There are problems with the law relating to the investigation and prosecution of allegations of men who are suspected of sexual assault and rape in the UK. Not that things are much better for genuine victims. accused.me.uk believes in justice for genuine victims and a robust response to people who make false allegations.
Genuine victims of rape rarely see justice in the UK
Before looking at what needs to be done to fix the legal problems facing innocent men, it is worth looking at the bad deal facing people who’ve been raped. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2011, it is probable that around 85,000 people (almost all women) are raped each year. But only about 30,000 complaints were made to the police in 2014/15. That means that around 2 in 3 cases of rape that aren’t even reported. Of those that are, about 3,000 men are put on trial each year. About 1,000 are convicted.
What this means is that less than 1 in 20 cases of rape results in a successful prosecution. Many, many rapists are running free and unpunished in the UK. If the NHS missed 95% of cases of breast cancer, there would be a national outcry. No wonder parliament, the police and the CPS are wringing their hands and saying ‘something must be done about rape’.
Women have been rightly encouraged to come forwards with their accounts. They have been told repeatedly in the last 10 years that they will be listened to. They have been told that they will be believed. No longer will the police brush off their accounts.
That sad reality, coupled with high-profile rapists such as Jimmy Savile, have fuelled the rise not only in allegations of rape, but in false allegations of sexual assault and rape.
And this is where justice starts to fail. Because as soon as a complainant is told that they will be believed, the police have pre-judged a case. Where a minority of complainants are liars and are trying to frame an innocent man, this is a serious mistake. We believe that this approach has unbalanced the scales of justice.
Lifelong Anonymity unless convicted
Whilst their accusers are guaranteed lifelong anonymity, the subjects of their allegations may be discussed on social and print media. Regardless of whether they’re found guilty, men’s reputations may be quite legally and forever ruined in the pages of FaceBook, Twitter, Google or Bing – not to mention on TV and print media. When they next apply for a job, make a business contact, or form a relationship, the smear of a false allegation will follow.
accused.me.uk believes that unless convicted or directed by a judge, people accused of rape or a sexual offence should have lifelong anonymity from publication.
To encourage other people to come forward with their stories, it must of course be possible to identify men that pose an ongoing risk or who might be multiple offenders. If, therefore the police can establish this, then it seems entirely reasonable that those suspects should be named in advance of charge in order that other victims might come forward. We argue that a judge should make this decision however, and not the police.
We therefore believe that the criminal offence of publishing material likely lead members of the public to identify the complainant in a rape case, contrary to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 should be extended to the subjects of allegations as well as the complainants.
For the innocent, a ‘not guilty’ verdict just doesn’t do justice
accused.me.uk believes that English & Welsh juries should be given the option to deliver a range of verdicts in trials of rape and sexual assault. ‘Not guilty’ does no justice to the huge range of possibilities they will consider and gives no closure to an innocent man who has been falsely accused. This verdict covers both men where the police couldn’t get enough evidence of their guilt and men who have been framed. As well as the Scottish verdict of ‘not proven’, jurors should have the ability to return a verdict of ‘innocent’ by majority. If juries were brave enough to return these verdicts, many of us who have been falsely accused would feel a greater sense of justice than is the case today.
Whilst not wanting to make it more difficult for genuine victims of rape to come forwards, we believe that the system is now sufficiently unbalanced that a verdict of ‘innocent’ would give a clear signal to those who wish to pervert the course of justice that it might reduce the numbers coming forwards.
The words need to change
accused.me.uk believes that we must change the words used by police and CPS in the case of allegations of sexual assault and rape. Before an investigation has been completed let alone a verdict delivered the police and CPS currently call people making allegations ‘victims’. The evidence would suggest that whilst most probably are, some are absolutely not. Take the CPS policy for prosecuting cases of Rape, for example. The word ‘victim’ is used 100 times in this policy, and yet the policy applies to cases before conviction.
When the law must take a balanced and impartial approach to investigation, how is it reasonable to label a complainant as a victim until there has been a conviction? It is this terminology that loads the dice against innocent men before the case has even been put to a jury, let alone before a verdict has been issued. We say that we should move from ‘victims’ to ‘complainants’. The word ‘victim’ puts a large part of the criminal justice system in denial about false accusations and prejudges the outcome of a fair trial.
Prosecutions for Perversion of the Course of Justice are far too rare
accused.me.uk believes that the police and CPS do not treat allegations of PCJ seriously enough. That’s not to say that they don’t say the right words. In Alison Levitt’s 2012 report commissioned by the DPP on False Allegations for example, she reflects the CPS’ attitudes towards FRA in their 2011 charging guideline thus “[the guideline] also reminds prosecutors that perverting the course of justice is always a serious offence; it is important to prosecute those who make false allegations of serious crime and to deter others who might be minded to do so.”
Unfortunately, the CPS’s and MoJ’s own statistics (see figure at bottom of research section) show that a very different approach is used when the CPS prosecutes rape as opposed to when they prosecute false allegations of rape. Using a best estimate from this data, a true allegation of rape is probably at least 10 times more likely to secure a successful conviction from the CPS than an attempt to pervert the course of justice. We want to see the police and CPS held to account for this gross failure of the justice system to treat genuine victims of rape and victims of false allegations of rape within anything like equality.
The police usually treat innocent men badly. They should do much better.
There are no reliable statistics about this, but the experience of many many men who have contacted us is that we have been appallingly treated by the service that should have been protecting us from the crimes to which we have been subject.
As far as we are aware, there are no standards as to how the police should communicate with people who have been falsely accused. But from the time we are arrested, we are made to feel as if the police usually believe that we are guilty. Indeed, that is their role in law: to assist prosecutors in proving our guilt. They are there to prepare evidence for our prosecution, not our defence.
When arrested, we are also subject to various bail conditions when we are innocent. Yet the guilty party is still free to harass us further and post whatever they like about us on social media.
As a matter of routine, the police give us no progress updates about the investigation, or whether we are going to be charged. For months, we are left us knowing that a sword is hanging over our heads. With our lives on hold, we have no idea when this will end, called back from time to time to answer bail for something we never did. We have no idea who the police are ‘investigating’ and which ‘witnesses’ to a non-existent event we should stay away from. It is truly a Kafa-esque experience. No wonder many of us become depressed and anxious. Some of us lose their jobs, others their families or contact with their children. Most of us though can look back on this experience and know how to count our friends. It can be a time for your family and community to come together around someone who they believe to be innocent.
When the police eventually decide not to charge us, there is no information passed back. We are just told that the investigation has ended. It might just be a one-line email to our legal advisors. If we follow this up with a complaint that the complainant has attempted to pervert the course of justice, they are almost never investigated. See our research section for more information on this.
Above all, the police need to be trained to be aware that there is a discernable number of false allegations, and that they should communicate properly and decently with the legal teams of men who have been accused. When our case ends, we need to be told whether our case has been ‘no crimed’ or what has happened during the investigation. We need to receive a letter, ideally from a senior officer, explaining the justification for the intrusion into our lives. It is the only decent thing to do to give us closure over what for many of us, will be the worse experience of our lives.
Uncorroborated allegations are different. Some are lies.
Most rapes and sexual assaults are hidden crimes. They occur in a closed room between the rapist and his victim, who is perhaps a family member or a child. Some people will only come forwards many years later. It’s important that they can tell their stories and that their stories should be heard. And that is why it is important that some convictions can be secured from uncorroborated allegations alone.
However where there is no physical or material evidence, and where there is a single victim, a conviction relies on the honesty of a victim’s testimony. Uncorroborated allegations may be made for many other reasons than the truth: revenge, a hated stepfather, a dispute between neighbours. The Crown needs to understand that convictions for uncorroborated evidence – someone’s word alone – make the possibility of a miscarriage of justice more likely Sentencing needs to reflect the uncorroborated nature of the evidence. accused.me.uk believes that there should be a lesser range of sentences for these convictions.