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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 02:35 pm (UTC)
Is the fear men live in of being accused of rape more important than the fear women live in of *being raped*?
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
I'll believe this supposed fear when men start telling each other to stop going to parties, stop being alone with women, stop drinking, stop being around women wh ohave been drinking, or otherwise seriously restrict their lives because they're so afraid of being falsely accused.
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
From talking to groups of men, I do think that fear is real. It's not a fear I understand, nor is it one I believe is justified, but it's definitely there. I haven't, however, seen evidence of men changing their behaviors as a result of that fear.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
Whereas I see women modifying their behavior all the time. (I sincerely hope I'm not doing that obnoxious "comparative suffering" thing, but seriously, women modify their behavior on a bloody daily basis.)
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
It's funny. I have a lot of good friends. They're not afraid of being falsely accused of rape, and they're all feminist, and sometimes they're more idealistic than me.

I'm reminded of how slave owners before the civil war in America feared slave revolts, and punished them savagely. Despite all the shit they said about how great slavery was, their fears of slaves rising up amounted to acknowledging that they in fact were enslaving human beings without justification. They feared retribution.

Men are still more powerful than women, reailstically, these days. It needs to be pointed out, too: the fears of the powerful and the fears of the powerless are not the same. Men who fear false rape accusations I think are afriad of getting accurately accused.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
Considering the precautions women are required to take in order to not be deemed "responsible" for their own rape, I would actually encourage a culture where men are required to take precautions that prevent them from having sex with less-than-fully-consenting women. It would, at least, be sharing a responsibility (which I believe lies fully with the rapists.)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
Are you aware that women are taught practically from the time we're old enough to go outside on our own the ways we must act to prevent rape? Park under a street light. Carry your keys in your hand with a sharp one between your fingers. Never walk alone at night. Never accept a drink from a stranger. Don't wear short skirts or revealing clothes, or otherwise look sexually available. Don't drink too much.

I fail to see how this fear that a small fraction of the male population supposedly lives in (a percent? two?) is even comparable to the fear that the majority of women have.
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
I think what people are saying is that the prevalent threat of rape is orders of magnitude greater for women than is the prevalent threat of men being falsely accused of rape.

What happened to your friend was terrible, and again this is not meant to minimize that. It's just that we need to look at what's prevalent and predominant, and the vast majority of the time it appears to be men taking advantage of women.
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I'd have to agree with comments above, considering that just as women generally attempt to act in ways that will prevent them from being raped (sticking together, not letting other people handle their drinks, staying in well-populated, well-lit areas, not being alone with men, etc), men who are afraid have every option to adjust their behavior to reduce the chance they will be accused of rape-- yet don't.

I am certainly not saying that if they don't adjust that behavior 'they were asking for it' (because nobody asks to be wronged in any level of severity), but it does seem strange to me that a woman should have to take so many extraneous steps to prevent herself from being harmed and as a whole, men don't seem to have to.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
How so, if you don't mind me asking?
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
It strikes me that a lot of these, or variations on these are the same things I was taught outright to do from early childhood, as a girl, because I was a girl, or learned from experience as early as seven years of age, when violating these rules brought on unwanted physical contact.

Although for me the rule was/is not to make eye contact, because it invites intimacy, and to respond to such unwanted intimacy with acknowledgment (to avoid outright hostility) and then very quick getting-out-of-there.

But yeah, going somewhere alone with a guy means you want him. Being intoxicated means you want him. Smiling and laughing with him, definitely touching him means this, and definitely making eye contact is all supposed to be the same as inviting intimacy. Or sometimes just being there. This does not exclude utter strangers. I don't pick things up that people have dropped anymore, I don't give directions (people in cars have tried to purchase my sexual services when I have done this, services which have never at any time been for sale, and this in winter when I am dressed in nothing more provocative than a huge feather coat zipped from chin to knee).

I don't tell people the time any more after a man (admittedly from a different culture) who didn't understand my English essentially grabbed my wrist when I held it out to him and pulled me toward him to look at my watch, then followed me onto the bus, sat beside me, and basically smushed me into the wall until I got up and sat elsewhere, as if my answering him when asked the time of day was an invitation to sit in my lap for 45 minutes or for 1. however long the bus ride took or 2. however long I was expected to put up with what was pretty much full body contact with an utter stranger.

No doubt my attitude convinces a lot of people that either black women or New Yorkers are total bitches. But I don't care.

It is, essentially, a minefield. And even following all these rules doesn't really prevent all its supposed to prevent.

What a world. I'm kinda sorry for unloading all this on you...
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
I know, right? I have to be careful in how I interact with (usually male) people, because I have NO IDEA whether my polite interaction with someone is going to be interpreted as "I want to go home with you tonight." Because saying hello isn't the same as hitting on someone.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
No, but is it less important?

Okay, I'm going to say it: Yes. It is less important.

False accusations are not a good thing, no. Living in fear of them is not good, either.

But seriously. All forms of harm are not equivalent. And especially, being raped, and being accused of raping someone, are not equivalent things, and the fact that they both fall under the general category of "bad" doesn't change this.

The damage done by having someone lie about you and damage one's reputation, and the damage done by having someone physically overpower, attack, and hurt you are not the same thing. They're not even the same order of magnitude of thing.

And living with the fear of having someone lie about you, and living with the fear of having someone physically attack you? Also. Not the same.
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, does being afraid of being falsely accused of rape involve forcible penetration, injuries, shame, ostracism, slut-shaming, and so forth? All of which take place in a sexist culture where women are being beaten, raped, abused, and not seeing justice for any of that?


Jim C. Hines

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