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False Rape Reports

After my Rape and the Police post, I said I’d do a follow-up on false reports of rape.  I do this for two reasons.

  1. False reports do happen, albeit rarely.  Rare or not, they’re worth discussing.
  2. By posting this discussion here, the next time I talk about rape and someone starts to derail the conversation by talking about false accusations, I can redirect the commenter to this post.

The issue of false accusations used to come up every time I spoke to men about rape.  It’s come up in almost every rape-related blog post I’ve written.

I worked with one rape counselor who told me flat-out she didn’t believe anyone would ever falsely accuse someone of rape.  However, I find there’s nothing so heinous that someone, somewhere, hasn’t done it.  (After all, look at the number of people who commit rape.)

I’ve been told only 2% of reported rapes turn out to be false, but I’ve never found a reliable source for that statistic.  A 1996 FBI report found that “Eight percent of forcible rape complaints in 1996 were ‘unfounded’ …”  This includes complaints found to be “false or baseless” … and therein lies a problem.

What qualifies as an unfounded report?  Many reported rapes aren’t prosecuted because those in the legal system don’t feel there’s sufficient evidence.  That doesn’t mean the accuser lied.  Likewise, is “baseless” the same as “false”?  How do we categorize or even identify cases where victims are bullied or intimidated into retracting their statements?

Playing fast and loose with definitions is how you get “Men’s Rights” groups reporting highly inflated numbers of false reports in order to show that rape is exaggerated and used as a weapon against men.

I believe false reports of rape are rare, but they do happen.  I wrote about one case in Michigan, back in 2004.  A student falsely accused a teacher of rape.  The teacher’s name was published in multiple newspaper articles.  The accused teacher’s fiancee was quoted as saying the false charges “took their toll on him,” and he later died of a heart attack.

I can’t imagine the fear and the anger and the stress he must have experienced.  The fact that he was exonerated and his accuser was arrested and sentenced for filing false charges doesn’t undo the pain he went through.

Here’s another example from Maine, which was reported only yesterday.  A woman allegedly made up a story of being raped by five men after a fight with her partner.  I can’t help noticing this line…

“[Police Chief] Craig said he plans to have the woman charged with filing a false report and plans to push for the maximum penalty.”

… and thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if police departments took real rape cases this seriously?

Lying about rape is a horrible thing.  It hurts the one accused, and it hurts victims of rape by giving fuel to those who would use false accusations to deny the reality of rape.  I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who deliberately and maliciously makes up an accusation of rape, for whatever reason.

I wonder though, how many anecdotal stories of false accusations are truly false.  When someone comments how a friend’s cousin’s buddy was falsely accused of rape, what does that mean?  Were charges filed and dropped?  Did the accuser retract her (or his) accusation?  Did the accused say “She’s lying!” and everyone simply chose to believe him?

False accusations are in many ways the reverse of rape cases.  Rape as a crime tends to be underreported and disbelieved.  Stories of false accusations, on the other hand, seem to be both widely believed and incredibly common … which makes sense, in a way.  After all, the first thing someone’s going to say when accused of rape is, “Oh, she’s lying.”

Discussion welcome, as always.  But as with other rape-related discussions here, I’ll be watching the comments and will moderate as needed, so please keep things respectful.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



Jul. 21st, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
I remember a morning where a man rushed me on my way to the bus stop. I managed to get away; I ran further up the road to a "safer" stop. I was in tears all the way to work, and I talked to my supervisor about it. She, of course, encouraged me to make a report.

I called while I was at work, and I got... basically nothing. I detailed what happened, detailed what I saw (middle-aged white male, baseball cap, white shorts), and detailed the area. The police officer sounded not disbelieving, somewhat concerned, so I'll give him that.

And then he asked me to show an officer the street in person after I'd gotten home from work, and that's when the doubt started.

The whole time I felt like I was lying. It was awful. Nothing had happened, just someone had attempted to hurt me/grab me, and yet I spent the rest of the day wondering if I'd just made it up. Maybe he was just crossing the street (you know, diagonally straight towards me really quickly with his hands out) -- maybe I'd get someone in trouble that didn't deserve it.

So, I never followed up with the police and showed them the exact street, the exact area. I was petrified that I'd just waste their time and that nothing would happen. (I regret that so, so much and hope no-one has been hurt on that street since. :( )

If I was so shy and so doubtful about reporting an attempted assault, I have no idea what it must feel like to doubt when reporting something far worse. Something that probably has physical evidence and something that may, horribly enough, just get thrown out in court for saying the wrong thing to the authorities.

I'm thankful I don't know what reporting a rape is like. I'm sharing my experience dealing with the authorities (or not dealing, I should say) because even when nothing happens, doubt flares up like a wildfire. But I know so many people who have been hurt and who felt they weren't able to do anything, or they didn't feel it would do any good. The fact that a few false reports undermine hundreds of reported rapes is really, really depressing and I wish there was some way to make that change.

Edited at 2010-07-21 02:02 pm (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
From everything I understand, the self-doubt and second-guessing is normal. Really, given the way our society responds to rape and sexual assault, we encourage victims to question themselves.

"The fact that a few false reports undermine hundreds of reported rapes is really, really depressing and I wish there was some way to make that change."

The only way I know of is to talk about it, and to keep trying to educate people. With reporting and law enforcement, I'd love to see more work to help people in the legal system understand what it's like trying to report a rape or an attempted assault, and to teach them how to be more sensitive and supportive.

Change is a frustratingly slow process.
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
It's time to put paid to this idea that false rape reports are responsible for this. They're not. Only people who want to believe sexist lies about women use false rape reports as an excuse to doubt women, just as racists view reports of black crime as an excuse to indulge their prejudices about women. Unless these same people are out there writing articles about false burglary charges, false mugging charges, and so forth, then they're full of it.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
I'm struggling with this one. I absolutely believe and agree that there are people who don't want to acknowledge rape, who will happily cling to the idea of false reports as an excuse.

But I've also run into an awful lot of ignorance about rape. People who are simply clueless. It's not something that gets talked about in most families or in the schools, and given the distorted attention the media and our culture gives to stories of falsely reported rapes, I can see how people could start to absorb a rather messed-up picture.

So I'm not sure it's *only* people who want to believe the sexist lies who might get a distorted idea about it all, if that makes sense? Sometimes it's simply ignorance.

Whether that ignorance is deliberate (I choose to look away) or not (young kid who's never been exposed to anything else) is another question.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:17 am (UTC)
It's been my experience that you can tell if they're honest or not by how they react to proof. There's lots of proof out there. (Of course, I'm of the opinion that willingly believing that women are lying whores means I shouldn't take a person seriously.) IF they dismiss it or just go, "Well, we'll have to agree to disagree...." they're not worth keeping around.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
So if I'm understanding you, it's not that anyone who believes false reports happen with any regularity is a sexist idiot so much as people who deliberately cling to that belief in the face of other evidence?
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
If depends on how vehement and hateful they are about it, but yeah, I'd be cautiously willing to give somebody exactly one instance of benefit of the doubt. Women make up half the population, and for somebody to extrapolate from one or two cases to that population is an act of extreme paranoia and prejudice. If you point that out to them and they go, "Oh! I never thought of it like that!" and are open about informing themselves, yeah, they might be educable. Mind you, I'm the sort of person who think that twits who say shit like "All Muslims are terrorists" or other such crap shouldn't be granted any slack at all, and I think people who buy into false rape hysteria are little better. Once they get past a certain age, isn't it the adult thing to think for themselves and go....Hey, isn't that kind of black and white? Why didn't I see this before?
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
"Mind you, I'm the sort of person who think that twits who say shit like 'All Muslims are terrorists' or other such crap shouldn't be granted any slack at all..."

Interesting. When you say that, my gut response is "Of course!" Anyone who thinks all Muslims are terrorists is an idiot in dire need of a clue-by-four.

I think it's the "All" that does it. Someone who tells me "All women do/would lie about rape" is a waste of oxygent. Someone who says "I think some women lie about rape" or "Lying about rape is common" ... it still feels grating to me, but not quite in the same way.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
That's because Muslims are people, silly. Women aren't. I said this elsewhere, but it's hard for a man to grasp---and a woman to convey--just how stacked ajnd impossible the deck is for women. Women start out with so many prejudices and beliefs against them, most of them contradictory, that there's simply no way a woman can win.

Frankly, I've dealth with people who go, Well, some women..and I'm like...and, so? How is this important? What damage does it do beyond an individual level? I mean, considering the damage men do to women, bitching about the stray women here and there is very much man bites dog.

I've yet to meet a good man who feared a false rape charge.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
False Rape Reports
jim did you catch the story today on NPR about an arab man convicted of "rape by deception" of an Israeli woman after consensual sex. She thought he was jewish and after she had sex with him and found out he was an arab, she called the police. Interesting concept.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
I missed that. Wow ... I'd need some time to start unpacking and processing that one.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
IIRC, some rape statutes to have a slot for "rape by deception" which covers things like a guy sneaking into a woman's bed and pretending to be her husband. (Although if you analyzed the reasoning behind that, it would probably come down to the equivalent of "property damage" -- an offense against the man rather than the woman.)

Rape by fraud -- by falsely presenting yourself as someone with whom the woman would consent to have sex -- is an entirely different issue, and opens up some very interesting speculation. For example, wouldn't that have been a valid charge against the sort of man who would promise marriage in order to get sex, and then dump the woman because she was "unchaste"? But of course, that sort of law didn't exist in the societies where it happened.
Jul. 21st, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
According to the NPR story, Isreal is one of only two countries in the world to have such a statute. It requires an odd combination of liberality (to accept the legitimacy of sex between unmarried people) and paradoxical conservatism (to enforce a sort of contractual legality on the sex act with the possiblity of fraud).
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
Details on the Israeli case are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-10717186


Jim C. Hines

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