||When is it appropriate to prosecute someone for filing a false report of sexual assault?
This issue is articulated in a study conducted by the English Crown Prosecution Service in 2013, to examine cases involving “allegedly false allegations of rape or domestic violence, or both” (p. 2). In that study, a total of 121 rape cases were examined where prosecution was considered for filing a false report.1 Yet analysis revealed that many of those cases did not appear to be false reports – or even if they were false, they were not made with deliberate intent.
- For example, just over half (51%) of the cases involved young people, many of whom “showed a clear failure to think about (or even awareness of) the seriousness of making an allegation of rape” (p 26).
- Almost one in five (19%) of these individuals had “mental health difficulties.” In some of these cases, it was clear that the person “did not understand the legal definition of consent” (p. 31).
- Almost half (46%) of the cases were initially reported by a third party (more than half of which also involved a victim who was under 18 years old). In many of these cases, the person “later reported that the whole thing had spiraled out of control and he or she had felt unable to stop the investigation” (p. 14).
- Alcohol and drug use was particularly common in these cases, including those where the person “might have been raped, but could not recall because s/he had drunk alcohol or taken drugs” (p. 32).
In fact, many of the cases included in the Crown Prosecution Service study involved no clear allegation of rape at all. This was particularly true when the person was young, where drugs or alcohol were involved, and/or when the report was made by a third party.
- For example, in some cases, the person “had undoubtedly been the victim of some kind of offence, even if not the one which he or she had reported (p. 4).
- In other cases, analysis revealed that there was no evidence to support the charge of a false allegation: “On close examination … there was nothing to show that what she was saying was untrue” (p. 31).
In such cases, it doesn’t make any sense to prosecute a person for filing a false report. As described by the researchers, some of these victims called police to report that they might have been raped, but they could not recall any details because of their drug or alcohol use.
When someone is not sure whether she/he was raped, the burden is on law enforcement to investigate and determine whether there is evidence to corroborate a sexual assault. The determination can only be made on the basis of the investigative findings – not the victim’s initial statement. At that point, the report should typically be documented as an informational report and only scored as a crime report if and when the evidence establishes that the elements of a sexual assault offense have been met.
For more information on this topic, please see the OLTI module: False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issues to Successfully Investigate Sexual Assault.
1. These 121 cases constituted all of the rape cases considered for prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service during a 17-month period. Of these, 35 were ultimately charged with the felony crime of “perverting the course of justice,” whereas 10 were charged with the misdemeanor offense of “wasting police time.” The report begins by contrasting these numbers with the 5,651 prosecutions for rape in the same time frame.