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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.

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Comments

neva_butterfly
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
Inspired by your previous entry I wrote an entire entry on false reports of rape. If I get a chance later I'll try to summarize... For me there are a couple issues here. One would be someone who truly and maliciously accuses someone of rape when no rape occurred. Secondly you might have a situation where there is a genuine confusion around the issue of consent or disagreement on what happened. A third scenario, which is the one most commonly reported in the news is the one where someone was raped, most often violently by a stranger, and the wrong person is arrested and sometimes even convicted. In only one of these scenarios could the person accusing the other of rape really be considered to be lying. However, the third scenario is no less devastating to all involved. I do not know anyone personally who has ever falsely accused anyone of rape, and I do not know anyone who says they were falsely accused. However, most of my close female friends are survivors of some sort, either of rape/sexual assault as an adult or childhood abuse, and many men I know have also been through these things. Of everyone I know who has survived rape/abuse/assault/incest, I know one who went to the police and ultimately to court over it. Almost everyone else was too scared or intimidated or was worried they would not be taken seriously.
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
That's a very good breakdown, thank you. And yes, there are several different situations which can be classified as "false reports," but don't necessarily mean anyone lied.

It's one of the most underreported crimes out there, if not the most underreported. No surprise, given the way we treat rape survivors.
valarltd
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
A fourth scenario: the accusation is a function of mental illness.

My daughter made several rape accusations during the period of her greatest illness. I've come to believe these were false and a function of the illness. Once she was brought back into chemical balance, she retracted the accusations.

A fifth: The accusation, usually made by a fairly young girl, is a cover for consentual sex. My younger sister pulled this one because she knew my folks would hit the roof about her having sex, but would take care of her if she was raped.
cissa
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
Yes, this. That's what my daughter, who is mentally ill, did before we got her meds sorted out.
dulcinbradbury
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:51 am (UTC)
Yep. I know of one case where BOTH people were really too drunk to consent. She realized she had some really blank parts in her memory, got scared that she'd been drugged, & went to the police. He got visited by the police, who went through his home looking for drugs, & was absolutely shocked & confused by it. What the hell do you do with that?
(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
They had a man on Doctor Phil last month who lost twenty years away from his wife and two small children, because a frightened teenage girl misidentified him and the racist cops took her at her word without question. The DNA evidence was sent back to two separate labs recently, both of which excluded him 100%---he was not the perpetrator, nor was anyone he is related to.


And my brother told me last yerar that his friend broke up with a girl who texted another friend, that she was planning to falsely accuse him of raping her. Why? No real reason; she was bored and thought it would bring attention and sympathy. Thank God that friend told the guy so he was able to break up with her and expose her plan.

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