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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 02:03 pm (UTC)
Right now in the UK our new government is trying to reintroduce anonymity for defendants in rape trials, on the grounds that being being accused of rape and exonerated is hugely damaging. Woemn's groups and individual women have protested and are protesting, and are being, largely, ignored -- there is talk of 'serious consideration' and so forth, but the bottom line is that any possible male suffering trumps female experience. It's retrograde, it's worrying -- and I am no longer comfortable talking about it on my blog or in person, because of the response I get (I'm 'strident', 'too involved', 'don't understand the issues' 'don't appreciate how men suffer', 'harming men who have had such experiences', 'resorting to anecdote instead of fact', 'sexist', 'making people uncomfortable'. I've been defriended, I've been asked for retractions and apologies. From this I learn that in 21st century Britain, men are still what matters and women must expect not to believed, not to be supported and not to be heard.
And I'm one of the lucky ones. I've never been raped. I know, because these fact-based men who've reproved me have told me, that two men have committed suicide over false rape allegations. I don't know how many women have committed or attempted suicide, have turned to drug or alcohol abuse, have had breakdowns, lost families and careers, developed agrophobia and so on and on as a result of having been raped. Those statistics seem not to be relevant.
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
How about anonymity for the women? Do they get that? You know, some protection from harassment and bullying to retract factual claims? The shear amount of social pressure to just 'sit down and shut-up' is...

Jul. 21st, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
The victims are guaranteed anonymity and breaching that generally leads to considerable wrath.
And the social pressure? Yeah. It makes me furious. And yet I don't know what to do about it.
Aug. 25th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)

How about anonymity for men? Do you get that? Some protection from conviction in the court of public opinion. The damage to their life, their family, their reputation and career. All for an accusation that has not been proven. Every time I see a story in the media about a rape accusation the woman is referred to only as the victim and the man is named. The anonymity should go both ways, only releasing the details of the alleged attacker while protecting the identity of the alleged victim is just plain wrong.
Aug. 25th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
Have you read any of the comments or discussion on this?
Aug. 25th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
I've read what's not below my viewing threshold. LJ is not as accessible as WordPress or Blogger on my mobile. Each click of "expand" takes about a minute to show a single comment.

Is there something specific you believe I am missing?
Aug. 25th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
Well, starting with my own comment directly below:

I'll grant that someone who is accused of a crime and found innocent generally should not be punished for that crime. But do they have any evidence whatsoever to show that this measure is necessary? Or is it all about "We think the women lie" and "We have to protect the mens from the evil women!!!"

In other words, I understand why rape victims are kept anonymous. Why do accused rapists require special protection? I'm not aware of any evidence that this is necessary. (I do know of a lot of overblown fears and male hysteria about being accused of rape, but none of the research I've seen supports those fears.)
Aug. 25th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
That's the point right there. Being publicly accused of something like rape is punishment in and of itself. If proven innocent they've still had all the damage an actual rapist gets except incarceration. There is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty with rape, at least not in the areas where I have lived lately.
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC)
Wait, what? I just-- Huh?

I'll grant that someone who is accused of a crime and found innocent generally should not be punished for that crime. But do they have any evidence whatsoever to show that this measure is necessary? Or is it all about "We think the women lie" and "We have to protect the mens from the evil women!!!"

Unfortunately, that mirrors a lot of the discussin/fear I'd run into sometimes when talking to mens' groups.

Jim: Here are some *facts* about the frequency of rape. This is something that needs to be addressed.

Response: Forget facts, we're scared of those evil lying women, and would rather invest our energy into protecting ourselves than doing anything about rape.

Being falsely accused of rape is stressful and painful, yes. But I've never had much sympathy for "Oh woe is us, will no one think of the poor men" approach.
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
Your reaction is one a lot of us over here share. But we're the ones who aren't being listened to, because, yes, the poor mens, seems to be the base line. I am seriously ashamed of my country and the party that started this (the Liberal Democrats, who should know better, given their usual stance).
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
This makes me so angry because it also eliminates the opportunity for other victims to come forward when they see that someone is being prosecuted.
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
Indeed. The talking heads in the media are saying 'oh, knowing the man's name has never been known to make a difference', but I don't know on what they base this, nor do I know how they will prove it's not an impediment if anonymity is brought in. The whole thing seems to me to be rooted in a basic refusal to trust women.
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)

I just... I don't even... that's so....

No words.
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
I know.
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:21 pm (UTC)
Gee. Can I friend you over again? Because I want to do something.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
Boosting the signal would be grand. Sadly, writing to the various members of parliament is unlikely to be helpful at this stage.
Which reminds me, on a related topic, have you seen the news coverage about Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani, who is facing a death sentence for what can only be described as very confused charges in Iran? There are details here and here http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/22/iran-stoning-woman-campaigners
Jul. 22nd, 2010 09:36 am (UTC)
I saw that. I've been sort of following the case but things have been kind of...difficult lately.

Frankly, if a woman gets accused of promiscuity in Iran, the sensible thing to do would be to take her innocence as a given.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Never mind that men are raped too. The MRA folks don't seem to care about them, either, though. These people aren't advocating for "men", they are advocating for a specific kind of men.

Good for you sticking to your guns. It can feel sometimes like the entire world is against us, but I know every time I read one more person standing up for basic justice I take heart. Thanks for being one of those people.

As I have said before, when the rest of society stops having excessive sympathy for men accused of rape and actual rapists in equal measure, I will go out of my way to have sympathy for men falsely accused of rape. Even then, though, I would have no more sympathy than people falsely accused of, say, murder. Or fraud. Or theft. Or arson. Those people don't get anonymity, why should accused rapists?


Jim C. Hines

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