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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

jadedissola
Jul. 21st, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
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?

Coming from a small town, I know about the good ol' boy network. "Oh, him? That's Willy's son, he comes from a good family and he'd never do anything like that! How dare you try to sully his good name!"

In middle school, I knew a boy accused of touching a sheriff deputy's daughter. He claimed he didn't do it, that it was a boy standing next to him (though to be honest, given that he'd touched me inappropriately, I'm not inclined to believe his story). Her father was in the school the next day, pretty much demanding the boy's head on a platter. The boy got suspended for the maximum length of time allowed back then.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I was 15. A boy grabbed me in a park when we were alone for only a few minutes. Touched my breasts and other parts of me. When I tried to retaliate, he claimed he had a weapon of some sort and that if I kicked him, he'd hurt me. (I never saw the weapon, but I did feel something in his hand once when he grabbed me and it hurt.) I didn't want to report it because nothing else happened aside from the touching, and I didn't believe he was going to rape me, but when I told my mother, she told my dad and he called the sheriff's office to report it (the park was outside of the city limits).

At school the following day, an unmarked car pulled up and my mother got out of the passenger seat. In front of my friends, I was ushered into the back of the car and was driven to a parking spot somewhere in the front of my high school. There, I was told to recount what happened, and I answered many questions. The entire time, I was speaking to the back of the officer's head. I never saw her face. After I was done, they drove me back to where they'd picked me up, and as I got out, my friends (who knew what happened) mocked me mercilessly for reporting it.

The report never went anywhere, and all I learned was never to bother reporting anything unless I was actually raped and had physical evidence of it. Had I been a deputy's daughter, or had they known just who I'm related to (my mother's side of the family is actually pretty well known), I imagine it might have gone a hell of a lot differently than it did.

It's always a case of who you know and who you're related to.

I'm not saying false reports don't happen, they do, and I'm glad that the women in the articles you mentioned are being punished according to the law -- it's what should happen to anyone who files a false report for any crime. But it'd be nice to say the real accusations were met with as much seriousness.
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, yes. And it's not just the small town.

It's so frustrating. You should have been taken seriously. You deserved to be treated with respect, and to be listened to. Had the people involved done their jobs, that's exactly what would have happened. And I hate that so often, that job doesn't get done.

"But it'd be nice to say the real accusations were met with as much seriousness."

Yes. That.

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