Furious with the BBC

There’s quite a bit of news coverage today about a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) report that looks at the prevalence of false allegations in prosecutions of rape and domestic violence[1] over the 17 months from July 2011. In a Guardian article, Keir Starmer QC, head of the CPS, highlights the key findings:

“In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.”

I first heard about this new report on the BBC Today Programme this morning on Radio 4. I wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention, but they definitely highlighted that false allegations are very rare. My overwhelming thought at the time was “is this news? I’m sure that the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit was reporting on this in the 90s”.

Then someone highlighted this BBC Newsbeat article to me. I am almost – ALMOST – at a loss for words, I’m so angry that the BBC would dedicate an entire article, on the day of the publication of this report, to how awful it is for the TINY number of people who have false allegations made against them. Especially on their Radio 1 news site, with a higher number of young readers/listeners than the rest of the BBC.

This sort of reporting is EXACTLY the sort of thing that leads survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to believe (with good evidence) that if they submit a complaint, they may not be taken seriously, and they will be criticised if their claim is unsuccessful. And woe betide anyone who DARES to accuse someone famous, or in a position of great power, of assault. In addition to all of the usual barriers to justice that exist when you are dealing with such a power imbalance, there is also the near certainty that you will be found out (legal protections be damned) and vilified in the media. Just ask Ched Evan’s victim. And that was a SUCCESSFUL rape case.

My complaint is below, please do copy it and submit one if you are moved to do so.

I am so fucking angry.

The bias in the article is absolutely appalling. It is reporting on a piece of CPS research which specifically highlights how FEW false allegations there are, in comparison to genuine reports (a depressingly small number of which lead to convictions).

As outlined by Kier Starmer in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/13/false-allegations-rape-domestic-violence-rare: “In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.”

I find it abhorrent that the BBC has focussed on the ‘devastating’ impact of such a vanishingly rare occurrence, rather than the far more significant issue of underreporting and mismanagement of genuine rape cases. With this story, the BBC is directly contributing to a culture where victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are led to believe that they will not be taken seriously and will be vilified by the media should their claims be unsuccessful.


[1] A key thing I’ve not seen/heard mentioned anywhere is that this is just talking about PROSECUTIONS. Not charges, not complaints, and certainly not incidences. All evidence so far collected suggests that sexual assault and domestic violence are MASSIVELY underreported. Media coverage like this would be part of the reason why.

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4 thoughts on “Furious with the BBC

  1. I haven’t read/heard the report, Maeve, but I do worry that they include incidents where the women withdraw their complaint as a false report – when often it is not that they falsely reported in the first place, more likely that they can’t cope with the traumatic process that they have to go through via the police/legal/court process. Maz

  2. @Maz

    Re that specific point, the report doesn’t deal with such cases – only ones where the Police have considered referring an individual to the DPP for false allegations. It is incredibly unlikely that they would do so under such circumstances.

    Generally, I agree that this piece relates a very distorted impression of what the report actually shows.

    Incidentally, I don’t quite agree with Starmer’s conclusions either – it strikes me that he does not can cannot know about false reporting rates in cases that are never referred for prosecution, which may happen for many reasons (lack of evidence, lack of public interest). No one knows the ‘true’ rate. But the likelihood is it is much lower than commonly believed, which is the central thrust of his argument.

  3. Pingback: Furious with the BBC | Operationalising the Oxfam Doughnut

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