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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

ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
I look at anecdata about 'my best friend's brother's cousin's dentist's..." stories as pure bullshit because so often when you ask, "Well...how do you really know?" the response is usually, "Oh, I know> She's a slut, that's why. She's a terrible person. He's a great guy. (To them, obviously, but so what?) I just know." What it usually comes down to is they like the guy, they never liked the woman, so she's lying. There's no proof at all.

This link (.pdf> points out that even police and FBI statistics depend on accepting their definitions. I don't. I wrote in March of this year, for example, about this case in Maryland, where a rape victim was horrified to find a police detective demanding a polygraph of her after the rapist left her house and she managed to untie herslef and get to a phone. A month later another woman was raped by a guy with the same M.O. Another woman had to get raped because because the cops had a ridiculous bias.

Or...not so ridiculous. The lead detective in that case was named Tom Martin. He was subsequently arrested, charged, and convicted of two sexual assaults himself. I wonder if the guys he worked with noticed anything. And if they didn't, or didn't share his opiions, then why did they polygraph rape victims?

The other thing that link makes clear is that if you want to spot a false rape claim, well....they're going to be stranger rapes. Who'd want to tell the truth about rape when it's so damned unpleasant? People want to believe in the bushy-haired rapist in the alley with a gun; they don't want to hear that your buddy or your boyfriend or your neighbor raped you, without a weapon. Why would you tell the one lie that's guaranteed to make people disbelieve you?

And a final note: false rape accusations don't have shit to do with peoples' skepticism about rape charges. That's on them, their sexism, their suspicion of women. Nobody has the power to make someone think badly of rape victims unless they already are looking for an excuse.

Edited at 2010-07-21 11:17 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
Huge thanks for that link! I wish I'd seen that article before I prepped this post. Will be going back to reread much more closely.

The Maryland case -- was that the Baltimore area, by chance? (Thinking back to the last post I did, and the article about the Baltimore police department's obscene bias against rape victims.)
ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
No, it was a smaller town. It's very hard to find and I actually first encountered it in a book. What's depressing is I actually mistook a totally different case for this one because if you start looking up how many cops rape women, you'll find that there's a shit ton of them out there.

I'm waiting eagerly for somebody to bring up the Air Force study or Eugene Kanin. That's when I really know somebody's got an agenda.

I said it elsewhere, but I'll mention it here, too. Why if a guy gets falsely accused of rape---if it's one of the cases where it actually happened---and he gets to hate women for ever, but nobody else gets the same dispensation? I got mugged by a black guy and my best beloved coworker asked me an amazing question: "Do you feel differently about black men now?" Well, no, duh, because the guy who attacked me wasn't a black guy, he was a black mugger, and so he's a mugger, period. And I didn't have a good opinion of them to begin with.

People who say they distrust and fear women after a false rape charge are basically revealing that they believe all women are liars, if not worse and more.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
Here's the link to the case about the cop: Rape by badge. Cops get away with asaulting and murdering people every day. Why on earth do people think that somehow they wouldn't be treating women as bad as they do men? In fact, cops and other militaristic institutions tend to have higher rates of domestic violence and rape in their personal lives than do civilians.

I'm thinking here of the Glen Ridge rape case, where a group of rich, white privileged young men raped a developmentally-disabled young woman. One of those kids was the son of a cop. (In the more recent Greg Haidl case the lead rapist was the son of a Republican Orange County sheriff.) He went on to join the Army, with the Army's knowledge and the judge's permission, because the victim's family didn't want to go through a second trial. (Needless to say the town lined up behind "Our Guys" as they did in the Lakewood case, too.) Richard Corcorran---the rapist that the Army gave a gun and access to women to---went on to attempt a double murder, but succeeded in only killing himself.

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