By Andrea Rose
Producer, Cry Rape, 1Xtra
False allegations of rape may make for gripping headlines in the newspapers, but they can also ruin the lives of those men who've been accused despite being innocent.
At the age of 19, Ben Guerin had his life ripped apart by one allegation.
Three years after he'd had a sexual encounter with a girl from school he was arrested for assault, rape and paedophilia.
The girl claimed they had met at a party when she was just 15 and that the walk home afterwards had resulted in a violent assault.
But witnesses who had been with the couple came forward on Ben's behalf and inaccuracies were found in the girl's story. The charges were dropped and instead the girl was eventually sentenced to a year for perverting the course of justice.
According to Home Office research, between 3% and 9% of all reports of rape are found to be false. Yet the lives of those men accused are often devastated. Some even commit suicide, so terrible is the stigma of being charged with sexual assault - even if subsequently cleared.
It's an issue that particularly affects young people, with those aged 16 and 25 making up both the largest group of victims and the accused.
Jason, who is now 18, was also the victim of a false allegation. After wasting over a year of police time, as well as causing distress both to Jason and his family, the girl retracted her statement in court. Later it came to light that she had made three false allegations previously.
Margaret Gardener, the director of the False Allegations Support Organisation (Faso) receives over a thousand calls each year from men looking for help and advice.
RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
The majority of perpetrators are known to the victim
97% of callers to Rape Crisis lines knew their assailant prior to the assault
During 2001 it is estimated there were 190,000 incidents of serious sexual assault and 47,000 female victims of rape/attempted rape
Home Office figures show that police recorded 12,630 female rapes in 2006-7
Data from Children and Women Abuse Studies Unit and Home Office
"We are beginning to get a lot of university students phoning us," she says. "One of the scenarios is going to the pub and then suddenly finding the morning after you've had a boozy night out and you've been with somebody, that you get a phone-call from the police because an allegation of rape has been made."
The impact of an allegation can extend far beyond the legal ramifications. Gardener works with men and their families to help them deal with the ostracism they often face within their communities, even long after the event.
In Jason's case, his neighbour asked to be moved to another flat due to concern about the accused man's proximity to his daughters. For Ben, his apprenticeship as a plumber was terminated and he faced widespread suspicion from people he knew.
"My door became blacklisted," says Ben. "People would rather avoid me than speak to me, they literally took her word. My dad didn't take it too well either. He had doubts in what I was saying so that created problems with my home life.
"It wasn't like I was convicted for it. I think some people still like to disbelieve me. They definitely regard me as the guilty person."
Ben also believes the police assumed he was guilty from the start. But Dave Gee from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) maintains that officers seek to remain even-handed when dealing with rape.
"In most cases it's one word against the other," he says. "It's very difficult not only to convict and prosecute, but in most cases difficult to even establish whether an offence has happened at all.
"There cannot be an assumption that all alleged offenders are guilty. We have more to do with victims but that should not translate into demonising male accused people."
But an unfounded charge remains on someone's Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) file permanently, which can affect future job prospects.
Complainants are granted total anonymity on first reporting a rape. According to the 1976 Sexual Offences Act, it is a criminal offence for the media to reveal a victim's identity or any other information that might lead to them being identified.
If they are charged with an offence such as perverting the course of justice or perjury in relation to their complaint they can then be named.
But there is no protection for those falsely accused of committing an assault. Whilst Ben's name found its way into the local newspapers, Jason, as a 16-year-old, narrowly escaped the media glare.
There are those who believe that when it comes to rape allegations, men do not deserve any protection.
Louise - not her real name - is a volunteer for the organisation, Women Against Rape (War). Three years ago she was the victim of a sexual attack, but found herself disbelieved and subsequently charged for making a false rape claim. The case against her was later dropped.
Hamiltons had false allegations made against them
"The whole thing was flung onto me. If I was going to lie surely I would have gone with some crazy story. I just told the police what had happened. Had I known what I was going to go through I would have had to think twice about reporting it."
With only 6% of sexual assaults resulting in conviction and according to some research, as many as 91% of rapes unreported, Vernon Coaker from the Home Office is adamant the focus needs to remain on victims rather than those who've been accused.
"There have been some high-profile cases highlighted by the media where one or two false allegations have been made," he says.
"But we shouldn't be deflected from the fact that the real issue in respect to sexual violence is underreporting and to ensure the conviction rate is improved. That is the thrust of government policy."
Cry Rape is available to listen now on 1Xtra's website and is broadcast on BBC Radio 1Xtra between 1400 and 1600 GMT on Wednesday 27 February 2008.
Below is a selection of your comments.
When the conviction rates for rapists have reached at least 50% I'll start worrying about these possible innocents. Considering how difficult it is to have a man convicted even when there is evidence, false accusations of rape seems like a very uncertain method of getting even.
Erik Lundbom, Ramsgate, Kent
I was falsely accused in 1993. It was a horrific experience and one which has tainted my life ever since. I even contemplated suicide at the time (I had just started University). My accuser conducted a whispering campaign against me, telling everyone except the proper authorities. As it never became a criminal matter, I had no legal position at all. It was a horrific experience and one which I am only just coming to terms with 15 years later. It not only affects the man who¿s been accused, but is an insult to every woman who has really experienced this horrific crime ¿ particularly those to afraid to come forward. I have never received either an explanation or an apology. Incredibly, my accuser is now an Ordained Anglican Priest.
Anon, St Helens
This article has left me disappointed in and embarrassed for the BBC. Why in a week in which three horrific men were finally jailed for murdering and raping women, does the BBC decide to run an article and air a radio discussion on the minuscule number of men wrongly accused of rape? To me this appears not only deeply inappropriate, but tinged with unhealthy misogyny. The media should be focusing upon the attitudes that allowed men like Levi Bellfield to abuse and rape.
Bellfield assumed he could get away with it. Articles such as this, printed at this time suggest that the shocking numbers of women subjected to violence, rape and intimidation on a daily basis, are less important than the tiny number of men wrongly accused.
Elsa Richardson, Glasgow
I was interviewd by the police concerning a rape allegation levied against me. I was assured by the police that this matter would be cleared up within a day or so but it was nearly two months before I received a call to say no further action would be taken. My life was hell wondering how friends and family would react yet knowing I was innocent and trying to find a way to stop the nonsense. I now suffer in silence feeling as though I'm forever tainted. It has affected my relationships and caused no end of frustration that I am powerless to do anything about the matter. I had several female witnesses who knew it was a false allegation who stood by me yet my DNA and arrest remain on file forever.
I have a life sentence against my name now. Job applications and anything I do will show up and two years on I still have many years of hell ahead of me. My DNA remains on file with fingerprints and photograph. The humiliation of the proceedure is awful.
I think it is disgusting that girls falsely accuse men of rape. The increase of false accusations of rape make the women who have been raped not want to come forward. Therefore, there are many actual rapists that are still out there, free to attack again.
Victoria Oxley, Essex
I¿d rather live in a society where money and effort spent in trying to blindly convict all allegations were re-directed into preventing rapes from happening in the first place. We live in a reformist society where (thank goodness) the death penalty is banned, so lets take steps to change ourselves rather than constantly pursue vengeance.
M Turner, Leicester
I have had an experience bordering on rape but I blame myself more for putting myself in the position where it can happen. I have never told anyone other than one close friend who I know will never meet the guy involved - as a lot of people I know know him and I'm scared of people's reactions. Reading "Louise's" story just makes me more sure that I've done right in not saying anything.
What can I do? I'm certainly not helping the guy avoid doing this to anyone else. It doesn't help me not blame myself. The guy in question avoids me now and its very awkward if we meet socially so he knows something happened that wasn't supposed to. Its such a hard situation to be in and to know what to do - that is why so many cases go unreported.
Leanne, North Lincolnshire
Rape is such a horrible thing to happen to anyone male or female. I do believe that the conviction rate puts people off reporting rapes to the police. As it says in the article it's often one person's word against another which is very hard to prove unless forensic evidence is found. But if it's proven 100% that a false allegation has been made, that person should receive a long prison sentance and be named. A false allegation can ruin a person's life as a rape can. I undersatnd that people can go out get drunk and regret what they did but to cry rape is a serious offence and should be treated that way.
Ger, Dublin, Ireland
I believe that a major part of the problem for both sexes is people getting regularly so drunk that they put themselves at risk of getting into situations that they can neither control nor remember clearly. This is not to suggest that all rape victims or falsely-accused men were drunk, but apart from the fact that people think more carefully about their actions when sober, surely a person's story would be more convincing both to the police and in court if they were sober at the time in question rather than very drunk.
HS, Chester, UK
It's presumably very hard to legislate for a number of reasons. Firstly, and simply, it's often the case of one person's word against another. Secondly, what constitutes one person's idea of rape may conflict with someone else's. The line is sometimes not entirely clear between seduction and coercion; or between boisterous sex and violence. Thirdly, there is the issue of consent - whether it is given and then retracted, or given when the person in question is not in control of their actions. Or, of course, when it is given, but then regretted later - which can lead to guilt, shame, and false accusations. It is such a minefield, and reveals so many embedded assumptions about the sexual contract between men and women, that it's hardly surprising that each case seems to raise such complex issues and attract so much in the way of opinion and judgement in the media.
Why not make both identities protected up to the point of conviction. The law states you are innocent until proven guilty, but the stigma attached to this type of crime is such that the "general public" tend to believe the reverse. If the police thought the accused was a danger to the public, surely they would be remanded in custody. If they are not a danger to the public, what benefit is there to anyone in allowing the accused's identity to be published?
Ed, Livingston UK
Every single person - male or female - needs to take responsibility for his or her own actions. Any man who chooses to have sex with a woman who is clearly drunk/high should be prepared to accept he may be charged with rape because he has assaulted someone just as much as if he'd punched her in the face. But a woman who chooses to go out drinking barely dressed is effectively telling men "I'm sexually available" and if she gets blind drunk and then wakes up next to some bloke with no memory of the night before she has no right to destroy his reputation because of her own bad behaviour - she too is guilty of "assault". I realise as a woman this will infuriate the extremist feminists who hate men, but sex is not rape just because a woman says it is. If both men and women were made to take responsibility for their own actions, then all the public money and police time wasted on these tit-for-tat word-against-the-other allegations could be spent on catching the likes of Wright and Bellfield, serial raping mass murderers.
Cat Stewart, Derby, UK
One of the main problems is the fact that the accused get's their name revealed. If someone is guilty of something then their name should be announced (as part of any punishment). However, the principle in this country is supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty". Names should not be revealed prior to any conviction - It's simply not fair.
Anthony, Reading, Berks
It happened to me with my ex-girlfriend, I left her and she swore she'd make my life hell. I woke up one morning with two coppers stood above my bed, was taken into custody and treated like scum by the police.
After some very forceful questioning, a DNA test and a lot of other humiliating things the girl retracted her accusation citing she couldn't go through with it. The police didn't even ask if I wanted her charged and just let me go without a sorry or whatever. Still to this day some ex-friends believe her and I don't trust any woman properly.
I think the onus is really on the media to be more responsible. It should not legally be allowed to publish the identity of the accused until that person is found guilty. If the news organisations were more responsible and less desperate for sensationalist stories then the relevent authorities could focus their attention on the victims of the alleged attack.
The BBC has been guilty of this in its coverage of the Ipswich murders, publishing every little detail about the first man taken in for questioning, who we all now know is innocent of this crime. They claimed it was "in the public interest" but there is a difference between what is in the public interest and what the public is (voyeuristically) interested in. This, and the cases above, sadly are the latter.
Biafron Punk, Brum