Sabine's claim that she was raped - credit public domain

It is a usual insistence that false claims of rape are exceedingly rare. So much so that we should just never even consider whether a claim is true or not, likely to be so – we should instead believe the complainant absolutely. This probably isn’t the way to end up with a just and liberal world.

As two little stories from just today’s papers show:

A father-of-two was locked up for eight months awaiting trial for rape because police didn’t disclose text messages that proved his innocence.

Robert Adlington said his life was destroyed by the false allegations and he lost his landscaping business, house, and reputation while behind bars.

He described the ordeal as ‘torturous’ as he was locked up with convicted murderers and other violent criminals and almost committed suicide.

That the exculpatory evidence wasn’t used nor revealed is of course a scandal. One which we would hope – but know it won’t – would lead to those responsible being tossed out upon their ear, sans redundo, sans pension, possibly sans teeth. Quite why someone had to spend 8 months on remand is also difficult to understand. That’s making the process rather the punishment, isn’t it? Was there some flight risk or something?

Police and prosecutors charged him with a series of crimes, he believes to keep him locked up while they built their case.

Mr Adlington was first arrested last May and charged with arson with intent to endanger life over a car set on fire near his home.

His accuser’s lover told police he was sleeping in the car and awoke to find it on fire, in what Mr Adlington believes was a conspiracy to frame him.

Instead of being granted bail as expected, a Derby magistrate remanded him in custody after prosecutors argued he was a ‘serious danger’.

He was sent to Nottingham prison while the Crown Prosecution Service shuffled around the charges against him.

First they dropped the arson charges but accused him of making threats to kill, before later adding the arson charges back on.

Then in August the threats to kill charges were dropped and a charge of harassment added, until October when three counts of rape were introduced.

Well, that all explains the bail refusal but the rape charges? Again, text messages on a phone show that it all was entirely consensual – well, the sex stuff, not the other allegations.

Then we have the second story:

A woman who walked free from court despite falsely accusing three men of rape will now be jailed for four years after senior judges agreed her initial sentence was ‘too lenient’.

Anna Costin, 30, was handed three years of community service at Shrewsbury Crown Court in March by Judge Peter Barrie after admitting seven counts of perverting the course of justice.

Costin, who has mental health problems, accused three men of rape and a fourth of physically assaulting her in her own home.

Quite what “mental health problems” means in this modern age we’ll never be sure. It covers everything from full blown nuttery through to mildly fantasist these days, doesn’t it? And anyone with full blown nuttery is not, by definition, in control of their actions and so not guilty of an offence. Milder places on the spectrum make this gradually less so.

But this all does rather mean that no, we shouldn’t be just believing any and every claim about rape or sexual violence, should we? For we do in fact have a known incidence of false claims. Quite how many?

Persistent claims that only six per cent of rapes end in conviction was seen as a useful “campaigning tool ” by some but was “extremely unhelpful”, warned Baroness Stern, the cross-bench peer who carried out a six month review in to tackling rape.

And:

The evidence on false allegations fails to support public anxiety that untrue reporting is common. While the statistics on false allegations vary – and refer most often to rape and sexual assault – they are invariably and consistently low. Research for the Home Office suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false. Studies carried out in Europe and in the US indicate rates of between 2% and 6%.

The rate of untrue reporting at the beginning of the process is about the same as the conviction rate at the end of it. That’s not really what we would call rare, is it? All of which is that problem for the idea that we should always believe claims really. Perhaps the correct point is that we should always take claims seriously, but not always believe them?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Our current ideology — that women are sacred ground, certain interactions are taboo, and transgressors are to be shunned for life, without analysis of actual harm done — rewards and invites false claims, even if they used to be rare. #MeToo.

    On a tangent, Massachusetts seems set to pass a law to provide for confiscation of weapons and lifetime revocation of one’s permit to carry, on an accusation of much less than rape, by virtually any member or ex-member of a family or household, unless you hire a lawyer and prepare to spend the next year in court. That will goose the number of false claims as well.

  2. The claims about “convictions” in rape trials are simply wrong.

    Many rape trials are not about “who did it” – as with most other crimes – but about “was a crime committed” ?

    Thus the large number of trials that end without a conviction show that juries are unconvinced a crime has been committed, not that the CPS have charged the wrong person. That is not a “conviction rate” as such, and certainly not in the sense used in say murder trials.