An activist group in the United Kingdom, Women Against Rape (WAR), is alleging that police in the UK have jailed 109 women in the past five years for making false rape allegations, while at the same time prosecutions against accused rapists have fallen dramatically. WAR says that many of the women convicted of making false claims were actually victims of rape, but were pressured by the police into retracting their complaints and then criminally charged for lying to the police. Of the 109 women jailed, 98 have been charged with "perverting the course of justice," an offense that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The Guardian reports that WAR plans to lead a protest at the House of Commons tomorrow. One of the women who plans to speak is the mother of 23-year-old Layla Ibrahim, who told police in 2009 that she'd been raped by two strange men who knocked her to the ground. Ibrahim was seven months pregnant at the time.
The Ibrahim family says the police quickly decided that Layla had inflicted her injuries on herself. She was put on trial, at which the four men questioned in her attack testified (two of whom were under 16.) The men said at trial that the allegations had been devastating for them, with one describing the investigation as "torture" and another complaining, "We were treated like shit and not a stint [sic] of an apology." Ibrahim was convicted of perverting the course of justice and sentenced to three years; she served thirteen months in prison before she was allowed to complete the rest of her sentence on house arrest. (Her lawyer is appealing her case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.)
Ibrahim isn't the only contentious case: in April of this year, a woman named Eleanor de Freitas, also 23, committed suicide just days before she was due to go on trial for perverting the course of justice. De Freitas told police in January of 2013 that she'd been drugged and raped by an acquaintance. He was arrested and jailed for several days. But as the investigation proceeded, according to the Guardian, police eventually told de Freitas "there was not a realistic chance of a successful conviction, partly due to the fact she had reported the alleged rape some time after the event and as such no forensic evidence had been collected to support her claims."
The case was closed, but months later the man de Freitas accused of rape sued her for making a false allegation. Soon after, the Crown Prosecution Service, which directs criminal prosecutions in England and Wales, brought a case against her. According to the Guardian, De Freitas, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, left a suicide note in which "she described her overwhelming fear of giving evidence as a motive for taking her life."
The Crown Prosecution Service released a report in 2013 about how often they charge people with perverting the course of justice for allegedly making false rape allegations, as well as how often people are charged with "wasting police time," a far less serious offense. The report says that false rape allegations are rare, but that their impact can be "devastating" on the person accused. In 2011 and 2012, the report says, CPS carried out 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence, and, during the same period, "there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, 6 for making false allegation of domestic violence and 3 for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence."
But in roughly the same time period, according to a recent investigation by the Independent, prosecutions against people accused of rape in the UK have reached record lows. From their story:
Just 28 per cent of rape cases reported to the police were sent on to the Crown Prosecution Service in the year to March 2014. The rate is a dramatic fall from 2009, when more than half of all cases were referred to the CPS.
The chances of getting a rape case prosecuted are now at the lowest rate since 2007, when the CPS started recording figures on violence against women and girls.
WAR calls these prosecutions against rape victims "a terrifying misuse of the law." And Sandra Allen, Layla Ibrahim's mother, tells the Guardian that the prosecution against her daughter did incalculable damage: "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," she told the paper. "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."
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