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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 09:51 pm (UTC)
I've always wondered about the "false reports" thing. Does it happen? I'm sure it does. However, when I was in college (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) the FBI estimated that one in ten rapes got reported, and that one in ten of *those* ended up with a conviction. IOW, according to experts on crime, one percent of people who committed sexual assault at that time actually ended up being punished for it. Or, bluntly, 99% of rapists got away with it. Possibly repeatedly. IMHO, that far outweighs the incidence of false reports.
Jul. 21st, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
The stats I've seen are different, but the conclusions -- that few rapes are reported, and few of those are prosecuted, and few of those lead to convictions -- hold true.

I don't think we should conclude that because this is a bigger problem than false reporting, that the problem of false reports should be ignored or dismissed. (I'm not saying that's what you're saying here, either.) But there's a seriously disproportionate amount of energy and reporting given to false reporting when compared to rape, and I wish we could change that.
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, it was the disproportionate amount of energy being expended on the relatively rare instances of false reports that I was referring to.

The statistic I have on actual rapes/reported rapes/convictions is from years ago, as I said. Happily, it is a little better now. Education has a lot to do with it. Posters in high schools, colleges and doctor's offices, discussions like this... if one person finds the courage to stand up for their rights, or better still, manages to avoid being assaulted entirely, it's a win. A small win, but still a win.


Jim C. Hines

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