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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 03:35 pm (UTC)
To my knowledge I know one family member who was raped and one friend who was raped multiple times. I also know 2 women who were in abusive relationships whom I suspect had sex sometimes when they would rather not have, which I guess is marital/relationship rape.

My ex-girlfriend (I am female) was also the victim of a sexual assault years ago, though it didn't progress past groping. Last year she came to my job and accused 2 mutual friend/acquaintances of raping multiple women and a 3rd mutual friend of helping cover it up. I was really torn on this. On the one hand, I suspected she was lying, as she had previously told me that she had lied about me to many other people as revenge for breaking up with her. On the other hand....it was a rape accusation.

My (male) work friend, who usually comes up with very good solutions to things, encouraged me to seriously consider the accusation, asking what I would want someone to do if I made the accusation. He then suggested I email both my ex and my friends and ask for both sides of the story. Actually he suggested I ask my ex's permission first, but since according to her she had publicly confronted all these people about the rapes, I figured she was ok with me confronting them privately.

So I emailed the mutual friend whose address I had, the one accused of covering the rapes up, and got a reply back saying she didn't know anything about it and it never happened. I emailed my ex asking for more information and saying I was emailing the mutual friend and my ex said she didn't want me to email anybody, she was just telling me for my own safety. She never gave me any details on the alleged victims, just said there were a number of them. I interpreted this as backpedaling and decided I would believe the mutual acquaintances/disbelieve my ex.

Why did a victim of assault probably make a false accusation? Well, she could have been lying about the assault on her, but I didn't get the feeling that she was lying when she told me and it didn't gain her anything when we were together to tell me about an assault years ago. She did note that she didn't know how to feel about it, that she didn't feel like she was a victim. I don't think she empathized with the random hypothetical rape victim whose credibility she was cutting into when she made a probably false accusation.

I don't think I am violating anyone's confidentiality here as to my knowledge people on lj don't know my ex-girlfriends, or the accused.
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
That's a very hard position to be in. All of my training and background encourage me to believe someone who discloses having been raped, and it sounds like you have the same sort of reflex.

I don't know if there's any perfect answer, but the steps you describe make sense to me. It sounds like you don't believe her because you've looked at what information you could find and made an informed decision, as opposed to not believing her because you don't want to, or you don't like her, or all of the other bullshit reasons people find to disbelieve rape, if that makes sense?
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
What you said makes sense. I feel like I didn't believe her because of looking at the information I could find, and also because I had a gut sense of disbelieving her because I knew she'd lied before. Hopefully my assesment was correct.
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
I had a roommate who detailed years of horrible abuse at her mother's hands. She was utterly and completely umsympathetic to other victims, though, and would even laugh at the abuse of other women, and she was a pathological liar. It took a while for the whole picture to be apparent, though. She was in general a career crook, however, and it has to be factored in there. She'd have accused anybody of anything if it got her what she wanted.


Jim C. Hines

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