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[personal profile] tigerfort

This short, quiet, and pretty much unnoticed report on the "Newsbeat" chunk of the BBC's sprawling website is the first time I've ever seen anyone actually give figures for the number of false accusations of rape[1]. The article itself, by the way, is actually pretty decent: it starts off by saying that being falsely accused of rape is devastating, but then goes on to say that so is rape, and that "the number of men wrongly accused is small compared to the number of women who are actually being raped".[2]

But precisely how small? Well, according to the article, in the 17 month period the statistics released cover, there were 159 claims of false accusation, leading to 35 prosecutions and two convictions. Sex offence figures are broken down by year, so lets multiply all those numbers by (12/17) to get around 112 claims, 15 prosecutions, and around 1.4 convictions for false accusations of rape per annum.

The government's equally sprawling website includes a statistical overview of sexual offending in England and Wales. This says that in 2011/12 (ie twelve of the 17 months covered by the numbers mentioned above) "a total of 53,700 sexual offences" were reported across England and Wales. Of these, 16,000 were reports of rape (the second largest category after "sexual assault", at 22,000 reports). Those sixteen thousand reported rapes led to 2900 prosecutions; the average defendant being accused of 2.1 rapes, that means there were prosecutions for 6090 of the 16,000 rapes. That's a prosecution rate of 0.38 (compared with 0.22 for the false accusation claims), which seems low but actually compares tolerably well with most other categories of crime. 49% of those prosecuted (ie around 1420 of the 2900 people) were ultimately convicted of rape. The figures don't say what the average number of crimes a defendant was convicted of were. (It wouldn't surprise me to find that it was higher than 2.1; I can easily imagine that it's easier to persuade a jury to convict on the basis of several identifications than on a single case.)

Lets compare the numbers, shall we? There were 16,000 reports of rape, and 112 claims of false accusation of rape, or around 0.7% of rape reports led to a claim of false accusation. While it's well established that rape is severely under-reported, I see no reason to believe that false accusations are[3]. Reporting rape is extremely problematic and there are many legitimate reasons for being reluctant - even afraid - to do so, whereas someone who has been falsely accused of it has no reason not to speak up about their innocence, and every reason to assert it loudly. So that gives us an absolute maximum of 0.7% of rape reports being false accusations, while the real number is more likely to be 0.2% (the 35 prosecutions for false accusation as a proportion of the 16,000 reported rapes), and may well actually be lower than that.

So next time some idiot MRA asserts that false accusations are "a major problem", you not only know they're bullshitting, you have the figures to back it up. As a related issue, since around 10% of rape victims (thus 1600 in this period) are men, a man would appear to be somewhere between 20 and 50 times as likely to be the victim of rape as the victim of a false accusation of rape. If they were really concerned about protecting men, they'd want stronger laws protecting rape victims, not weaker ones.

[1] and indeed asserts that it's the first time they've been compiled, at least for England and Wales.
[2] It would be nice to see some of the numbers they provide put into better context, though: "18% of those making claims had a mental health problem", it says, but how does that compare with the proportion of the overall population, not to mention with the victims of the false accusations and victims of actual rape? And what definition of "mental health problem" are they using anyway? (People with serious mental health problems are overwhelmingly more likely to be the victims of crime than the criminals, but there's a tendency to assume that someone who does something nasty "must have something wrong with them".)
[3] although separate conversation with [personal profile] minion_of_tevildo did raise the point that there's no adequate discussion of what constitutes a claim of false accusation. I'd been assuming that if person A said "I was raped by B" and B could prove that this was not the case[4], then that constituted a false accusation. However, there may be some legal complexity that I'm unaware of, which might mean that it only counts as a false accusation if recorded in some specific way, or if person B explicitly says they want to press charges. So it is possible that false accusations are under-reported. But even in the wildly implausible case where false accusations are under-reported by a factor of ten, a man is still much more likely to be the victim of rape than to be falsely accused of it.
[4] not "assert they didn't do it", or "show there was some ambiguity", or "plea-bargain for a lesser conviction", but actually prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were elsewhere and the events described could not have happened

[Edited on 18 March 2013 to add footnotes 2, 3, and 4; no other changes made]
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