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.

Student calls

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.

"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.

Complainants' anonymity

"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.

Conviction rate

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.

"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."