False Allegations of Sexual Assault

In fact I have misrepresented who wrote the review here – the review was actually a report FOR the Direct of Public Prosecutions and the credit for conducting the review and writing the report should go to Alison Levitt QC and the Equalities and Diversity Unit of the CPS

In March 2013 the Director of Public Prosecutions published the findings from a review he conducted into false allegations of sexual assault in England and Wales which highlights the relative rarity of false allegations. In order to provide context for the figures they are considered here in relation to the number of reported sexual assaults for the same year.  However, it is important to point out that the review covered a 17 month period whilst the figures for the number of sexual assaults and police reports are for just a 12 month period.  Thus it is likely that the proportion of successful prosecutions of sexual assault and prosecutions of false allegations are both overestimated in my calculations that follow.  According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year 2011/12 there were an estimated 536,000 victims of sexual assault, of which 13% had indicated reporting to the police. That is, approximately 69,680 victims reported a sexual assault to the police.  For the period of review there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and sexual assault.  This equates to 8.1% of all reported sexual assaults leading to a successful prosecution.  During this same 17 month period there were 121 complainants of sexual assault who were suspected of making a false allegation which finally lead to 35 prosecutions. This equates to 0.17% of sexual assault complainants being suspected of making a false allegation and the rate of prosecuted false allegations being 0.0005% of all reported cases of sexual assault.

The finding that shocks me most and which is not highlighted in the review is that 29% of suspected false complainants are prosecuted. Thus it appears that complainants of rape who are suspected of making a false allegation have a far greater chance of being prosecuted than are suspects who have alleged committed a sexual assault.  Indeed, complainants suspected of making a false allegation are almost four times more likely to be prosecuted than are people accused of committing sexual assault. A trend which if publicly known might serve to dissuade genuine victims from reporting their victimisation.  However on a positive note, it might help quash the fears of all those men who are concerned about the ‘tendency’ of women to make false allegations against them.

It might be tempting to think that there may well be many more false allegations made than were brought forward for prosecution due to chivalry or compassion by the police and CPS towards those made by vulnerable people.  However, the Director of Public Prosecutions’ review clearly demonstrated that the actual cases brought forward often included these very people.  Eighteen percent of suspects were people with a diagnosed mental health problem or profound learning disabilities, and 21% were under the age of 18 years.  Furthermore 35% of the suspected false complaints were actually reported by third parties rather than the alleged victim his/herself.   Thus, suggesting that the number of truly vengeful and malicious false reports is incredibly rare.

Importantly, in relation to sexual revictimisation, the Director of Prosecutions noted that a number of complainants became suspects once it was found that they had previously made reports of sexual victimisation.  He suggests that suspicion was raised due to the lack of awareness among investigators and prosecutors of the existence and prevalence of revictimisation.  Unfortunately, they had erroneously used the lack of prosecution in response to the previous allegation as evidence of a false allegation on this occasion, despite this having no probative value.