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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 05:04 pm (UTC)
False Rape Reports
jim did you catch the story today on NPR about an arab man convicted of "rape by deception" of an Israeli woman after consensual sex. She thought he was jewish and after she had sex with him and found out he was an arab, she called the police. Interesting concept.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
I missed that. Wow ... I'd need some time to start unpacking and processing that one.
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
IIRC, some rape statutes to have a slot for "rape by deception" which covers things like a guy sneaking into a woman's bed and pretending to be her husband. (Although if you analyzed the reasoning behind that, it would probably come down to the equivalent of "property damage" -- an offense against the man rather than the woman.)

Rape by fraud -- by falsely presenting yourself as someone with whom the woman would consent to have sex -- is an entirely different issue, and opens up some very interesting speculation. For example, wouldn't that have been a valid charge against the sort of man who would promise marriage in order to get sex, and then dump the woman because she was "unchaste"? But of course, that sort of law didn't exist in the societies where it happened.
Jul. 21st, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
According to the NPR story, Isreal is one of only two countries in the world to have such a statute. It requires an odd combination of liberality (to accept the legitimacy of sex between unmarried people) and paradoxical conservatism (to enforce a sort of contractual legality on the sex act with the possiblity of fraud).
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
Re: False Rape Reports
Details on the Israeli case are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-10717186


Jim C. Hines

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