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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 04:17 pm (UTC)
I think false accusations of rape are pretty common during acrimonious divorces, where spouses are apparently capable of saying almost anything nasty--especially if there's a custody battle and they want to smear each other. I get this info from a friend who is a divorce lawyer; I have no stats.

A specialized context, to be sure.
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
I could see how people willing to say anything would lie about that.

I could also see how with emotions flying high people are also able to DO extreme things. Bringing into this that rape is about CONTROL and a history of mutual sexual availability (that does of course not imply consent in the future) I could also see how rape might actually happen more frequently under such circumstances.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
Two friends of mine are going through a break-up (actually, SEVERAL friends of mine seem to be going through break-up/separation/divorce), and something like this has happened. With the multiple cases of break-ups I've seen, some of which i've talked about online and some not, nobody here should be able to Identify them.

Both he and she agree that she'd stopped having sex with him for several months due to an unrelated issue (Not prior trauma or a health issue). He began to get frustrated even as he was trying to be understanding.

He says that he began to grope her in his sleep. That she'd wake him and he'd find his hands where they shouldn't be. That he'd stop IMMEDIATELY, and he'd offered multiple times to sleep elsewhere to reduce the risk of hurting her. He said the last thing he wanted to do is assault her. (After weeks of this, she asked him to move for her comfort).

She says that he wasn't always a sleep, and that while he'd stop, it wasn't always immediate, and he'd do it again a few minutes later, and she felt continually pressured to just give in and let him have sex she didn't want.

She now calls it sexual abuse. Not rape, she grants that. He says she used to explicitly say it wasn't sexual assault or abuse, when he said he was afraid of crossing the line.

And I? Have heard too many other conversations between them, and their later reports of what was said, which disagree even more strongly on what really happened than these reports. And in those cases where I or others witnessed the initial actions, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle; my brother thinks the guy tends to be closer to the truth, I think I've seen it go both ways, or neither.

I don't think she's lying. I think she believes what she says.

That isn't the same as being sure it's exactly what happened, or that what happened is actionable.

And yes, I am bothered a bit by "nice guy syndrome" - he is genuinely not someone I could ahve imagined doing anyone, especially female, harm. He does flirt more than she does, but even when unattached, I've never seen him make an inappropriate advance on any female, and the times I've seen her look uncomfortable at his flirting with her, I've thought it was because he was saying more than she would in public. Now I'm trying to replay those events, and wondering if her discomfort might have been further. And I'm not sure.

I'd like the be able to be sure that a friend of mine was hurt, that another friend actually did something terrible and wrong. I'd like to be able to know, and have an answer to the question. It affects my entire friendship with him.

It troubles me.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)

If it sets your heart more at ease, consider that it is, at least, a documented occurrence and it may be possible that both of your friends are telling the truth. This doesn't mean that it 'makes everything okay', either, or that she should have to submit to inappropriate touching regardless of the reason, but there may be less malicious intent in your described situation than previously thought.

In the end, though, I think the best course of action is to be supportive and nonjudgmental of both of your friends, since you don't seem to have any proof that leads you to believe one over the other, from what you describe. I know it's 'easier' to have clear-cut right and wrong, but that doesn't always happen-- sometimes 'wrong' things happen between people both doing their best.
Jul. 21st, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
I know it's possible.

For me the crux of the question is whether he was asleep as he claimed - or sometimes awake, or persisting after waking, as she seems to feel.

The former could make her feel bad without him doing anything intentional; the latter though, turns the behaviour from inadvertent to intentionally harassing. And there we get into the ugh.
Jul. 21st, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
It seems like your worries are because you're a kind person who doesn't want to unintentionally hurt someone who is a friend :) I think that's a positive quality, and I hope that your two friends will know that about you and not get on your case about not taking sides.

I personally think that 'supporting both people, who are your friends' is a safer bet than 'declaring one or both to be liars and possibly denying someone support through a difficult time'. I don't think it is a mistake to be compassionate to both people-- at the absolute worse, you were compassionate to someone who you, in retrospect, judge as undeserving. But in my opinion, I would rather be accused of supporting someone undeserving than not supporting someone who desperately could have used that support. It's a safer bet.

Don't forget, though, this is 'random stranger on the internet' advice. If it's causing you a lot of unbearable distress, I do recommend making an appointment with a counselor or therapist that can maybe help talk you through the full situation and help you settle on a comfortable way of dealing with the situation.
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
Or maybe true accusations are the reason for the divorce in the first place. At least one of the major 'experts' in 'abuse excuse' misogyny peddling has no training as anything but a lifeguard, and has been arrested at least twice for beating his own wife. He works exclusively for misogynists. People really really want to believe that the guy who's so fun and cool with them can't possibly be an asshole around...somebody who's kind of a pill, really, with the 'bitter' in the bitter divorce. Nobody ever calls men bitter in a divorce, do they?
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
While that is conventional wisdom, abuse claims in court have been found to be over 90% true. http://thecrimereport.org/2010/05/06/failure-to-protect-the-crisis-in-america%E2%80%99s-family-courts/ Ironically, a mother reporting abuse to the court makes sole custody less likely.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
Do you distinguish between rape and abuse? Abuse means any sort of violence, and I have no doubt that 90% of the claims of abuse in divorce court are true. And surely that often includes rape, but I think it's important not to blur the two terms.


Jim C. Hines

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