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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 04:27 pm (UTC)
I know one person who was falsely accused of rape (several decades ago). It came up during the media attention to the rapes covered up/committed by members of the Catholic church and similar youth/childrens caretaking organizations.
The guy I know was working at an institution for young (about 12 to 18 I think) males and was accused of rape (amonst other accusations against other persons), but it was proven that he hadn't been working there yet in the timeframe named and the accuser also admitted that he'd lied.

The way the story was related to me it seems like the poliece knew the employes of the institution (the youth there had criminal backgrounds I think) well and the whole story was handled in a way that no great damage came to anybody falsely accused. (And I think all accusations made at the time were false.)
I can understand though how in an environment of troubled youth in an institution these accusations would be more likely than elsewhere.

However, as much as the accusations were false in this case, it does make me think that IF there had been something going on, there could have been the possibility of the victims not beeing believed (all accusations made were checked out in this case).
It's also made this guy sceptical towards the people who were finally feeling like they could report abuse they'd suffered in their chidhood, which is regrettable.

On a different note: The most mindboggling attitude towards rape was this guy who said rape was feminist! Because men owned power and money and feminists wanted to take it from them and women owned sex and therefore it would be a sign of men and women being equal if men took it from them...
Disregarding that sex is about power and control and not sex, I feel like much would be improved if attitudes towards female sexuality in general changed. If sex is about something two people who agreed to do so do together because they enjoy it and not something that males have to convinve females to do.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
"On a different note: The most mindboggling attitude towards rape was this guy who said rape was feminist! Because men owned power and money and feminists wanted to take it from them and women owned sex and therefore it would be a sign of men and women being equal if men took it from them..."

You know this sounds like the socio-biology thing from 10 years ago dressed up in a new skin. About a decade back there were a number of socio-biologists (and we're talking people with PH.D's here) who put out the idea that rape was natural and the urge in men to rape was 'normal' because rape happened all the time in the animal kingdom.
I've been out of the anthropology circuit for a while now so I'm not sure if this is still making the rounds but sheesh. Way to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding about what rape is from supposedly educated people. I'm just glad I heard that one in collage, I couldn't imagine how that could have colored my world view if I'd been younger or worse a young victim. Further proof that you are right, Jim, we need to educate early and often as to what rape is and that it is everybody's problem.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
rape happened all the time in the animal kingdom.

Bah, humbug! Rape happens in the animal kingdom, but usually under specific circumstances -- [1] confined, over-populated pressure (as in too many rats deliberately kept in too small an area) and [2] when a new alpha male takes over (in animals with a 'harem' system, like herds of horses or prides of lions) he may rape the pregnant females to force them to miscarry so that they'll come into heat and he can impregnate them.

In most instances, the female decides when she wants to mate; I have seen mares - already in heat - kick the stallion away because she wasn't ready yet. And the stallion quit trying to mount. Stayed close to the mare, waiting, but she gives the final signal for, "Okay, now."

But, as always, too many men are looking for any excuse to suggest that it's 'normal' for men to 'need' lots of sex, and that women 'owe' it to the men, and have no right to say no. Aargh!
Jul. 21st, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
In most instances, the female decides when she wants to mate; I have seen mares - already in heat - kick the stallion away because she wasn't ready yet. And the stallion quit trying to mount. Stayed close to the mare, waiting, but she gives the final signal for, "Okay, now."

Same thing happens with coyotes, only with more teeth involved (I suspect).

Jul. 21st, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
I personally think the entire argument is debunked by the simple reasoning that just because they do it 'all the time' in the animal kingdom does not mean we, too, should do it. Otherwise it would be justified reasoning to...

- kill the children of your chosen mate's previous made to retain your bloodline
- eat our stillborn young for much-needed protein during a hard pregnancy
- urinate or defecate to mark our territory

Need I go on...?
Jul. 21st, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, exactly that.
Jul. 21st, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
"urinate or defecate to mark our territory"

Wait, you mean we're not supposed to-- Well, I guess that would explain the nasty looks I get from the janitor at work.

(I totally agree with the point you're making. The smart-assery just slipped out.)
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
My list could have been far more extensive, but nobody really wants to consider where the analogies would have gone had I moved from mammalia into arthropoda...

(No worries, it made me smile-- I'm still sore from mental self-flagellation over my poorly chosen words from the other day, which could have benefitted from clarification parentheses)
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
The idea that rape is natural is a constant. It never goes away, but it sure is useful for weeding out people who aren't worth talking to. I think the two guys were entomologists, by the way.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
The theory started with the entomologists and the idea that the male holds the female's wings to keep her from flying away. And then their analysis got propagated by the sociobiology camp.
Rape is about control. In the animal kingdom sex is not about control but procreation(possible exception bonobos our close cousins who are one of the few species besides us to have sex for reasons other than procreation - in their case most frequently to diffuse social tension). Rape also has a whole host of societal implication/consequences for the assailant and victim in humans that do not exist in other species. Rape does not have a true correlation in the animal kingdom. When studying animals we have to be very careful about anthropomorphizing (Merecat Manor is esp. bad about this).
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
Sorry above message is me, it didn't log in.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Nothing beats the squeals of outrage when you tell some outraged evo-psych dude that, no, asshat, you're not accepting his raftload of suppositions and biases. Good times, man. But, yeah, I remember that brouhaha. How come all this shit only works in mens' favor? Gee, women are naturally programmed to clean, cook, have babies, and wear lingerie! Why on earth would anybody be skeptical of those theories?


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