Men are 230 times more likely to be raped than wrongly called a rapist

Whatever the truth in the horrific case of the Ayia Napa gang rape trial, the frequency of false accusations of sexual assault has been inflated by our own prejudices

Kuba Shand-Baptiste
Wednesday 02 October 2019 17:28
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British woman held over ‘false’ Cyprus rape claim must wait for court hearing

The crimes of rape and sexual assault are complex things, so it’s curious how readily some of us are willing to abandon that idea when it comes to certain cases, often over little more than our preconceived views of the parties involved.

When Boris Johnson was this week accused of groping the thigh of the journalist Charlotte Edwardes, for example, the internet was momentarily ablaze with attempts from Johnson’s allies to explain the incident away. It was not the alarming, career-ending allegation it perhaps should have been.

Even with Edwardes’ social standing – a factor that unfortunately carries too much weight in cases such as these – what should have been a public discussion about a potential glimpse at the prime minister’s penchant for abusing power (a matter that has been raised in other contexts time and again) fell rather short of that mark. Instead, the incident was treated like a case of playground whispers, with more questions raised about the timing of Edwardes’ column than how to sensitively and appropriately handle the allegation.

It must’ve been a misunderstanding, some opined. If it had been me, I would’ve counted myself lucky, others argued, ignoring the fact that the alleged victim said she had not given her consent for such an encounter; ignoring the historical mishandling of cases such as these; and, crucially, ignoring the fact that the frequency of false accusations of rape and sexual assault has been inflated by our own prejudices. In actual fact, false rape accusations are far less common than cases of sexual assault and of rape.

Which brings me to the ongoing, horrific case in Cyprus, in which a 19-year-old British woman who accused a group of 12 Israeli men of gang rape was jailed and is now standing trial for making a false allegation of the serious sexual assault.

Even before the woman in question withdrew her complaint and wrote a confession in which she reportedly admitted that she falsified her original accusation (something she now alleges she was coerced into doing), people seemed to instinctively rally around the accused.

Without being privy to any of the facts, the incident quickly sparked a debate about the virtues of certain “types” of men over certain types of women. A number of prominent Israeli commentators wrote columns giving credence to the alleged perpetrators’ police statements; others suggested that the sheer volume of men involved was itself enough to prove that the British teenager was lying.

That point of view has now become so widespread that the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, and other activists, are still having to speak out to counteract it.

Now, as the young woman appears in court, instead of approaching the situation with the sobriety and the sensitivity it warrants, the incident is still being covered irresponsibly . Headlines such as “Ayia Napa ‘rape lie’ Brit, 19, suffering with PTSD” abound.

Meanwhile the teenager’s lawyers’ maintain that “there have been clear failings in regards to the investigation”, including the fact that the accused have allegedly since shared “revenge porn” of the incident – an issue that, depending on which side of the fence you’re on, either strengthens or weakens the alleged victim’s case.

While the truth of the matter cannot be known at this stage to anyone outside the criminal justice service, there are statistics available that should deter us from making unfounded assumptions about those involved. Men are statistically more likely to be victims of rape than they are to be falsely accused of it. In fact, statistics show that men are “230 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape”. And research for the Home Office shows that “only 4 per cent of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false”.

While those facts alone do not prove anything when it comes to those 12 men (or, indeed, the behaviour of the prime minister), they do show that jumping to conclusions based solely on the fear of the potential damage the accusations will have on the lives of those involved is unwise. More than that, it tells victims that they should consider the wellbeing of their attackers over their own.

When we take positions on such sensitive issues based tribal loyalties, we fail more than just the people involved in one case, which in itself is bad enough. We’re failing people everywhere who have been told, and are still told, by society that whatever they say was done to them, it won’t take priority over the reputations of those we respect and whom they have accused.

Which, sadly, almost always seems to be men.

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