On the 13th March, BBC Newsbeat (their online news service aimed at 15 – 24 year olds) ran a story which used, as it’s starting point, the recent CPS report which aimed to show how rare false rape allegations are (1) and quite clearly stated, in the article, that the CPS report showed how common they are. (And before anyone jumps in and starts on about how serious/damaging false rape allegations are let me clear: yes, they are – but that is not why this report was deeply flawed and why a good many people are rightly angry.)
First of all this was bad journalism – and it was bad because it used the wrong report to cover a difficult subject in entirely the wrong way. Let’s break it down a bit:
- 33% of girls have experience sexual abuse. 25% of girls have experienced physical abuse. 75% of girls have experienced emotional abuse. (2009, NSPCC report).
- 12.7% of girls and 6.2% of boys in the 16-19 year old age bracket have experienced partner abuse. (British Crime Survey). (2)
So the target audience of Newsbeat is the group most at risk from violent, sexual and physical crime. This is important to understand because the response from the BBC highlights only too clearly that they don’t and it is vital that they do because – as Chloe Emmott’s article in Huffington Post (3) points out – the Newsbeat article does the very thing that Keir Starmer has warned against and which the CPS report is at pains to point out.
In the response from the BBC that we who complained received, the following defence is made:
While some people did say our reporting of false accusations was damaging to real rape victims, on our Social Networking sites false accusations were described as “disgusting”, and one young man told us that he felt the bigger problem was that these claims make life harder for real rape victims to be taken seriously. On Twitter another young male listener told us “Allegations of rape not only waste police time but wreck the lives of those accused!” And another wrote: “My 23-year-old nephew was recently accused of rape. He then killed himself. The girl did it again to another guy.”
And right there, in the lines I have highlighted, is exactly where the BBC shoots itself in the foot because the point of the CPS report is that false allegations of rape are so extremely rare and that therefore neither society nor the police should feel the need to be cautious about any allegation made.
In the BBC response to the complaint they state:
In the fourth line of our story, we quote the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, who says false rape allegations are “serious but rare”.
But they ignore what Mr Sarmer goes on to say, and which is far more pertinent:
“In recent years we have worked hard to dispel the damaging myths and stereotypes that are associated with these cases. One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are rife.”
If, as is claimed, that they were looking “to help contextualize the story” then the problem is both in the approach to the story in the first place, and the serious mis-use of a vitally important report which ought to help change the culture that allowed Jimmy Saville to get away with systematic and appalling abuse for 40 years.
It’s the same culture that says that leads to young men thinking that the problem for rape victims is false rape allegations, when the problem for rape victims is a culture that shifts the blame from the rapist on to other women.
It’s the same culture that means our young people are at the greatest risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of a partner.
It’s the same culture, where false rape allegations are 0.02% of reports made, that means that this:
For clarity we have changed a word in the second sentence from “common” to “unusual”.
– is what passes for an apology from the BBC.
*I have emailed this as my response to the BBC. If they reply, I will update here.