At least 109 women have been prosecuted in the last five years for making false rape allegations in the UK, according to campaigners who are calling for an end to what they claim is the aggressive pursuit of such cases.
On Tuesday, the charity Women Against Rape (War) is taking its campaign to the House of Commons, where some of those who have been jailed for lying about rape allegations will speak out against their treatment by the authorities.
The vast majority of the convictions in the last five years, 98 out of 109, involved prosecutions for perverting the course of justice – which carries a maximum life jail term – rather than the lesser offence of wasting police time, which has a maximum tariff of six months in prison or a fine.
A US law professor, who will be speaking at the Commons, said the UK’s stance on false allegations is more aggressive than in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia. Prof Lisa Avalos, of the University of Arkansas, said false allegations in the US were dealt with as a misdemeanour offence, not a felony – and most women were not jailed if found guilty.
“In the course of my research I have not found any country that pursues these cases against women rape complainants in the way the UK does. The UK has an unusual approach and I think their approach violates human rights,” she said.
In 2012/13 there were 3,692 prosecutions for rape in England and Wales, resulting in 2,333 convictions.
War says it is supporting several women who say they were forced into retracting their rape complaint by police and then told they would be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.
But Prof Claire Ferguson, a forensic criminologist from the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia, said it was not the norm to prosecute women for false allegations and that only those in the most egregious cases were charged, often where the accused man had spent time in custody.
“There have been cases in Australia where people have been accused, then nothing ever happens to the accuser, even though the police believe the report is indeed false.
“This can be hugely problematic and has led to many personal and professional issues for the accused [including suicide], even when the police have proven that they did nothing wrong and are not a sex offender,” she said.
Sandra Allen’s daughter Layla Ibrahim was seven months pregnant when she was jailed for three years for perverting the course of justice, after reporting a sexual assault by two strangers. “My daughter still maintains she was attacked,” said Allen, who will be addressing the public meeting. “We found out that within days of her reporting the attack the police started investigating my daughter.
“The police trot out these words that victims will be believed but I don’t think they ever bothered investigating what Layla was saying from the beginning. I will fight for her innocence to my dying day. What happened to her was beyond horrific, she suffered that night, she suffered in prison and she is still suffering.”
Ibrahim’s lawyer, Nigel Richardson, is preparing to submit her case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which pursues miscarriages of justice.
He said: “These cases seem to be pursued with a particular vehemence by the police and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service]. It’s as though lying to the police, as they would see it, demands a really heavy reaction. There comes a moment when the woman goes from being a victim in the eyes of the police to a suspect. She may not even know that has happened.”
Recent figures from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the police watchdog, revealed that more than a quarter of rape and sexual offences were not being recorded as crimes by forces and rape is a hugely under-reported offence.
Campaigners say that context has to be taken into account when police and prosecutors decide to pursue women for apparently lying about sexual attacks.
The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, is scheduled to publish a statement on the case of Eleanor de Freitas, a rape complainant who killed herself on the eve of a prosecution for perverting the course of justice.
Lisa Longstaff, from War, said: “It’s appalling that when over 90% of rapists are getting away with it and two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners, women who report violence are being imprisoned.
“From Rotherham to Westminster, police dismiss victims and press them to retract their allegations.
“We have repeatedly raised with the former and present DPP that biased and negligent rape investigations result in miscarriages of justice.”
The CPS said it did not collate figures on how many individuals have been prosecuted for allegedly making false rape allegations. A CPS review over 17 months from January 2011 to May 2012 revealed there had been 44 individuals prosecuted for perverting the course of justice or wasting police time, out of 159 charging decisions.
A spokeswoman said: “Cases of perverting the course of justice that involve allegedly false rape allegations are serious but rare. They are usually highly complex and sensitive often involving vulnerable parties, so any decision to charge is extremely carefully considered and not taken lightly.