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18 October 2017

5 numbers to remember when you read a woman’s account of sexual assault

A few statistics. 

By Amelia Tait

Asking questions after you read an account of sexual assault is not inherently wrong. It is basic human psychology to seek patterns and flaws in what we read and see, and questions like “Why is she only saying this now?” and “Why didn’t she go to the police?” are unfortunately all too common responses.

What is inherently wrong is acting as if the fact these questions exist means that the assault didn’t.  

It is also wrong – horrifically so – to post any questions like this under the countless brave accounts women have been posting under the hashtag #metoo. This hashtag sees women sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment after the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations. In response, men have been asking questions without really looking for their answers. The answers are simple – the figures speak for themselves.

1. Between just 2 to 10 per cent of sexual assault allegations are false

A comprehensive 2010 study found that of 136 assaults reported at a university in 10 years, only 5.9 per cent were false allegations. By combining their work with previous research, the study’s authors estimated that false allegations make up between just 2 and 10 per cent of sexual assault allegations.

2. One in five women in the UK are victims of sexual offences

A 2013 report by the Ministry for Justice and Office for National Statistics found nearly a fifth of all women in England and Wales have been the victim of a sexual offence. In this analysis, “sexual offences” encompassed rape, attempted rape, assault, sexual activity with minors, exposure, and voyeurism. There is no comprehensive statistic that includes women who have been harassed on the street or touched without their consent, but the #metoo hashtag reveals the true extent of the problem.  

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3. Only 15 per cent of victims of the most serious sexual offences report them to the police

In the same report, only 15 per cent of people who had been a victim of a serious sexual offence in the last year reported the incident to the police. The most common reasons for not reporting the crime were embarrassment, a belief the police couldn’t help, fear that the incident was too trivial, or a belief the incident was a private matter.

4. 26 per cent of all sexual offences reported to the police are not even recorded as crimes

A 2014 report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, “Crime-recording: making the victim count”, found sexual offences are under-recorded by 26 per cent, while 20 per cent of decisions to “no crime” rapes (i.e. determine the report was not a crime) were incorrect. The report described the errors as “wholly unacceptable failings”.

5. Women who do make false accusations rarely ever benefit

A Home Office study from 2005 found that of 216 reports classified as false allegations, only six reports led to an arrest. In only two of these cases were charges brought forward, and later two accusers were charged with perverting the course of justice. Many women who accuse celebrities of sexual offences are often thought to be seeking money or fame, yet most actually face continual harassment and abuse for speaking out.​