Rape truth tests dangerous
Tanya Thompson Home Affairs Correspondent
WOMENS groups yesterday launched a scathing attack on new tests which will help
police to root out false rape allegations.
Forensic experts say they can tell a genuine victim from a liar in almost 75 per cent of
cases, by analysing body language and statement details.
Detective Sergeant Chris Few, a child protection officer responsible for the controversial
research, said: "We can get an accurate assessment of whether the rape claim is
genuine or false. Given more training, we believe officers could get even better.
Its a very good tool for investigators, to be used alongside other evidence."
Police officers in the study relied heavily on body language to decide whether the alleged
victim was being honest.
They looked at 15 characteristics that can be used in rape cases, focusing on the tendency
for a liar to confine herself to the minimum of detail, to cut down chances of slipping
Researchers found that genunine victims are likely to recall events in more detail, such
as smells, tastes and noises. A victim may speculate on an attackers state of mind
and blame herself for the attack.
"Statements that have a lot of detail tend to be genuine," said Det Sgt Few.
"People who fabricate stick to the bare minimum so they dont trip themselves
"Those who are telling the truth admit that they cant remember everything. They
often feel guilty and blame themselves for the rape."
Last night, womens campaigners condemned the research as "dangerous" and
said it would deter victims from reporting attacks.
Cara Gillespie, a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis, said: "We would be concerned that the
officers doing the research are not trained psychologists. This research perpetrates
dangerous mythology about the crime, which is that women in rape cases tell lies. The fear
is that it could prevent women from coming forward."
The technique, which originated in Germany in the 1950s, was first developed to test
allegations of child abuse.
Det Sgt t Few, who has a degree in forensic psychology, presented his findings to the
British Psychological Society in Birmingham yesterday. He trained 16 police officers and
asked them to review witness statements.
He picked cases where the evidence was overwhelming, choosing convictions where the
allegations were backed up by eyewitnesses, CCTV, physical evidence and admissions.
The ones deemed false were cases where the "victim" had confessed to making it
Officers trained in the method could differentiate between genuine statements and false
ones in nearly 75 per cent of occasions. Untrained officers got it right in only half.
"We accept its not foolproof," said the detective." The last thing we
want is a genuine victim branded a liar."
Figures from Rape Crisis show that only 20 per cent of women report rape to police.
There is no real way of gauging how many rape allegations are fabricated. There were
nearly 8,000 reported cases of rape in the year ending March 2000 - fewer than a tenth
ended in a successful prosecution.
Matthew Auchincloss, an Edinburgh solicitor, said he was deeply concerned that researchers
would rely too heavily on the techniques. The Home Office is studying whether the methods
should be more widely available.
He said: "It is not up to the police to decide who is telling the truth. Its
for the fiscal to decide whether theres a case to answer, and the jury to decide
guilt or innocence.
"Women should not be denied the trial process because the police think they are
Last month, the trial of Edward Watt brought the issue of false allegations into sharp
focus. The 24-year-old law student at Aberdeen University was acquitted of raping a fellow
student in a hall of residence.
He admitted having sex with the woman, but insisted that she had consented, and made the
The judge, Lord Abernethy, threw out the case after deciding there was not enough
evidenced. He ruled that force or threat of force had to be evident to qualify as rape.
Watt, who waited 18 months for his case to come to court, has joined a long list of
falsely accused men calling for rape defendants to remain anonymous, as alleged victims