‘verifiable information’ demonstrates that no crime occurred. Neither of these assumptions is borne out by the data presented here.

Reconceptualizing the False Allegation: An Alternate Perspective

However appealing or commonsensical conceptualizing the false allegation as reported victimization that did not, in fact, occur might appear to be in the abstract, it does not reflect how police and prosecutors discussed false allegations during research interviews. Although sufficient, it certainly was not necessary that no crime had, in fact, occurred for an allegation to be described as false by respondents. Where a complainant’s account of a (potentially) genuine rape was not (entirely) true, the allegation was also likely to be referred to as false:

There are clearly instances when the victim reports being raped and it is clearly just complete fabrication – they’re quite rare, I must say – the alleged offender was on holiday in Benidorm at the time, you know? And then you get others, and these are the more regular ones, where they give an account and the basis of it – they give us a version that they’ve been in town and all that; they’ve had a bit to drink; and then they went to so and so pub; got talking to a chap and then he led them off down this alleyway and so on. Make enquiries and there’s CCTV, or whatever, shows that didn’t happen. She left with two other female friends and they got in a taxi. Then you do some more work – enquiries – and then suddenly it’s, ‘Oh yeah. We got a taxi.’ And then she saw a lad that she knows and asked to stop and she got out and they went off and, ‘It was actually him that raped me.’ … You will get others that aren’t as clear cut as that, in a sense, where they give an account and then it gets challenged; the alleged offender says, ‘No. That didn’t happen. This is what happened.’ And you go back [to the complainant] and say, ‘Well, the offender’s actually saying this.’ And they say, ‘Yeah. Yeah, that’s right actually. Sorry.’ (Police A)

This more complex and nuanced conceptualisation of the truth or falsity of an allegation was consistent across all police and prosecutors who discussed false allegations during the research interviews:

  • Either it’s a malicious complaint, of which there have been a few, or, not necessarily a malicious complaint, but it’s transpired that the complainant hasn’t been entirely straightforward in the account they’ve relayed. (Police E)
  • There are cases where there have been false allegations and other cases where the account—you can show that the account’s not actually the truth. (Prosecutor B)

These comments suggest that, at least for those criminal justice professionals interviewed here, a false allegation is not simply an allegation that is false, but an allegation that contains falsehoods.

Of course, the alleged rape that did not, in fact, occur falls squarely within this definition of the false allegation. So, too, however, does the alleged rape that did, in fact, occur but the complainant’s account of which contains some statement or statements of fact that are untrue.

From this perspective, then, the ‘false allegation’ can be seen to incorporate two discrete phenomena, both of which are explored in detail below. To assist the reader in differentiating between these two manifestations of the false allegation, and reflecting their distinctive features, these phenomena are referred to separately in the analysis as (1) the false complaint and (2) the false account.

The False Complaint

The clearest example of the false complaint is an allegation that is fabricated in its entirety. A case discussed by Police A provides a useful exemplar. A university undergraduate reported to police that she had been raped by an unknown male while out with friends one evening. As the investigation got under way, her account of the evening’s events was quickly contradicted by independent evidence, including witness statements and CCTV footage, which demonstrated unequivocally that: (1) the complainant was not where she had said she was prior to, during and after the alleged rape; and (2) the complainant was not with the people she had claimed to be with prior to, during and after the alleged rape:

  • [We] investigated and it certainly, certainly, could not have been how she initially reported it. Obviously, we had to go back [to the complainant] and revisit [her statement]. … The bottom line is that she withdrew her complaint saying, ‘I can’t cope with university life. I want to go home but I didn’t know how I could tell my parents … I didn’t know what else to do.’ (Police A)

While this case involved an allegation in which every detail was fabricated—the complainant had, quite literally, ‘made the whole thing up’—the false complaint also covers those allegations where the events and circumstances described by a complainant have some factual basis but the non-consensual sexual activity at the heart of the allegation did not, in fact, occur, either because there was no sexual activity or because sexual activity was consensual. An example from Police E is illustrative.

This case, again, involved a female complainant who alleged that she had been raped by a stranger while on a night out with friends. She reported that she had somehow become separated from the group in a local nightclub. As she looked for her friends, she was grabbed by an unknown male, dragged into nearby toilets and raped. Once again, the complainant’s account was quickly contradicted:

  • The first thing [CID] do, obviously, is go to [the nightclub] and check the CCTV. Upstairs part of [the nightclub] is shut off—it’s roped off—and CCTV shows her and this man climb over this rope together, go upstairs, and disappear off into one of the toilets. About twenty minutes later, they come out. You can see her straightening her clothing—I think she gives him a peck on the cheek—and then they exchange telephone numbers before going away. (Police E)

Clearly, video evidence that the complainant had, apparently of her own steam and volition, accompanied the accused to the toilet and so forth does not establish that any sexual activity was consensual. It does, however, mean that her account of events—contained in a sworn witness statement and thus the basis of her anticipated testimony at any subsequent trial—was not consistent with other available evidence.

Criminal justice professionals recognize that witnesses’ memories are not infallible and that evidential discrepancies are neither unusual nor necessarily an indication of intentional deceit on the part of a witness:

  • That happens a lot … it might not happen deliberately. It might be that, because they’re drunk, there’s been a gap in their recollection or they’ve not quite remembered something correctly. (Police E)

Inconsistencies and contradictions may also be an artefact of police interviewing techniques, with evidential discrepancies unwittingly introduced in the statement-taking process (Shepherd and Milne 2006). They may, however, be the result of a witness’s deliberately false or ambiguous statements of fact. Where discrepancies are apparent, prosecutors will generally advise police to re-interview a witness, if they have not already done so, in order to explore and explain, if not resolve, evidential contradictions or inconsistencies.

Alternatively, evidential discrepancies may be explored by the prosecutor directly via a pre-trial witness interview with the complainant (Roberts and Saunders 2008; Crown Prosecution Service 2008). This, in Prosecutor L’s words, ‘give[s] a victim the opportunity to say, “Actually, that bit’s not quite right. This is the truth”’. Identifying and rectifying, so far as possible, evidential discrepancies in the prosecution’s case pre-trial reduces the defendant’s ability to exploit them subsequently and, in so doing, may improve the chances of the case progressing and leading to conviction (Roberts and Saunders 2010).

In the instant case, however, re-interviewing the complainant brought the investigation to an abrupt end. Confronted with what the police considered to be, at the very least, a misleading account of the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape, the complainant admitted that all sexual activity with the accused was, in fact, consensual. In contrast to Police A’s example above, this complaint had some foundation in truth: the complainant was where she claimed to be; was with the group of friends she had claimed to be with; and sexual activity with the accused had, in fact, occurred. But, by her own admission, she had not been raped.


According to Police E, the complainant now retracted her complaint with the following explanation:

  • Her boyfriend’s been calling her: ‘Where are you? What’s happening? Why are you so late in? Why have you got drunk?’—and this is what she’s come out with. And suddenly, she’s found herself trapped. Trapped in a lie that’s suddenly exploded all over, and the only thing that she can think to do is to continue with it.

False complaints may arise for a variety of reasons. Examples commonly mentioned by respondents during research interviews included: a complainant’s attempts to conceal or deny discovered infidelity; minors concealing consensual under-age sexual activity; consensual sexual activity that is subsequently regretted; and historic complaints following the breakdown of a relationship (see also Turvey 2004; Kelly et al. 2005). Three respondents also gave examples of false complaints where the motive appeared to be an attempt to manipulate, or provoke the sympathies of, local authorities:

  • Looking through the Social Services records, she’d made a lot of allegations, not to the police but to the local authority. So every time she wanted to move, it looked as if she’d gone to the local authority and said, ‘I’ve been raped in this flat. My memories in this flat are just too painful. I need to be moved.’ And she’d realized that, because they took rape so seriously, they would act on that. Whereas if she’d just said, ‘I don’t like living here anymore, it’s too noisy,’ they wouldn’t. (Prosecutor K)

The terminology of the ‘false’ complaint is therefore preferred here over the more commonplace ‘malicious’ complaint, as the former makes no allusions, accurate or otherwise, to the circumstantial motivations behind an allegation, while the latter implies some malevolent intent on the part of a complainant. Undoubtedly, some false complaints will be made maliciously: ‘It’s a very rare occurrence … but there are people who are utterly determined to ruin lives’ (Prosecutor C). Others, however, will arise for non-malevolent reasons (see also Rumney 2006: 130–1):

  • They may have very good reasons for making the allegation—I mean there’s never a good reason for making a false allegation—but because of their circumstances, they may make these allegations …. Some complainants are particularly vulnerable; the ones that have been in care or have been with foster parents. They are vulnerable sometimes. (Prosecutor B)
  • Usually something has happened, or there is some form of a problem, and this is that person’s way of trying to wave a flag to alert somebody. It’s not the best means of doing it but sometimes it’s the only means of doing it. (Police A)

Furthermore, it may be impossible to identify with any precision the motivation behind a false complaint as Police D’s comments below indicate. A multitude of situational factors and complainant vulnerabilities might, either singly or in combination, explain why this particular complainant had made a series of false complaints against her estranged partner:

  • It’s a family of eight children by three different dads. Mum’s not very intelligent. A drinker. Basically has children to get an income. It’s a tatty council house. Too many dogs. Previous [convictions]. Not allowed to have animals because of neglect. One child’s been adopted because of neglect. Then she’s split with her partner and there is allegation after allegation. She’s made allegations of domestic violence … allegations of rape [involving her own victimization, and two of her daughters] …. When [investigators] speak to the children, they say it’s all made up because they want a house move …. He gets arrested for it; interviewed for it. He says: ‘It’s absolute cock and bull. We’re going through a custody battle. She doesn’t want me to have my children.’

Police D’s brief discussion of another false complaint, this time of anal rape allegedly perpetrated against a physically and mentally impaired 12-year-old male, further complicates matters. Here, it was the alleged victim’s mother who reported the offence to police, indicating that it is not only complainants themselves who may be motivated to make a false complaint:

  • But she’s lying! Blatantly lying! … Then you talk to Social Services who said, ‘Actually, we’re just about to stop mum’s allowances because her boy is not disabled enough to get carer’s allowance.’ And then all of a sudden we’ve had this complaint. And that’s a worry—that she would put her child through being video interviewed, and potentially a forensic medical examination, because she’s upset with Social Services for stopping her carer’s allowance.

While situational factors and complainant characteristics may provide an ex post facto explanation as to why such an allegation was made, for police and prosecutors, the crux of the false complaint is simply that the alleged rape did not happen. Why the complainant—or, indeed, a third party—said it did is neither here nor there for the purposes of launching criminal proceedings.

The False Account

Unlike the false complaint, a false account of rape does not equate to establishing—or suspecting—that no rape, in fact, occurred. Rather, this is an allegation of rape containing statements of fact that are inaccurate and, consequently, not true.

Not every factual inaccuracy or ambiguity, however, will lead to a complainant’s account being regarded as false. Some degree of factual inaccuracy and inconsistency with other evidence is considered by police and prosecutors to be par for the course. Indeed, evidential discrepancies are such a regular and anticipated feature of criminal investigations and prosecutions that it may be their absence rather than their presence that triggers concern:

  • As an investigator, I would say thateverything matters and the devil’s in the detail with everything. But that said, I’d be a bit dubious if everything between the IP [injured party] and all the witnesses was exactly 100 per cent the same account because people don’t remember things the same. Between me and you watching the same event, you don’t get the same recollection and it wouldn’t be committed to paper in exactly the same fashion. So you’re expecting little bits that aren’t quite right. (Police E)

What appears to prevent ‘little bits that aren’t quite right’ being regarded as falsehoods is the absence of any wilful deception on the witness’s part, rather than the peripheral or incidental relationship between any factual inaccuracy and the material issues in a case.

In Case 6 from the male rape study, for example, the complainant reported that he had been raped by a known accused the previous day. In fact, the alleged rape had taken place almost a week earlier. At the time of his disclosure, the complainant was intoxicated, visibly injured and clearly distressed, having just been physically assaulted by the same accused. The prosecutor discussed the factual errors contained in the complainant’s statements in terms of his being confused rather than the account being false:

  • He says he’s been raped the previous day. Now that is obviously inconsistent with what he later says in terms of the date of the offending but he’s been assaulted, he’s potentially confused, and I think the significance of it really is that he’s making the accusation of rape—albeit that he’s saying it happened the day before. (Prosecutor D)

Similarly, in Case 4 [male rape], various elements of the complainant’s account were discovered by investigators to be inaccurate. Although sober when he gave his witness statement, the complainant had been heavily intoxicated at the material time. Again, the prosecutor attributed the complainant’s multiple factual inaccuracies to impaired recall rather than deliberate falsification: ‘He just couldn’t remember. That’s it. It’s not that he lacked credibility. He just couldn’t remember how he’d got, where he’d got, and what was happening’ (Prosecutor C).

While complainants’ unwitting mistakes were not generally described as falsehoods, respondents consistently brought wilful deception within the umbrella of the false allegation. This suggests that the essential characteristic of the false account is a complainant’s apparently conscious and deliberate concealment, distortion or alteration of the facts rather than factual inaccuracy in and of itself. In striking contrast to the false complaint, a complainant’s intentions and motivations, or perceived intentions and motivations, thus appear to play a pivotal role in an account being regarded as false. This claim is further reinforced by observing that is was not necessary for an account to contain expressly stated untruths or inaccuracies for it to be described by respondents as false. In other words, complainants may be deemed to have lied by omission.

This is a contentious issue in the existing research literature. As Kelly (2010: 1350) observes,

  • ‘[p]revious research has highlighted that rape victims may withhold information they think may lead to them being disbelieved or blamed, but this is interpreted by the police as “lying”’.

While we might readily understand why a complainant might choose to be selective during disclosure – for example, by failing to mention to police that illegal drugs were consumed prior to an alleged rape, or omitting details of any previous flirtation or consensual sexual activity with the accused – it is difficult to see how deliberately withholding information from investigators, prosecutors and potentially the courts might reasonably be interpreted other than as deceit.

To distinguish between ‘express’ and ‘implied’ deception is to draw a bright-line distinction where, in practice, there may be none. Certainly, to the extent that omissions can result in a positively misleading account of events and circumstances, they may have much the same effect as expressly stated falsehoods. This point is illustrated by a further case from the male rape study.

In Case 7, the complainant reported that he had been raped by a stranger in a 24-hour sauna. In giving his account to the police, the complainant explained that, having spent the evening out in town with his boyfriend, he had missed the last train home and had insufficient funds for either a taxi or a hotel room. Drunk, tired and stuck in the city centre until morning, the complainant decided to enter the sauna in order to sleep there. He stated that, having visited the same establishment on previous occasions, he was aware that it was used by homosexual men for casual sexual encounters, but reiterated that the sole purpose of his visit that night was to get some sleep. The complainant then alleged that he had been anally penetrated as he slept naked on the floor of an unlocked private cubicle.

The defendant was arrested at the scene. When interviewed by police, the defendant claimed that the complainant had invited him into the cubicle where they engaged in consensual sexual activity. The complainant then noticed that the defendant was wearing glasses and asked why he had not been wearing them earlier. At this point, according to the defendant, the complainant’s behaviour became ‘weird’. Believing the complainant to have mistaken him for someone else, the defendant immediately ceased all sexual activity and withdrew from the cubicle. Re-interviewed by investigators, the complainant disclosed that he had had an intimate encounter with an unknown male in the same cubicle shortly before the alleged rape—a previously omitted factual detail that not only tended to undermine the complainant’s account of why he was at the sauna, but also lent some support to the defendant’s version of events. Asked directly whether the complainant’s first account was merely incomplete as opposed to false, Prosecutor E replied: ‘Incomplete in so far as he didn’t mention it initially, which would give a false impression, maybe, as to what’s been going on that evening.

Be they express or implied, respondents reported that falsehoods range from seemingly inconsequential or innocuous details to elaborate and significantly more calculated narratives. Complainants, for example, may understate:

  • She said she’d only had one or two vodkas and she was about eight times over the drink drive limit. (Prosecutor C)
  • or overstate the amount of alcohol consumed at the material time:

One that I’ve got on my desk at the moment is an absolute—I’m not going to be able to run with that at all because we’ve got evidence that completely counters:

  • From eye-witnesses who’ve seen the complainant functioning perfectly normally immediately before and after the incident and she complains she’s got no recollection of the incident, until she came to with somebody having sex with her; CCTV footage of her walking off with him and coming back with him; all sorts of crucially undermining material. (Prosecutor J)

Similarly, a complainant may categorically deny, or fail at all to mention, any voluntary consumption of intoxicants, particularly unlawful drug use, when making a statement only for their (explicit or implicit) assertions of sobriety to be contradicted later by independent evidence.

Morally unimpeachable but implausible accounts of how complainants came to be at the scene of an alleged rape were reported to be a recurring issue in complainants’ witness statements. As an example, Prosecutor M referred to an on-going case involving a female complainant who alleged that she had been raped by two males she encountered in the street while out one evening for a walk. Although confident that the complainant had, in fact, been raped, the prosecutor found the complainant’s account of how she came to be outside a notorious local crack-house—the scene of the alleged rape—in the early hours of a wintry morning incredible:

  • She’s a Bangladeshi lady. She’s in her mid-thirties. She’s got two children. She’s got a drug problem [and a documented history of prostitution]. She walks out of the house at midnight, says, ‘I’m going for a walk.’ Now, what a load of rubbish! She was going out on the pull in return for her drugs. … She hasn’t gone out for a walk. Walk?What? Do they think that we were born yesterday?

Scepticism regarding complainants’ sudden urges for ‘a breath of fresh air’ or to ‘take the dog for a walk’ in disreputable areas at unsociable hours was not confined to female complainants. Respondents reported that male complainants were also prone to provide unlikely explanations for their presence at the alleged scene, particularly where the location was known to be used by homosexual men for anonymous sexual encounters:

  • Some men, they are perhaps not always strictly honest with the police in terms of how they came to be where they were, and the reasons why they were at that particular location, which can have the impact of undermining their credibility. That has been a big problem. (Prosecutor D)

It is worth noting that it was not only rape complainants who were reported to provide improbable, if not wholly implausible, accounts of how they came to be at a particular location, at a particular time and with a particular individual. In short, scepticism regarding victims’ accounts is not unique to rape:

  • We have it a lot with men who get robbed by prostitutes and their pimps. And they say, ‘I was on my way to church and this girl who was wearing a very short skirt and no bra asked me if I would help her carry her library books,’ or something, you know! (Prosecutor G)

Alternatively, complainants may falsely describe their presence at the alleged scene as involuntary—typically, as the result of having been dragged or led off by an accused. A further variation involves complainants giving a false account of the scene itself, which has obvious investigative and forensic ramifications. Scenes of crime officers, for example, will not detect and collect relevant evidence if directed to the wrong location. Equally problematic in terms of detection and prosecution, respondents reported that the accused’s identity may also be deliberately misreported by complainants:

  • We do get, on occasions, where they say that they were raped by an unknown person down a back alley as they’re walking along. Whereas, in actual fact, they were taken back to somebody’s flat—a known person’s flat—where [they engaged in] consensual [sexual activity] and it got out of hand. And they want to report they’ve been raped, but they don’t actually name him because he’s a mate. Well, he was. But when it comes out, they’ve blown it really. (Police A)

A final variant of the false account involves complainants’ non-disclosure—and, sometimes, vehement denials—of particular sexual acts. For example, Police D discussed a case involving a 16-year-old female who, during a series of video interviews with police, disclosed historic and continuing abuse at the hands of her guardians amounting to serious sexual assault. She did not, however, make any allegations of rape. The true nature and extent of her victimization was subsequently revealed by independent evidence, including photographic evidence seized by police and the defendants’ confessions:

  • I arrested uncle and aunt, recovered the photos—he’d kept them as trophies beside his bed—and he fully admitted everything and admitted raping her, which she hadn’t told me. … And this really threw—you just can’t believe that this old boy’s admitting it all to me. … I had to go back to the teenager again and say, ‘Look. I don’t think you told me everything. I can’t tell you what he’s telling me’—because he was still locked up—‘but has anything else happened?’ And she just broke down and said, ‘I didn’t think you’d believe me.’ (Police D)

Non-disclosure was similarly raised by Prosecutor M in a case involving the alleged oral rape of a 14-year-old female. Here, independent evidence was available which suggested that vaginal penetration may also have occurred. Although astute to the reasons why she may find it difficult to disclose all the intimate details of her victimization to investigators, Prosecutor M highlighted the possible implications of the complainant’s (suspected to be) less-than-full account for any subsequent trial:

  • She’s so traumatized. It takes them two hours on the ABE3 video [recorded witness interview] to get about five or six sentences out of her …. But, mark my words, it will all be played upon by the defence to create so much doubt that you can only but find this guy not guilty.

Distinguishing between False Complaints and False Accounts

Conceptualizing the false complaint and the false account as discrete phenomena is straightforward and illuminating in the abstract. To the extent that the false complaint/account dichotomy enables us to avoid being distracted here by questions concerning how false an allegation is and to focus, instead, on what it is about an allegation that leads criminal justice professionals to describe it as false in the first place, it is a useful analytical construct. In practice, however, the boundaries between the false complaint and the false account are not clear-cut.

Faced with independent evidence demonstrating that a complainant’s statement contains assertions of fact that are incontrovertibly false, investigators and prosecutors may be hard-pushed to determine with any certainty whether the allegation that does not stack up evidentially is a false complaint or a false account of a genuine rape. To be sure, as the recent furore over the rape complainant jailed in Wales for perverting the course of justice after falsely retracting genuine allegations of rape reveals, even an admission of fabrication by the complainant does not mean there was, in fact, no rape.4 Moreover, there may come a point at which the complainant’s falsehoods are so substantial that it is appropriate to refer to the report as a false complaint even though a genuine rape incident lies behind the allegation—a point which is powerfully demonstrated by a case discussed at some length by Prosecutor B during our research interview.

Accompanied by her mother, a female complainant reported to police that she had been raped by a stranger just a few hours earlier:

  • I think she was about 15 or 16; she was a young girl. She had done a video [recorded interview] where she described in detail how she was dragged into this flat and raped. She describes the flat and describes the person that raped her and all the rest of it and, you know, fantastic. She was. She’d been out for the night and was supposed to be home by 11 [p.m.] and she hadn’t returned. And her mother, between 11 and 1 o’clock when she came in the door, had phoned her 200 times on her mobile and couldn’t get an answer. And the mother said—the mother’s statement was amazing—her mother said, ‘As soon as I opened the door, I knew something had happened to her. I knew that something had happened.’ (Prosecutor B)

Although unable to identify her alleged assailant, the complainant’s comprehensive and detailed descriptions of both him and the whereabouts and interior of his flat enabled investigators very quickly to identify and arrest a suspect. When interviewed by police, the accused repeatedly and categorically denied the allegations against him in their entirety. On the basis of what were perceived to be compelling witness statements from the complainant and her mother, and the initial report of the forensic medical examination that confirmed recent penetrative sexual activity, the accused was charged with rape and remanded into custody:

  • He said, ‘No. It never happened. She’s never been to my flat. I don’t know her. I never raped her.’ So, of course, he was charged because she described him, she described the inside of the flat in perfect detail. There was nothing to suggest that she wasn’t telling the truth.’ (Prosecutor B)

Some three weeks later, the police received the results from DNA tests conducted on semen recovered from the complainant’s vagina during the forensic medical examination. The semen was not the accused’s. Re-interviewed by police, the complainant now admitted to having lied in her previous statements. The rape alleged had not occurred. Indeed, she had never met the accused. Her descriptions were based on a visit to the accused’s flat, in the accused’s absence, with a friend who worked for him and had access to his home. She maintained, however, that she had been raped. A further video interview was conducted with the complainant, during which she disclosed what Prosecutor B (once again) considered to be a compelling account of a genuine rape, but one which was perpetrated in wholly different circumstances and by another accused:

  • They got the DNA results and it was somebody completely different. So they got her in again and she said, ‘Actually, I was raped but it wasn’t him. It was another boy. And he raped me in a car.’ And she said, ‘The reason that I blamed this boy’—the man who’s now in custody—‘is because I’m scared of the second boy because he said if I tell anyone, he’ll kill me.’ (Prosecutor B)

The second accused was arrested and interviewed by the police. He admitted to penetrative sexual activity with the complainant, at the time and in the circumstances as she had described them—albeit that he denied the presence of a knife and the absence of consent.

Whether this complainant’s initial allegations are considered to constitute a false complaint or a false account is an issue on which reasonable minds might reasonably differ.

The practical utility for criminal justice professionals of a broad, all-encompassing working definition of the ‘false allegation’ is thus thrown into sharp relief. By lumping everything together under the rubric of the false allegation, police and prosecutors avoid having to grapple with complex, nuanced and, for the purposes of criminal proceedings, largely irrelevant conceptual distinctions. If the false allegation is defined as an allegation containing falsehoods, the question to be asked in any given case is not simply whether there was, in fact, a rape, but whether, in the course of an investigation, the complainant told the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And, in Prosecutor B’s case, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘No’.

Viewed from this perspective, then, ‘false allegation’ can be seen as constituting what Cicourel (1995: 105) refers to as ‘a police [and, here, also a prosecution] argot mixed with everyday language [which] enables the work unit to communicate within itself easily and with a minimum of debate’. At least for those criminal justice professionals interviewed here, describing an allegation as false does not necessarily mean that there was, in fact, no rape. Indeed, it does not necessarily mean there was no prosecution:

  • It doesn’t necessarily mean that you would immediately drop a case or decide not to prosecute. You’d have to look at all the circumstances surrounding it. (Prosecutor B)
  • It may be that [the complainant] could explain that. You know, it’s not something like that that would necessarily mean that every case would get dropped. (Prosecutor E)

Instead, referring to an allegation as false quickly and effectively signals to other criminal justice actors that there is evidence of a complainant’s mendacity which may undermine that witness’s credibility and cast doubt over the accuracy and thus the reliability of his or her testimony should the case proceed to trial. It means, in short, that the complainant tells lies.

Taking Stock

On the face of it, criminal justice professionals’ estimates of the prevalence of false allegations reported elsewhere were replicated here.

The general consensus among those respondents who volunteered any estimate regarding prevalence was that false allegations are common in rape cases. Prosecutor G, for example, was particularly forceful on this point:

  • ‘I’ve had loads of them where they’ve just actually lied; out and out lied.’

Superficial analyses, however, are inadequate. As we have seen, respondents utilize the term ‘false allegation’ in reference to both false complaints and false accounts. And, according to the police and prosecutors interviewed here, these phenomena occur with different frequencies.

Respondents were virtually unanimous in reporting that false complaints are rare (see also Home Office 2010: 40):

  • It’s a very rare occurrence. (Prosecutor C)
  • We don’t tend to have many of those in the child abuse unit because they tend to be telling the truth. It is rare really. (Police D)
  • They’re quite rare, I must say. (Police A)
  • We get very few cases that go through where it’s a false allegation … it’s a tiny minority of cases. (Prosecutor Q)

[One has to say that even a false account leads to an innocent man being arrested and charged. So is the demarkation between false allegation and false account one of semantics and to take the pressure off girls and women for being frivolous and lacking forethought ? – RW ].

False accounts, however, were said to be common:

  • [There is a problem] with inconsistent accounts and accounts that don’t hold water …. Women—and men—aren’t routinely making up allegations of rape. I’m sure it does happen but it’s not—that isn’t why the conviction rates are so low, is it? But we do have all sorts of problems with the accounts that victims give. (Prosecutor J)
  • Often you do read a case and you think, well, the defendant’s not telling the truth, but then, neither is the complainant. (Prosecutor G)
  • It’s usually this one; it’s usually the false account—they don’t tell you it all. It completely mucks up the case right from the start. (Prosecutor M)

The perception that false accounts were more prevalent in rape cases than in other offence categories was also expressed, albeit cautiously, by Prosecutor Q:

  • I do think it’s one area of the law where you do get more false accounts than perhaps in any other. You don’t get many false accounts in theft, or handling stolen goods, or even assault really. It is one of those areas where, perhaps, the figures are slightly skewed, perhaps, by false accounts.

Though undoubtedly provisional in the absence of further research, this is an important finding – and not merely because it supports my earlier proposition that researchers’ and professionals’ disparate estimates of the prevalence of false allegations may be the artefacts of incompatible definitions.

Respondents’ more nuanced observations regarding the prevalence of false allegations suggest that researchers’ and criminal justice professionals’ conflicting estimates may not be entirely irreconcilable. There is, after all, something of an overlap between police and prosecutors’ definitions of the false allegation reported here and its basic ‘commonsense’ meaning implicit in the research literature. Certainly, what I have referred to here as the ‘false complaint’ approximates to the ‘false allegation’ as it is tacitly understood—although not necessarily operationalised- by researchers and commentators. At least in terms of the (in)frequency with which complainants allege to have been raped when, in fact, they have not been, there may be more agreement among the various protagonists than the current discourse either acknowledges or allows.

How often allegations of rape contain falsehoods is an open question, in that the existing research neither contradicts nor supports respondents’ claims regarding frequency. While a variety of definitions of the false allegation have been employed by researchers over the years, they tend not to coincide with police and prosecutors’ own generic conceptualizations as outlined here.

Indeed, false accounts are generally sidelined by researchers and commentators on the straightforward basis that a complainant’s lies do not necessarily equate to no rape having occurred. As a result, vital questions concerning the prevalence of false accounts and their implications for bringing offenders to justice are overlooked and underexplored. As Police A observed:

  • From my knowledge, there doesn’t appear to have been any work—research or whatever—to say, in actual fact, X per cent of all allegations of rape are not factually correct. … The Home Office, government, are saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible, this. Only a 5% conviction rate.’ And we’re the bad guys. When it’d be nice to say, ‘Well, just wait a minute. Whatever percentage gave—knowingly—a false account which seriously jeopardized the possibility of a conviction.’

The unfortunate consequence of what is perceived by professionals to be a glaring gap in the research is that the debate surrounding false allegations of rape may have reached something of an impasse. While criminal justice professionals’ experienced-based estimates and perceptions are quickly dismissed by scholars on the basis that they do not tally with (select) research findings, research and commentary are rejected with equal speed by front-line professionals on the basis that findings do not reflect the scope or nature of false allegations as they experience them (see further Lonsway 2010):

  • There is some researcher who decided that only 2% of all accounts were false. … Well, I must have had more than my fair share. (Prosecutor K)
  • I read these things [research reports and commentary] and think, they have no idea of how bad some of these cases are. They just don’t stand up to even slight scrutiny. (Prosecutor E)

Summary and Conclusions

This article began with the proposition that the disparity between researchers’ and criminal justice professionals’ estimates of the prevalence of false allegations of rape may be explained by methodological as opposed to attitudinal factors.

The aim of the analysis was to explore this claim by probing police and prosecutors’ definitions and implicit interpretations of the false allegation. It is important to reiterate that much of the original data analysed here comprise spontaneous—but, nonetheless, apparently considered—observations and comments from a small number of rape specialist criminal justice professionals interviewed in the course of a study which was neither intended nor designed to examine the nature and scope of false allegations.

These anecdotal data must be read with caution, and any inferences drawn from them treated as provisional in the absence of further research. That said, the striking consensus among respondents’ perceptions, observations and illustrations of the false allegation gives cause for guarded optimism. So, too, does the general concurrence among respondents’, admittedly imprecise, reports of their prevalence.

The analysis revealed that respondents’ working definitions of the false allegation are not anchored in institutional counting protocols aimed at standardizing local crime-recording practices. In other words, ‘false allegation’ is not criminal justice shorthand for a notifiable offence recorded by police but later ‘no-crimed’ in accordance with relevant counting rules. Nor do respondents’ definitions mirror ‘commonsense’ understandings of the false allegation as a complete fabrication of something that never happened.

Rather, reflecting the trial-focused priorities of criminal proceedings, the false allegation is defined as an allegation containing falsehoods: a generic, all-encompassing definition capable of incorporating both the rape that did not happen (the false complaint) and the rape that did not happen [in] the way the complainant said it did (the false account).

Consequently, when criminal justice professionals tell researchers that, in their experience, false allegations of rape are common, they are unlikely to be providing an impromptu reckoning up of how often they ‘no-crime’ recorded rapes; nor, it seems, are they likely to be describing how often they encounter cases involving complainants who claim to have been raped when, in fact, they have not.

What criminal justice professionals may instead be telling us is that it is not uncommon for complainants to make false statements to police when alleging rape. In short, when estimating the prevalence of false allegations of rape, researchers – particularly those producing the lowest and purportedly more ‘robust’ estimates – and criminal justice professionals appear to be ‘counting’ very different things. Moreover, respondents’ more nuanced and discerning comments and insights regarding prevalence suggest that the disparity between researchers’ and professionals’ estimates may be more apparent than it is real. The police and prosecutors interviewed here reported that, in their experience, it is rare for a complainant to allege rape when, in fact, no rape occurred. False accounts of rape, however, were said to be common.

It is worth emphasising that the broader argument here is not that criminal justice professionals’ working definitions of the false allegation are inherently correct or superior to those found elsewhere, or that false allegations of rape are common because six police officers and 13 prosecutors said they are. Rather, the point is this: while researchers’, commentators’ and, indeed, readers’ own personal politics and theoretical persuasions may lead them to prefer some (usually the lower) estimates of the prevalence of false allegations over others, there is currently no empirical justification for the wholesale dismissal of front-line criminal justice professionals’ reports of their frequency. First, because, given the mixed bag of research findings, the only thing we know with any certainty about the prevalence of false allegations of rape is that we do not know how prevalent they are. And, second, because there has been little, if any, attempt by researchers to date to ensure that they understand—or, if they do understand, to accurately reflect in their research reports—what their interview respondents perceive as constituting a false allegation. As the foregoing analysis has shown, there is thus a very real possibility that that researchers, commentators and criminal justice professionals are talking at cross-purposes.

Although provisional, the findings reported here represent an important, if tentative, first step towards reinvigorating and reorienting the so-called debate surrounding false allegations.

Despite 30+ years of being told that their perceptions are wrong, front-line criminal justice professionals have steadfastly maintained that false allegations are a common feature in rape cases.

On closer inspection, however, it seems that the bulk of those false allegations may be false accounts – a phenomenon that can present formidable, and potentially insurmountable, hurdles to detection and prosecution, but one that is generally trivialized, where it is not wholly overlooked, by the research community.

Insofar as the aim of critical rape research is to shape and inform criminal justice policy and practice, the persistent failure to engage with the false allegation as it is conceptualized and experienced by investigators and prosecutors is a curiously myopic and patently counterproductive approach.

Owing to what is perceived by these front-line criminal justice professionals as its partial and empirically tenuous claims to knowledge, critical social research and commentary surrounding false allegations of rape lacks credibility with perhaps the very group would-be reformists seek most to influence and persuade.



  • Economic and Social Research Council (PTA-030-2005–00583).


  • 1 See, e.g. V. Baird, ‘You’ve Been Raped: Why Bother Reporting It?’, The Guardian, 10 April 2002; J. Yates, ‘We Need to Do More for Rape Victims’, New Statesman, May 2007; ‘Top Officer Admits Police Scepticism Is Leading to “Shamefully Low” Rape Conviction Rate’, Daily Mail, 4 March 2008; Ken McDonald’s comments in D. Leigh, ‘Police and Prosecutors Failing Rape Victims’, The Guardian, 15 January 2008; R. Prince, ‘Harriet Harman Launches Rape Review’, The Telegraph, 22 September 2009; H. Mulholland and N. Watt, ‘Brian Paddick: Police Approach to Rape Allegations Could Encourage Offenders’, The Guardian, 2 March 2012. Cf. N. Hopkins, ‘Enduring Myths about Rape Victims Lead to Acquittals, Says Chief Prosecutor’, The Guardian, 30 January 2012.
  • 2 Reflecting the sensitive nature of the original male rape study, and statutory guarantees of lifelong anonymity for rape complainants, anonymization here goes beyond that required by ethical good practice and data protection in social research. Police respondents are designated Police A through Police F, while Crown Prosecutors are designated Prosecutor A through Prosecutor Q. No information regarding individual respondents’ gender, ethnicity and so forth or rank/position in their respective organizational hierarchies is provided. Where necessary, all police are designated male in the narrative, while all prosecutors are designated female. In reality, two police respondents were female and two of the prosecutors were male. In terms of ethnicity, all but three respondents were white British. The three BME respondents were all Crown Prosecutors.
  • 3 A video-recorded witness statement which may be admissible as the witness’s evidence-in-chief pursuant to the Achieving Best Evidence policy initiative (cf. Home Office 1998; Ministry of Justice 2011). Section 27 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 governs the admissibility of video-recorded interviews with eligible witnesses.
  • 4 A. Topping and H. Pidd, ‘Woman Jailed for Retracting Rape Claims Is Refused Appeal’, The Guardian, 12 November 2010; H. Pidd, ‘Woman Jailed Over Retracted Rape Allegations to Challenge Conviction’, The Guardian, 17 November 2010; A. Hill, ‘False Retraction of Rape Claim Case to Go to Supreme Court’, The Guardian, 16 March 2012. The case triggered calls for reform in the prosecution of rape complainants for offences against the administration of justice. The resulting CPS guidance is available online at Last accessed 30 June 2012.

© The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


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This Article:

Br J Criminol (2012) doi: 10.1093/bjc/azs036 First published on-line: July 30, 2012

Planning for rape – surely not ?

by Robert Whiston  July 2013

Rape, by its very definition is invariably an unplanned event in the same way that homicides are generally unplanned. But is there any pattern to be gleaned from what data is available ?  The Open University thinks so in its paper : “Attrition in rape cases: Developing a profile and identifying relevant factors” (2003). British Journal of Criminology, 43(3), pp. 583–599.

Weddings usual occur at weekends and to reinforce the point the ONS even provides data on which days of the week and which months are most popular for couples. Most are usually very long in the planning stage with Saturdays and Sundays being the most obvious choices.

So it might come as a surprise to learn that on a less joyous note, rapes and attempted rapes follow a similar weekly ‘popularity’ pattern – though perhaps no one has yet looked at monthly patterns.  This is not to say they are pre-planned but certain days of the week do seem more popular (‘frequency’) than others for such an event to occur and one has to ask ‘why.’

Fortunately, the Open University has addressed this subject in its “Attrition in rape cases” paper of 2003.[1]

Taking as their basis a South West of England police force (perhaps Devon or Cornwall) they were able to produce the following graphic below (see Fig. 1. Day Frequency).

 Fig_1_freqAt first glance this looks like it might represent a clear weekly trend from a high point on Sunday followed by a collapse on Monday followed by a steady recovery until the end of the week.

However, that is not the case. Fig. 1 is a graph that ranks all of the days of the week but it is out of sequence.

To correct this impression Fig. 1A has been created which starts on Monday and ends on Sunday. It uses the same numerical information but far from a smooth increase as the week ticks down to a social ‘blowout’ and letting one’s hair down at the weekend with heavy drinking after work, an unexpected saw-tooth pattern emerges.

Fig_1A_ freqPerhaps most unexpectedly is that sexual activity that might so easily give rise to claims of rape are as low on Saturdays when one might expect higher levels of interchange and interaction between the sexes as they are for a Tuesday or a Thursday. This assumption is, of course, based on statistical data indicating that most alleged rape involve girls and women in the 16 – 28 years age range and who might be expected to ‘partying’ at weekends and in the evening.

Addendum: As if to underline the fragility of data and the methods deployed to collect them, a 2007 paper by the Home Office using a sample of 676 cases [*] shows Tuesday to be the most likely day a rape is reported:

  • “More than half of crimed offences took place between Friday and Sunday, although Tuesday was the most common day of report.”
  • “Just under three in ten offences took place between midnight and 00.59.”

[*] “Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape

Sample and methods

The aim of the study was to develop a profile of rape cases within a Constabulary in the South West of England, and identity factors associated with the “attrition rate.”

All cases of rape, or attempted rape, of a female or male over the age of 16 were included, from the years 1996 to 2000. Over this 4 year period data on 379 cases was collected (sample size = 379), using the CIS and questionnaires sent to the relevant Chief Investigating Officer. The OU applied both quantitative and qualitative techniques and they claim the resulting profile of attrition differed in several respects from previous research.

The study also included extensive written comments provided by the officers which offered an insight into the police perspective on rape. However, this claim should be taken with a pinch of salt since such an analysis would be of a subjective dimension rather than an empirical one, with police officers probably knowing that their personal comments would be used to bolster a given position which might lead them to  self-filter or self censor their comments.

Most rapes or attempted rapes, the Open University paper states, were committed at the weekend, with Sunday being the most frequently reported day (this includes rapes by intimates, acquaintances or strangers). It also goes on to claim that:

  • “An interesting profile emerged (see Figure 1 above) revealing a stepped progression whereby the frequency of rape is lowest on Mondays, increasing each day through to being highest on Saturday.”

Sunday was the second most frequently reported day for the alleged crime to have been committed Said the OU paper.

The time of day at which such crimes were committed was most frequently was between midnight and 6 am but also commonly between 6 pm and midnight. These two time periods accounted for “76% of cases.” it follows that just over 20% of rape claims occurred during the day, say 9am to 5 pm. [Contrast this with the times shown in Addendum above ].

Claiming that the frequency of rape increases “each day through to being highest on Saturday” is misleading as Fig 1A shows. Friday is the highest frequency for rapes.

The first and most immediate problem with the claim of “a stepped progression” is that it does not meet the criterion for being ‘stepped’ and secondly for being ‘progressive’ during the week.

While Fig 1 does indeed show a progression during the week it is based on days that do not follow each other chronologically and many would suggest it is misleading to reply upon it as such.

Figure 1A, on the other hand, remains true to the chronologic order but in so doing loses the headline impact of more rapes at the end of the week. Which is better ?

Despite the ‘76% of cases’ which occurred in the evening or at night, this still leaves almost a quarter of cases of rape and attempted rape that took place during the day. Do some or most (or none) daytime rapes have characteristics not found in those that occur at night ? Has anyone asked the question ?

If anything, the fact that rapes in this sample occurred or were reported more on a Wednesday than any other say save for Friday and Sunday is unexpected. What factors are at work to make Wednesday markedly more prevalent than Saturday but only marginally greater than a Monday ?

The paper helpfully also gives us an idea of the duration of the rape – in 90% of cases it lasted up to one day. But then it confuses the issue by adding, “roughly 25% of cases it lasted less than 30 minutes, up to two hours, between two and 12 hours and between 12 and 24 hours.”

To many minds that is such an ambiguous statement as to render it meaningless.  Some clarity is restored when it concludes that:

  • “The remaining 10 % of cases involved lengthy periods of abuse, 3% of which stretched over many years.”

Delayed reporting

Reporting a rape has, since 1988 when rape became politicised as it was added to the Feminist agenda, a contentious issue. The right to claim a rape months or years after the event and be believed has been a cornerstone of the feminist’s monolithic world view. So it is interesting to learn that 66% of rape cases in this police forces region were reported within a day of the alleged crime being perpetrated. And 13% were reported within two weeks, with the remaining 21% being reported some time after the crime.

Only in 6% of cases was the crime was reported more than 6 months after the offence – but this ‘6%’ includes not just a) those a few months more than 6 month but b) sometimes several or c) many years later. Why is this 6% so important to women’s lobby groups when in any other field a 6% ‘slippage’ would be acceptable?

A small though significant correlation was said to have been found by Spearman between the victim and perpetrator’s relationship and the time which had elapsed between the offence and its reporting. The Open University paper then cites Spearman’s work in this way (“Spearman’s rho =-.237, p < .01, n = 365”).

It would appear that the closer the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, the longer the time taken to report the crime. Victims of stranger and acquaintance rapes, therefore, were more likely to report the crime within one to two days of its occurrence (if not within hours), while victims of rape by a male relative or partner sometimes did not report the case for years.

The Home Office in its definition of rape perpetrators has divided them into 3 categories; by 1/. intimates 2/. acquaintances and 3/. strangers. What was worrying from an analytical point of view were the changes made about 10 years ago in the definition of the last two, i.e. acquaintance and stranger rapes. With the political driver at the time being to fuel the fertile imagination of all women’s fear of this crime it was fashionable to emphasis how all men – but particularly those they knew – posed the greatest threat to women knew ro some degree. This was nothing short of a gender smear tactic and ignored the fact that 0.6% of all crimes have some form of greater or lesser sexual offence overtone, e.g. flashing.

In the view of some this shift saw a ‘stranger’ become an ‘acquaintance’ on the basis that if the accused had been seen before in the street, passed her by at any time, or in the case of an AA breakdown man had met her for the first time only 2 hours beforehand then they fell into the new ‘acquaintance’ category. It is open to speculation that the ulterior motive for this was purely sexual politics.

This is not the commonsense meaning of the word ‘acquaintance.’ An acquaintance is someone we metaphorically bump into regularly at the local corner ship, wave to, or shout ‘Morning’ to now and then, or perhaps someone living in the same road and who we see every Sunday mowing his lawn but who never engage in dialogue. Thus they are not intimates, meaning close kin or people we have had sex with in the past, nor are they strangers who we have not seen before.

By this artificial re-jigging of categories the HO was able to show that stranger rapes were fast disappearing while at the same time rapes by intimates and acquaintances were increasing.

It is therefore very satisfying to read that the Open University results show that:

  1. A quarter of cases in this sample (25%) involved ‘intimate’ rapes
  2. Nearly one half (50%) could be described as acquaintance rapes
  3. 26% of rapes involved ‘strangers’

‘Intimate’ rapes are confined to husbands, partners, boyfriends – past and present in all of the 3 categories. So a quarter of the 25% (item 1) involved allegations against a current husband, partner or in the case of a boyfriend 14%. This presents theological difficulties since the whole idea of marriage is to legitimate mutual longings for sexual intercourse. One suspects, therefore, that claims of rape within marriage effectively draws a veil over other more important shortcomings as factors in what must be a trouble relationship.

‘Estranged’ husband, partners or boyfriends accounted for 10%, with a further 6% of cases involving an accused who was a male relative, such as an uncle.

In 44% of cases the alleged perpetrator was revealed to be an acquaintance or friend (30%. and 14% respectively), while 26% of cases involved a stranger. A quarter of all rapes may not sound significant but given eth gradual erosion year after year it is remarkable that the figure is so high.

Police Research

Long before Baroness Stern’s review into rape called for better research (2010), a Police Research paper of 2002 and published by the Home Office, conceded that it would be more than a good idea if society improved its understanding of criminal careers. [2] In particular, the research paper thought that exploring “the previous criminal histories of those who had been convicted of murder or ‘serious sexual assault’ (SSA) i.e. rape might prove fruitful. However, this potentially fruitful idea to understand the problem was instantly sidelined in favour of relentlessly putting more alleged rapists in jail and on restricting a defendant’s human right to a fair trial whenever accused of rape.


It remains troubling to hardline rape reform advocates that actual rape numbers are not increasing as they hope and that rape convictions are not 100% of all those charged. For them this last point is utterly incomprehensible. This has not changed with the CPS report of 2013 if one reads even a sample of the vociferous criticisms of it from some quarters.

Since the 1980s there has been a lack of understanding in official circles for why rape conviction numbers are declining. Quite recently a government paper “Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape.” (pub July 2007) asked:

  • “ . . .. [what were] the “reasons behind the decline in recorded detection rates for rape since 1997” [and] “why marked variations in detection rates exist in different forces”.

The raison d’être of this 2007 report was to understand this phenomenon with the unspoken assumption being that there should be more ‘detections’ and more convictions as the reported of rapes increase. No thought was given to the fact that proof has to be first established to get convictions rates to increase (nor that rape claims might be motivated by more than just a sexual assault, i.e. a false or malicious allegation).

To override the discretion and individual methods used by different police forces the Home Office has wheeled out its big gun – the HO Circular. The result is that different types of people and demographics which might give the marked variations complained of are to be steam-rollered into a mandatory and standardised approach to rape reporting across the country.

Location of offence

As in all surveys into this subject the majority of rapes, or attempted rapes, took place within the home of either the complainant or the accused (62%). The analysis needs only a belief mention:

62% occurred in the home of the complainant or the accused

  • 30% occurred in the home of the complainant                        }
  • 17% occurred in the home of the accused                               } 62% (?)
  •   4% occurred in the car of one of the parties
  •   6% occurred in an indoor ‘private’ place such as a friend’s house
  • 28% occurred in an indoor ‘public’ place, e.g. nightclub
  •  7% occurred in public’ place, e.g. nightclub               }
  • 20% occurred outdoors such as in an alleyway          } 28%

Allowing for some ‘rounding up’ and that the above refers to the “majority of rapes or attempted rapes”, it is obvious that 30% + 17% does not make 62%. There is no explanation for this in the notes.

Through our shared experience of parenting teenagers we already know they like ‘clubbing’ and ‘discos’ (or whatever the current term is at present), so it is reassuring to know that findings back up such impressions and that the age of the victim and the initial place of contact have a ‘significant relationship.’

  • “Younger victims tended to have encountered the perpetrator for the first time in a public place (such as a club, disco or hotel) than older victims who were more likely to encounter the perpetrator in a private place (their own home or someone else’s).”

The following findings are included as they may be of relevant in some instances and to some readers:

  • In 37% of cases the victim reported having no prior contact with the accused
  • In 19% of cases full sexual intercourse with the accused prior to the alleged rape or attempted rape was reported.
  • In 24% of cases the ‘victim’ had some form of physical contact with the accused, in most cases kissing the accused or allowing an arm to be put around him or her.
  • In 3% of cases the victim accepted a lift home from the accused and in 7% of cases accepted an invitation to his house.
  • In 8% of cases the victim went for a walk with the accused
  • In 8% of cases and in a further 2% they danced with the accused or allowed him to buy him/her a drink.


Most cases, of rape or attempted rape involved a single victim (98%) and a single offender (95%). Usually, a single act of sexual violence was perpetrated or attempted. In the majority’ of cases this act comprised vaginal intercourse.

Anal intercourse was involved in 5% of cases, while oral intercourse on or by the offender was involved in 1% of cases.

In a minority of cases (4%) other acts of sexual violence such as penetration of the victim with a finger or an object were committed (sometimes in conjunction with the rape or attempted rape of the victim).

Violent and non-violent rape

Victims of rape reported that no threats of additional violence (other than that the of rape itself) were made in 71% of cases.

In 13% of cases vague threats were made and in the remaining 16% of cases, the perpetrator verbally threatened to kill the victim, threatened physical / manual violence, threatened to use a weapon or used some combination of these threats.

Of the 13% of victims who were threatened or treated roughly almost half (46%) were characterised by no violence being exerted at all. However, in just over a third (38%) of this same 13% of cases, the victim was treated roughly.

Similarly, in the 16 % sub-category, i.e. where perpetrator had verbally threatened violence findings showed analogous numerical divisions between those where the threat of violent acts was not carried out and those where they were.

So although the use of violence was a significant factor in the mind of the victim – and threatened or promised by the perpetrator – only a proportion of violent acts actually accompanied the rape offence. The use of further violence (presumably follow-on acts) is stated to be “relatively low.” This is born out by the injury statistics for this sample of approx. 379 cases:

In 64% of the victim did not sustain additional injuries (beyond those sustained through the rape or attempted rape). Of the remaining 36% of cases:

  • slight injuries were sustained in 33%
  • moderate injuries were sustained in 1%
  • severe injuries in 2%

Thus, in over 96% of rapes cases no significant additional bodily injuries were sustained.


This OU (Open University) paper from 2003 is already addressing the disputed no-crimed and NFA-ed (no further action) totals found in so many rape reports over the decades. The high level in ‘no-crimed’ and ‘NFAs’ is not the product (despite many claims to the contrary) of a police conspiracy. It is the sad but true reality that there are fantasists and ‘unstable’ women who are of an age to engage in sexual intercourse. Later in the text we learn that:

  • “The main reason for crimes not progressing through the criminal justice system was lack of evidence, this reason constituting 39% of cases where reasons were proffered.”

“No-crimed’ and ‘NFAs’ have already been dealt with most adequately elsewhere on this blog site to need further explanation. However, as this is not a Home Office sponsored study it would be as well to compare the graph produced by the OU with those produced by HO researchers. The OU has presented the data in Pie Chart form (see Figure 2 below).


The Pie Chart depicts the current status of the 379 crimes of rape or attempted rape. The largest category of cases consisted of those that were NFA-ed – combined they total 61%.

  • 26%  NFA – detected by Police
  • 14%  NFA-CPS
  • 14%  NFA-CPS +Police (unclear as to which)
  •   7%  NFA-Police undetected.


Of the remaining 39% of cases 10% were pending, 11% were ‘no-crimed,’ and in 7% of cases the victim refused to assist with the inquiry or retracted the allegation, and 11% resulted in a conviction of some kind.

  • NB. This was a ‘changeover year’ with the new Sexual Offences Act of 2003 with it broader powers coming in to force for the first time.

It is apparent from police comments to the OU study that many are unhappy with the way the CPS handles rape cases. Police officers who completed the 2003 questionnaire raised a number of other issues with respect to the processing of rape cases. Many officers took the opportunity to express their own “frustration and disillusionment with the system” especially around:

  • “ . . . the relationship between the CPS and the police being unsatisfactory, in terms of information and communication, and the attitudes and perceptions of barristers and judges in terms of rape victims specifically and the crime of rape generally. Thus officers complained that they were uncertain as to what the CPS needed in order to proceed with a rape case.”

Not unnaturally, some officers felt aggrieved that having worked long hours on a case in which they were convinced that the accused was guilty, the CPS decided to have the case NFA-ed. Before the CPS was created and Police Forces brought the prosecutions to court one can visualise the police in these cases settling for a lesser crime rather than none at all. It was clear from the 2003 study that officers were complaining that they were “uncertain as to what the CPS needed in order to proceed with a rape case.”

One suspects that an area for improvement would be that exemplified by the 14% of cases where the Police and CPS did not know which one of them had decided to take “no further action” (NFA). In the 10 years since this 2003 study one would expect this grey area to have been remedied and it is this interface between police and CPS which is dutifully ‘recorded’ but not counted for false allegation statistics.

Very revealing is how authors depict the various players in the sub-text of the tragedy. Those making claims of rape are ‘victims’ and even when they are falsely making a rape claim are still referred to as victims. This contrasts with the CPS who are always ubiquitously named and the police, but the victim of a false and malicious rape allegation is never described as a ‘victim’. Not surprisingly the tenor changes whenever false rape issues are discussed, hence instead of saying “Police officers often have good reason to state that a false allegation of rape had been made,” we get: the slightly accusative tone of :

  • “Police officers quite often claimed that a false allegation of rape had been made.”

A small point, a trifle, one might think until the next sentence is read which plainly states that the main reason for cases being no-crimed was “insufficient evidence.” So it has nothing to do with what a police officer may or may not “claim”, it is not acting on the evidence and showing no favouritism in the discharge of his duty. Indeed, this desire to see the desired result brings forth this in the very next sentence:

  • “In just under 10% of cases the police claimed that a false allegation had been made and in a further 10% of cases the police claimed that the victim had admitted to making a false allegation or to the ‘rape’ being consensual. Despite this, the victim was charged with wasting police time in very few cases.

How can the word “despite” fit in at this juncture and still make sense ?  The police are not claiming that 20% are false allegation they have evidence to show that 20% are false – half of them (10%)  by virtue of an admission of making a false allegation by the alleged “victim.”

The OU paper goes on to confirm recent data collected on behalf of PAFAA namely that a sizeable minority of complaints were `maliciously’ driven or stemming from the mentally/emotionally ‘unstable.’

PAFAA data collected showed a main grouping of 5 or 6 reasons given in court to excuse false rape allegations. The OU states that:

  • “These included that the complainant’s partner had called off their engagement, that the complainant `wanted to force her lover to marry her’, or that the complainant suspected her partner of having sex with someone else, or that she herself had had sex with someone else.”

Sadly, the OU paper does not break the mould and parrot like reiterates many a tired mantra. So while noting that some police officers appeared to be empathetic to rape victims some were less so and more likely to doubt their reporting of rape. Naively, and this is within a few sentences of accepting that 20% of rape claims are false, the OU states:

  • “Indeed, they still seemed to believe that many women cry rape in order to seek attention.”

With respect to convictions, the OU falls into the same trap as so many others by citing the product after the ‘attrition rate’ as the  conviction rate and stats it as 5% of the 379 cases. But as sown above over 60% were NFA-ed (no further action), and a further 20% were ‘no-crimed.’

Although in this study of 379 cases there was not one of rape of a male, in 1% of cases the accused was “cautioned” while in a further 5% of cases (including two cases where the victim was male), the accused was convicted of a lesser crime. This is a key feature as 2003 was the changeover year and this study probably represents a year when police could still get a conviction for a mutually agreed lesser offence. Post 2003 and due to the changes in the wording this would be almost impossible.

These lesser crimes incorporated a sexual component in 2.9% of cases, were non-sexual in nature in 1.6% of cases and were for attempted rape in 0.5% of cases. Arguably, were these numbers repeated across the country, the 2003 Act gains very little in conviction numbers which was its primary intent.

The rationale behind this plea-bargaining, according to police officers, was that in some cases the defendant was willing to plead guilty to a lesser offence. In the remaining cases, it was claimed that the CPS charged the defendant with a lesser crime in order to spare the victim the ordeal of court. Of course, what is not mentioned here is the enormous pressure an innocent man feels under to extricate himself, one way or another. A ‘caution’ or pleading guilty to a lesser crime might seem like a reasonable if not attractive exchange for one’s liberty.

If we want a justice system to have a certain gravitas and respect then the process from beginning to end must contain certain checks and hurdles to handicap the frivolous and maintain a high standard. If having to overcome them requires ‘proofs’ the better will be the system. To do otherwise would be to immediately catapult us into being nothing better than a Banana Republic.



[1]Attrition in rape cases: Developing a profile and identifying relevant factors” (2003). British Journal of Criminology, 43(3), pp. 583–599. Open University

[2] Police Research Series Paper 144, “Murder and Serious Sexual Assault: What criminal histories can reveal about future serious offending“. (2002). See also “Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape.” (July 2007).

CPS & the false allegation report

Not until the present day has the CPS ever come under such unrelenting pressure from politicians and lobbyists alike. Much of it is pointedly ‘Political Correctness’ and it must make their task very difficult dealing with so many sensitive egos.

From certain quarters – the usual culprits –  much criticism has been heaped upon the CPS and on Keir Starmer QC the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) for the recent Report into false rape allegations released in March 2013. One of the many criticisms emanating from a women’s lobby group even claim that many women don’t understand the word “consent”. This speaks volumes about their clientele or the deceitfulness of such groups. It is difficult to imagine a person not knowing what ‘consent’ meant – as difficult to imagining a person not knowing what ‘to refuse’ meant. However, if that is honestly the situation then we are dealing with many very young, poorly educated or dim women.

Despite its general shortcomings the CPS has to be congratulated for standing firm in the circumstances and simply presenting the facts as they see them.

Those who are interested in false allegations broadly fall into two camps; on the one side are those that see all false allegations are lies and that every women who claims to have been raped is telling the truth, i.e. there are no false rape allegations.

In the opposite encampment are those that see false allegations as a fact of life and the numbers involved as only the tip of a huge iceberg of mis-trials, lack of evidence, mistaken convictions, lack of DNA proof, and false justice due to the handicapping of the defence team’s sphere of operations.

Our interest in the topic should be in the numbers and how they are collected – not in the politics or self advantage and funding it may bring.

I first brought to the attention of the Home Office (HO) several anomalies and incongruities in data presentation some 15 years ago when I was an occasional adviser. In particular, the persistent use by the HO of the phrase “conviction rate” when the actual number they quoted represented the “attrition rate.”

The attrition rate refers to the number of convictions secured compared with the number of that particular crime reported to the police (it must be noted that a crime that is ‘reported’ does not automatically imply that the crime actually took place). The conviction rate refers to the number of convictions secured against the number of persons brought to trial for that given offence.

Baroness Stern’s enquiry

The Home Office remained obstinate until the Stern Review (2010) which validated all the points I had earlier made to them. The two main areas were the erroneous “6% conviction rate” a figure repeatedly cited by the HO in their Press Releases and, secondly, the misleading nature of those same claims on the general public and legislators when the true conviction rate was really in excess of 50%:

  1. ‘It is clear to us that the way the 6% ‘conviction rate’ figure has been able to dominate the public discourse on rape, without explanation, analysis and context, is extremely unhelpful. There is anecdotal evidence that it may well have discouraged some victims from reporting. – Stern Review, 2010 (page 46).
  2.  “We have looked closely at the information about conviction for rape and it is clear to us that the figure for convictions of people of all ages charged with rape (as the term is normally used in relation to crime) is 58 per cent. The confusion arises from mixing up the conviction rate with the process of attrition. ‘Attrition’ is the process by which a number of cases of rape initially reported do not proceed, perhaps because the complainant decides not to take the case further, there is not enough evidence to prosecute, or the case is taken to court and the suspect is acquitted. The attrition rate figure has been the cause of considerable concern, and attempts to reduce it are behind many of the reforms that have been introduced in recent years.” Stern Review (2010).

Found within the Stern Review’s recommendations (on page 41) was the view that such was the level of controversy surrounding false allegations, the strong feelings the subject aroused and the part the controversy plays in the response to rape complainants, that an independent research report should commission. it was intended that such an enquiry would compare the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences, and it is this later point that make rape so unique, i.e. it is more susceptible to false claims that one can not imagine happening in other serious crimes such as homicides, arson, fraud etc.

But the fact of the matter is, and disregarding all the attendant rhetoric for a moment, that both of the HO own studies of the 1980s and 1990s into rape convictions found that around 80% could not be substantiated and so could not be brought to trial. Yes, there has been one or two further studies since, e.g. “A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases” (2005), but even with a known arch feminist author (Liz Kelly) in charge they still had problems in squaring the false allegation numbers. [1]  (See Annex A for fuller list).

Reckless campaigning

The gravest problem with the 6% figures is that it is widely quoted by almost everyone in the field. social workers, solicitors the media etc. However, it is its use as a “campaigning tool” to argue for an improvement in the way rape cases are dealt with, which is most destructive. These campaigning don’t give a thought to how it might be undermining their cause by slashing the confidence of women in turning to the justice system.

I have kept records of published cases of false rape allegations which go back over 10 years. But cases cited in newspapers do not tell the whole story of false rape allegation numbers. For the Ministry of Justice’s report into ‘Anonymity’ (Oct 2010 –  Nov 2011), Iain Bell, their Chief Statistician was provided with a 10 year supply of published false rape allegations case of which they were totally unaware. Therefore, figures released by Keir Stamer’s report of March 2013, though limited to 17 months, were a most welcome step towards more solid data.

Can only 35 be credible ?

However, there are some difficulties when reconciling the CPS numbers of 121 allegedly false allegations of rape and only  35 convictions, with the data available from newspapers. As I understand it, the CPS looked at a period of 17 months and found that in that period 35 people had been charged (and presumably tried ?) for making a false allegation. [2]

My data run from Jan to Dec each year, so annualised your figure would be in the region of 25 people  charged per annum (including a few false DV claims which are immaterial here)

Yet cases of rape (or where ‘rape’ appeared in the text of the report) and limited to those published in newspaper for the year 2011 amount to over 50 (see Table in Annex B below).  Only a very few were not from England & Wales, i.e. 2 in Scotland and 1 in Ulster. Reliance on published cases is not a secure basis but it does, nonetheless, indicate a far greater number at large and ‘off the radar.’

As head of the CPS, Keir Starmer is reported as saying cases of false allegations are “serious but rare”, but 50 plus pa, year after year, is not a trifling amount particularly when it is not the complete picture.

It is regrettable that of late the word ‘rape’ has been over-used by the media and in cases of  both assault and sexual assault often attracts the tem rape (perhaps to ‘sex-up’ the case or article ?). As a result it is now a debased coinage for what should be a serious offence and it is not difficult to predict that the next step will be for it to be trivialized as an offence.

In part this is the fault of attention-seeking politicians and the media. Many commentators must be hoping that the CPS will spearhead a resumption in precision of terminology which will restore the gravity of the offence.

It it unhelpful that weighty nationals such as the Guardian rely on estimated numbers, e.g. 78,000 victims of rape per year (69,000 f + 9,000 m), for their articles, followed by “1,070 convictions per year for the offence” which appears to contradict your figure of 5,000 prosecuted for rape and 35 false rape allegations.

With the rape conviction rate so high – at about 50% or more (something I could never get the Home Office civil servants to accept) – it seems that if 5,000 is the true figure then about 10,000 people should have stood trial – but if the 1,070 convictions claim is true then probably only 2,000 trials have taken place. Why is there this public confusion ?

And whereas approx 14,700 rapes claims were reported to the police,  [3]  the Guardian states; “Over the same three years an average of 15,670 rapes were recorded by the police each year.” [4]

Analysing the police CPS process in the lead-up to a trial an interface has been discovered between police and CPS when deciding whether to prosecute or not. This process is recorded but for some reason not counted by anyone. This would form an obvious and good basis for compiling ‘false allegations’ statistics and conveniently the paperwork trail is already in place (where the CPS and police decide not to proceed the reason has to given and agreed).

There are subtle difference between ‘reported’ and ‘recorded’ crimes (the latter indicating an acceptance that an offence had taken place) and ‘notifiable’ offences – those like rape and homicides that have to be noted down and collected for the HO statistics (see Annex C).

Several years ago a subtle change was made to the treatment of rape offences. No longer were they ‘reported’ crimes but overnight became recorded crimes. Given the extensive use of ‘HO Circulars’ over several years, dictating how all reports of rape are now recorded as a crime’ police forces can expect more intimidation in future.


Annex A

Re: Baroness Stern’s recommendation, in 2011, for more ‘independent’ research into ‘false rape allegations’ given against a background of  pre-existing Home Office research studies (HORS) stretching from 1999 – 2006, which might suggest or be interpreted as recognising them to be somewhat biased by the authors the HO had chosen.

  1. HORS 293  “A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases” by Liz Kelly (2006).
  2. HORS 285  “Sexual Assault Referral Centres: developing good practice and maximising potentials” by Jo Lovett, Linda Regan & Liz Kelly  (2004)
  3. HORS 237  “Rape and sexual assault of women: the extent and nature of the problem. Findings from the British Crime Survey
  4. HORS 215 “Linking serious sexual assaults through behaviour” by Don Grubin (2001)
  5. HORS 196  “A question of evidence? Investigating and prosecuting rape in the 1990s” by Harris  & Grace (1999) Home Office

See also

Annex B

NB. The length of the Table for 2011 has necessitated its presentation in two parts.



Annex C

The subtle difference between ‘reported’ and ‘recorded’ crimes – the latter indicating an acceptance by police that an offence has probably taken place); and ‘notifiable’ offences – those like rape and homicides that have to be noted down and collected for the HO statistics.

Understanding ‘reported’ and ‘recorded’ crimes’

When the goal is a reduction in the attrition rate in rape cases with a  ‘come what may’ as the background working premise, this ambition may collide with and disfigures any aspiration a people might reasonably expect of having a justice system free from bias.

In theory the police can do today what they could 50 years ago, and decide to do one of 5 things when faced with a ‘reported’ crime, i.e. upon a person reporting a crime.

The police can decide whether to:

  1. log it as a reported crime.
  2. log the reported crime as a ‘no-crime’.
  3. log the reported crime as an offence that actually happened – in that case it then becomes a ‘recorded’ crime.
  4. if the police decide to log the reported crime as an actual offence (i.e. as a ‘recorded’ crime), they can also decide to take action it or take ‘no further action’ (NFA).
  5. if the police decide to log the reported crime as an offence and are satisfied that a ‘recorded’ offence has actually been committed they are duty bound to record it, to take action it and pass it over to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).
  6. if the offence falls within the ‘notifiable’ offences category of crimes they are obliged to list it as a real event.

Certain key points stand out, firstly, the status / relationship between reported crimes and a recorded offence, and secondly, the discretion not to treat all crime reported as an actual crime.

This discretion has remained more or less intact for most crimes and has allowed police to enforce laws sensibly and in the public’s interest (a test still retained by the CPS).

However, certain crimes have attracted the attention of political lobby groups and as a result some crimes have now come under the thrall of politics. The most obvious one is sexual offences and in particular rape and paedophilia (the definition of some sexual offences can be found at and interestingly pp 48 – 51 lists in tables the predictive sentences that can expected).

Home Office Circulars sent periodically to Police forces and the CPS have eroded their freedom of action and the discretion aspect mentioned above has been (by 2013) utterly compromised.

All serious “offences against the person” (OAP) were historically put in a slightly different statistical category known as “notifiable offences”. These included murder, manslaughter, rape and a very few others.

While murder and manslaughter can still be recorded as “notifiable offences”, implying no initial certainty as to whether the crime has been committed or not in the mind of officialdom the same is not true of rape.

This state of affairs makes more sense when one realises that homicides and manslaughter can, upon subsequent investigation, be down-graded, e.g. homicide to manslaughter and manslaughter to accidental death or natural causes.

The section once headed “Rape – notifiable offences” was a few years ago re-titled “Rape recorded offences”. The implication is that because a rape claim is now listed as ‘recorded’ and is thus one step closer to being an ‘official fact’, i.e. it definitely took place.

This is the subtle difference and implications that ‘reported’ versus ‘recorded’ offences bestow on alleged crimes.



[1] Home Office Research Study 293  (HORS 293), by Liz Kelly , Jo Lovett , Linda Regan

[2] REF. 35 people were prosecuted for making false allegations of rape and six for domestic abuse in a 17 month period between Jan 2011 and May 2012.

[3]  ‘An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales’ (ONS), Table 3.1 – Police recorded sexual offences by sexual offence group, 2005/06 to 2011/12 = 14,00 female rapes in 2010 -11.

CPS latest ‘false rape’ report laughable

by Robert Whiston FRSA   March 2013

The Director of Public Prosecutions, often referred to as the DPP, has launched a report written by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), called ‘Under the Spotlight’.

In it the CPS suggests that only 35 people were prosecuted for making false allegations of rape and six for domestic abuse in a 15 month period between January 2011 and May 2012.

This ludicrously low figure has attracted the attention – not unnaturally – of FASO, the False Allegation Support Organisation (FASO), a charity which for 12 or more years has run a support service for those falsely accused of rape and domestic abuse.

FASO has accused the Crown Prosecution Service of deliberately failing to tell the whole story about this subject following the publication of their Report last week – and many would have to agree with FASO.

Let’s first look at the arithmetic.

For what seemed like decades Whitehall and the Home Office were insisting that rape conviction rates were only 10% and falling to 6%. What they actually meant – as the Stern Review highlighted – was that the “attrition rate” of claims of rapes and sex offences accounted for over 80% and only 10% or 6% of cases had enough merit to go to trial.

Doesn’t this tell us, if obliquely, that the figure of only 35 cases of false allegation is preposterous, even comical, given that there are allegedly tens of thousand of rape claims alone made every year and over 300,000 claims of domestic violence.

Even if one takes the discredited (because it is factious) rate of 2% false rape allegations then 10,000 rapes claims per annum would result in 200 false rape claims and the 300,000 claims of DV would result in over 6,000 false DV claims.

  • NB. The source for the 2% rate of false rape accusations was feminist Susan Brownmiller in her 1974 book “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape.” Brownmiller simply relayed the unscientific and alleged comments of a New York judge concerning the rate of false rape accusations in a New York City police precinct. They have never been corroborated.

The table below is an abridged version of those women who are brought to trial for making false rape allegations. They are usually charged with “perverting the course of justice”, which carried only a maximum tariff of 2 years.


A total of 10 may not appear to be a significant number but one has to bear in mind that a). such cases are not always reported, b). this list is only for the period Jan to Aug 2012, and c). such cases are often administratively halted at the police station stage – meaning the police prefer not to press charges when a confession or full retraction is made.

In addition, there is a cosy relationship between the local police and the local CPS when deciding whether to proceed with perverting the course of justice. And, although all meeting are recorded and logged, data is unobtainable as to how many cases there are nationally, and how many are quietly ‘ dropped’.

Using the same method of trials reported in local and national newspapers up and down the country (and from Jan 2011 to Dec 2011) there were over 55 reports of prosecutions for making a false rape assault claim to the police. Not all resulted in custodial sentences,  frequently suspended probation or community service was the forfeit exacted

Time and again the extenuating circumstances put forward by the defence is the woman’s or girl’s desire to ‘get even’ with a boyfriend for having jilted her or moved on to a new girlfriend or oddly enough t to make him love, care or pay more attention to her ! !

However, the 6 overriding categories given as excuses to the court for making false rape or sexual allegations are as follows.

  1.  the effect of drugs
  2.  the effect of alcohol / drunk
  3.  suffering from depression
  4.  suffering from mental health problems, medications etc
  5.  a vulnerable personality (i.e. low IQ), and or having experienced a “difficult” / traumatic childhood.
  6.  desire for spite / revenge (see text above)
  7.  seeking financial compensation (circa £7,000 to £22,000) from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)

Monitored over a 10 year period there are very few instances of legal defence teams claiming anything other than the first 6 excuses, with the final one (financial compensation) rarely mentioned overtly but an obvious unspoken reason in other instances where the subtext is not too opaque.

It is this very opaqueness exaggerated by poor levels of journalistic reporting that lends a darkness to the subject and not for the first time, casts a long shadow over the accuracy of a CPS report.


2011 – False Rape Accusers brought to trial – reported in local and national newspapers (UK). (not complete) 
Month Town of alledged offence Victim, name if given Age  if given Age of alleged assail-ant Offence Date of trial Punishment, if known Trial Comments
2011 Jan Bolton,     Gtr Manchester X 17 X Rape June 2011 Detained 12 mths Pervert justice Examined by specia list at St Mary’s Hospital Man’ester
2011 Jan West Lothian X 24 22 Rape   Single mother paid £11 k by CICA Footballer False allegation
2011 Jan Widness Chelsea Hough 19 X Rape Sept 2011 4 month sentence suspd’d, supervi’n order, + wasting police time £780 fine Ordered  onto an alcohol course
2011 Jan Nottingham Aisha Mather 19 X Rape April 2011 Jailed for 2 yrs for pervert justice Ashamed she failed Uni exam
2011 Jan West Lothian A woman 24 22 Sex asault July 2011   Charges dropped
2011 Jan Fen Ditton Christine Jordan 25 27 Rape March 2012 Guilty of pervert’g  justice. Pregnant  by another man Jailed  for 2 yrs Claimed ‘No’ ½ way thru had been bullied at school … vulnerabl in prison.
2011 Jan Weston-super- Mare A woman X 75 Rape. Alleged rape committed 35 yrs ago July 2011 X Man committed suicide
2011 Jan Nottingham Aisha Mather 19 X Rape June 2011 ? Found guilty of pervert justice  
2011 Feb Seaburn Miss X 33 x Sexl asault + knife March 2011 None. Admitted falsehood   Big search by police -hoax.
2011 Feb Deal, Kent Rebecca Howard 20   Rape & Abducted Aug 2011 6 mth supend’d sentence 200 hrs unpaid work + £1,000 fine Plead guilty to wasting police time 
2011 Feb Merthyr Tydfil A woman 22 20s Sex assault In a hotel April 2011 No action taken NFA
2011 Feb Frome X X X Rape Feb 2011 £80 fine wasting police time CCTV showed it was false
2011 Feb Walmer Kent X 20 x Rape  & Kidnap Feb 2011 None Did not happen
2011 Feb Oldham 7 school boys, 20 charges x 25 Sex asault April 2012 Man found not guilty School/t accused  interfere with 7 boys
2011 Feb Newmarket Woman 62 40 Rape,3 charges Aug 2011 Man found not guilty Custody  since Feb – no fixed address
2011 March Taunton Miss X 25 27 Rape April 2011 None NFA -Made it up
March 2011 Newry Natasha Louise Doherty 24 X Rape Sept 2011 Wasting  police &  pervert justice. Request  for anon-mity was rejected by magis-trate
2011 March Teesde Hannah Byron 20 X Rape. Tried to win back b/friend May 2012 Suspend 12 mth jail + 150 hrs work Pervert course of justice
2011 March Reading Emma Chaston 21 X Rape  March 2011 9 mths Pervert   justice Borderline Personl’y  disorder claimed &learning difficultie
2011 March Maidstone Kirsty Sowden, 21 X Rape April 2012 Jailed  14 mths  Advertised for “bondage” Felt guilty as had b/friend Wasted  £14,000 and 376 police hrs
April 2011 Hanley X X 25 Rape Dec 2011 No comment Former soldier found not guilty
2011 April Milton Keynes Kelly-Ann Ferguson 23 X Rape. April 2012 Jailed 9 mths for Pervert Justice Spurned  housewife
2010 May Birmingham School girl 17 34 Rape     Man found not guilty
2011 June Peterborough A woman X 42,  19 Rape June 2011 Police drop inquiry Two men arrested released
June 2011 Cupar Dorothy Russell 20 X Raped Dec 2011 6 mths detention Difficult childhood claim rejected
2011 June Mildenhall A girl 16   Rape Aug 2011 Admitted false hood  
2011 June Maidstone School girl 17 44 Rape July 2011 Arrested  
2011 June Suffolk A girl 15   Rape by Ski mask Hoodie Aug 2011   Charges dropped
2011 July Wick Jane Steven 41 X Rape March 2012 Sentence pending Cost police 5 figure sum
2011 Aug Ipswich A woman 20   Sex’l  asault Aug 2011 False claim  
2011 Aug Ipswich A woman X 30 Rape Aug 2011    
2011 Aug Doncaster Victoria Haigh     Paedo phile claims Aug 2011 Baseless.Mother lost custody for 2 yrs Nothing Mother manipu- lated 6 yr old girl in custody battle
2011 Aug Southampton Jennifer France + Kelly Weston, 24  27 30 RapeThreesome Aug 2011 Each jailed for 20 mths Had b/friend & felt guilty about having sex
Aug 2011 Walsall Jess Cooper 17 40 Rape Dec 2011 Fined £80 1st man jailed for 3 yrs and2nd man beaten up
2011 Sept Carlisle Chloe Fox 20 x Rape. CCTV showed her walking at wrong time May 2012 180 hrs Comm. Service +4 mths jail suspend Wasted 650 police  hrs. fined £85.00
2011 Sept Isle of Wight Girl 15 21 Rape Oct 2011 NFA Music festival
2011 Sept Plymouth A Man   50 Male Rape March 2012 No trial Man commited suicide  
Sept 2011 Huddersfield X 30s 53 Sex asault Dec 2011 No action taken against woman Man commited suicide
2011 Sept Teeside Two women X 30 Sex asault Sunderland footballer   No mention Drunk She  regretted kissing
Oct 2011 Cambridge Miss X x x Sex asault Oct 2011 No action NFA. CCTV showed no offence
2011 Oct Carlisle Takara Harding 18 x Rape. Wanted to worry b/friend May 2012 Pervert justice 100 hrs Comm. Service +16 wk suspend prison sentence
2011 Oct Blackley X X 19 Sex attack alleged in Manchester March 2012 Released.Lab taintsDNA evid  CPS relent. Had never been to Manches ter  
Nov 2011 Leeds A girl 14 X Sex’l asault Nov 2011 Totally ficticious Police  dismiss case
2011 Nov Wisbech Girl 16 52 Grope breast May 2012   Ma found not guilty
2011 Devizes Sharon  Broadley X A Sex offence July 2011 Admitted fabricated 4 charges against him. Man found not guilty as 4 day trial collapses
2011 Tiverton X X 50 Rape May 2011 Case dismissed Juror told of Pltf’s reason
2011 Ardgay, Scotland Heather Bremner 38 X Rape. 1st Rape claim in Feb 2002. then March 2008, then July 2008, Jan 2010 45 mths.  wasting police time Had alcohol problem
2011 Telford X X 19 Rape April 2011   Phone 3G coverage or not