Sally HendersonSally Henderson was jailed for 12 months last November for perverting the course of justice after she was convicted of making a false allegation of rape. She said that her husband had repeatedly raped her and treated her as a sex object. He said that he had not. The only real evidence against her seems to be that she had made similar allegations against a former partner – and this is only evidence if women never get caught up in more than one abusive relationship. We know that women who escape from one abusive relationship often find themselves trapped in another one next time around. Henderson was convicted of perverting the course of justice, even though her ex was apparently released as soon as the previous allegations came to light, which did not take more than a couple of days. She continued to deny that she made up any allegations and insists that she has been truthful throughout.

The media gave her the same treatment that it gave Katie Davis. They like stories in which they can vilify rape complainants as wicked liars.

So – some more about lying complainants. One study that seems to be quite popular in the “rape complainants are mostly liars” camp is the one carried out by Eugene J Kanin for Purdue University. (Link.)

In it, Kanin investigated “forcible rape” complaints in a US midwestern town with a population of 70,000. He found that there were 45 rape cases over a 9 year period – 1978 to 1987 – where the complainant recanted and stated that her complaint had been false.

Kanin states that there were 109 “total disposed rape cases” in the same period. “Disposed rape cases” clearly includes cases which are disposed of by a finding of false accusation, since he states that the 45 cases comprise 41% of the total disposed rape cases.

I would be most interested to know more about the other “disposed rape cases”. Surely, if you are using “disposed rape cases” as the total by reference to which your 45 false-allegation cases are to be measured, it is essential to say what you mean by “disposed rape cases”? Otherwise how can your 41% statistic have any meaning at all?

Based on my understanding of a disposed case as one that has been finally dealt with, I believe “disposed rape cases” must be those which have led to a definite outcome: acquittal, conviction or pre-trial recantation which is to be taken as strong evidence that the allegation was false. Thus, cases which are not proceeded with cannot be included as “disposed rape cases”. Cases where the complainant withdraws her complaint, or the police refuse to investigate properly, or the prosecuting authorties refuse to prosecute or elect to discontinue prosecution – none of these can be categorised as “disposed” cases.

Kanin does not say how many rape allegations there were in total. He only says that there were 109 cases that were disposed rape cases. Since he has failed to explain this crucial part of this calculation, I have had to conjecture that therefore 45 cases did not go to trial because the allegation was proved false to the satisfaction of the police, while a further 64 cases did proceed to trial and resulted in either a conviction or an acquittal – not counting technical acquittals as a result of the prosecution being discontinued.

From this, based on the Home Office study Gap or Chasm?, it is possible to guess how many rape allegations there may have been in total. The study in that report tracked 2,643 cases where rapes were reported to the police. Of these, 322 cases reached trial stage and 287 cases resulted in a “definite disposal” in the sense of there being either a conviction or a non-technical acquittal. (See pages 70-71.)

Thus in the “Gap or Chasm?” study, 287 cases out of 2643 police reports, or just under 10.9%, resulted in a definite disposal by acquittal or conviction.

In the Kanin study, there were from what we have seen 64 cases that resulted in a conviction or acquittal. By extrapolation assuming that similar proportions apply (a blatantly false assumption, but the best we can do and much fairer than not trying at all!) we can say that in the Kanin study the total number of reports made to the police could have been in the order of 587 (because 10.9% of 587 = 64).

If we use 45 as the number for false allegations and measure that against the guesstimated total population of all complaints, the actual proportion of rape complaints which are false amounts to just under 7.7% of all rape complaints. Yes. 7.7%.

Kanin’s true figure, if he had not massaged his statistics, would probably have been in the order of 7.7%. Not 41%. Not even close.

And this is before we examine the basis on which 45 false-allegation cases were identified.

Kanin concedes that some of these cases may have been as a result of a false recantation, e.g. under pressure from the attacker or from someone else, or out of fear and intimidation resulting from the police investigation itself. However, he considers the probability of this to be low for a number of reasons.

His first reason is that : “…with very few exceptions, these complainants were suspect at the time of the complaint or within a day or two after charging. These recantations did not follow prolonged periods of investigation and interrogation that would constitute anything approximating a second assault [by the police].”

However, as the “Gap or Chasm?” study cited above found, even the initial police investigation was enough to put off many, many complainants. Lots of women found themselves unable to go through the forensic medical examination and even more could not face giving a formal statement to the police about their ordeal. Many of them cited the fact that they had to deal with male examiners or officers, the non-supportive attitude of police officers, the police tendency to disbelieve or challenge them, and other similar factors such as a tendency by some officers to make clear right from the start how hard it is for a rape allegation to stick and how the complainant’s sexual history or other sensitive issues are likely to be raked over in court. If all this continues to happen despite the many victim-focussed initiatives in the UK over recent years, what do you suppose it was like for women in a small midwest town in the USA in the 1970s and 1980s? Better, you think?

So the fact that complainants retracted early in the process assuredly does NOT mean that the police investigation process itself could not have intimidated them into a withdrawal of the complaint.

There is a further point I wanted to raise in this context. Kanin says that in the particular police force that he studied: “The investigation of all rape complaints always involves a serious offer to polygraph the complainants“. Is he for real? A victim of rape is told (“seriously”) by the investigating officer that she should undergo a polygraph test to prove that she is not lying, and that is expected to make her feel safe enough and trusting enough to let that officer investigate her rape? I don’t think so.

Kanin’s second point is that : “not one of the detectives believed that an incident of false recantation had occurred. They argued, rather convincingly, that in those cases where a suspect was identified and interrogated, the facts of the recantation dovetailed with the suspect’s own defense.”

Given the prevailing attitudes of police officers towards rape complainants (i.e. “she’s lying”) it is unsuprising that no police officers thought a recanting woman might be doing so falsely as a result of external pressures. Nor is it very surprising that the facts of the recantation would tally with the suspect’s account – a woman falsely recanting is likely to do so by confirming the story that she thinks – or has been told – that the rapist has or will put out. Yes, I did consent. No, I never went to his house. Whatever. Just let me go.

Finally, Kanin states that : “the policy of this police agency is to apply a statute regarding the false reporting of a felony. After the recant, the complainant is informed that she will be charged with filing a false complaint, punishable by a substantial fine and a jail sentence. In no case, has an effort been made on the part of the complainant to retract the recantation.

With respect, I don’t think a great deal of this point either. A woman in a terribly traumatic position – she has just been raped, the experience of reporting the matter has been so horrendous that she has been moved to say that she made the whole thing up – she is probably feeling numb, she no doubt understands that whatever she says the police will not believe her. Why would she try to retract her recantation? Why wouldn’t she just say whatever she has to say to get the hell out of the police station? What would you do?

To summarise the above points – Kanin feels that for various reasons there is a strong probability that every allegation recorded by the police as false actually was false, because there is no reasonable likelihood that a woman in the circumstances he describes would ever falsely recant on her rape allegation. To summarise my responses – Kanin’s reasoning is based on a total lack of any understanding for or empathy with the situation of a woman going through the process of a police investigation, and anybody approaching the question from a position that truly gets how it might feel to be a rape complainant will clearly see that there are lots of reasons for suspecting that a proportion of recantations are likely to be false.

In this context, and referring yet again to “Gap or Chasm?”, it is worth noting that the British police statistics studied showed a 9% rate of false allegations. Yet on more detailed analysis of those cases by the researchers, a rate of 3% was considered to be a much more appropriate and accurate figure. This was due to prejudices and inaccuracies in the way that police recorded allegations as having been proved false.

If it is the case that a significant proportion of the Kanin “false” allegations were indeed wrongly recorded as false – as common sense would suggest is likely to be the case – then it may be that even the guesstimated 7.7% I came up with is too high.

So, remind me. Who are the wicked liars?

Is it the women accused of making false allegations? Or is it the men who come up with massively inflated false-allegation statistics to support their collective inability to comprehend or accept the sheer scale on which women all over the world are being raped by men?