The United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recently released a report highlighting the complexity—and scarcity—of false rape allegations. The report was issued in response to a 2010 court appeal in which a woman pleaded guilty to falsely retracting true allegations of rape that she had made against her husband, and was then sentenced to eight months imprisonment for “perverting the course of justice.”
CPS considered whether the woman should be prosecuted for false allegations or protected as a victim of rape. The case inspired a closer look at circumstances surrounding alleged false claims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, and ultimately proved that false allegations are not as common or straightforward as sometimes thought. Most importantly, this report confirms what feminists have known for years: Victim-blaming is totally uncalled for.
Women are frequently accused of fabricating sexual assault to gain sympathy. According to CPS, such accusations hold almost no weight. Throughout a 17-month period in England and Wales, CPS found only a small number of false allegations: 35 out of 5,651 prosecutions for rape, 6 out of 111,891 for domestic violence and 3 for both rape and domestic violence.
Furthermore, these few false allegations were often complicated by other factors, such as victims having mental health difficulties or someone other than the victim making the false allegation. Perhaps more concerning was some cases of false claims revealed abusive situations where victims were “put under pressure to admit to having made a false allegation.” CPS shows us that false allegations are likely red flags for mistreatment, and the victim probably isn’t lying about abuse.
Yet victim-blaming is rampant. A case of youth rape in Canada from last year recently resurfaced in the news: Rehtaeh Parsons, 15, was gang raped by four of her fellow students, who spread photo evidence of the rape around their community; later, a distraught Parsons committed suicide. As with Jane Doe from the Steubenville rape case, peers had quickly labeled Parsons a “slut,” and a protest even broke out in support of her rapists. More cases of rape and assault are likely to come into the media’s focus, and it isn’t a stretch to assume that they, too, will be rife with victim-blaming.
When people exaggerate the likelihood of false rape allegations, they value the attacker over the attacked. When people dismiss cases that call for compassion and protection, they promote apathy towards and resentment of rape survivors. These tendencies only ostracize survivors and discourage them from speaking up—and, according to CPS, disbelieving survivors is not only harmful but statistically unfounded.