A charity is taking its campaign to the House of Commons today to end what they call a "terrifying misuse of the law" that has seen 109 women prosecuted for false rape allegations in the past five years.
Women Against Rape (WAR) believe these cases are pursued more aggressively in the UK than other countries, while rape and sexual offences are still under-reported.
98 of the 109 were prosecutions for perverting the course of justice, which can be punished by a maximum sentence of life in prison rather than the maximum six months or a fine for wasting police time, while "over 90% of rapists are getting away with it," according to WAR's Lisa Longstaff - who also says some who report rape are pressured into retracting their allegations before being investigated.
“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," Lisa told the Guardian.
“From Rotherham to Westminster, police dismiss victims and press them to retract their allegations. We have repeatedly raised with the former and present DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] that biased and negligent rape investigations result in miscarriages of justice.”
Speaking out for the charity will be women who have been jailed for false accusations of rape, and other supporters, such as US law professor Lisa Avalos, who went as far as to say the UK's handling of such cases "violates human rights." In the US, false accusations are a misdemeanour offence for which women are usually not jailed.
“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."
Pregnant Layla Ibrahim was jailed for three years for perverting the course of justice after reporting a sexual assault. Her lawyer Nigel Richardson will also be speaking at the event, and is preparing to submit her case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which pursues miscarriages of justice.
He told the Guardian: “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.”
Figures released last month revealed more than a quarter of rape and sexual offences in the UK were not being recorded as crimes. There were 3,692 prosecutions for rape in England and Wales in 2012/13, resulting in 2,333 convictions. The DPP has been investigating the case of Eleanor de Freitas, a rape complainant who killed herself while facing a trial for perverting the course of justice.
The CPS says prosecutions are not "taken lightly." A spokesperson 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.
“Such cases can only be brought where the prosecution can prove that the original rape allegation was false and the relatively few cases that are brought should not dissuade any potential victim from coming forward to report an assault.”
Images: Women Against Rape