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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

jimhines
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
I'm struggling with this one. I absolutely believe and agree that there are people who don't want to acknowledge rape, who will happily cling to the idea of false reports as an excuse.

But I've also run into an awful lot of ignorance about rape. People who are simply clueless. It's not something that gets talked about in most families or in the schools, and given the distorted attention the media and our culture gives to stories of falsely reported rapes, I can see how people could start to absorb a rather messed-up picture.

So I'm not sure it's *only* people who want to believe the sexist lies who might get a distorted idea about it all, if that makes sense? Sometimes it's simply ignorance.

Whether that ignorance is deliberate (I choose to look away) or not (young kid who's never been exposed to anything else) is another question.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:17 am (UTC)
It's been my experience that you can tell if they're honest or not by how they react to proof. There's lots of proof out there. (Of course, I'm of the opinion that willingly believing that women are lying whores means I shouldn't take a person seriously.) IF they dismiss it or just go, "Well, we'll have to agree to disagree...." they're not worth keeping around.
jimhines
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
So if I'm understanding you, it's not that anyone who believes false reports happen with any regularity is a sexist idiot so much as people who deliberately cling to that belief in the face of other evidence?
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
If depends on how vehement and hateful they are about it, but yeah, I'd be cautiously willing to give somebody exactly one instance of benefit of the doubt. Women make up half the population, and for somebody to extrapolate from one or two cases to that population is an act of extreme paranoia and prejudice. If you point that out to them and they go, "Oh! I never thought of it like that!" and are open about informing themselves, yeah, they might be educable. Mind you, I'm the sort of person who think that twits who say shit like "All Muslims are terrorists" or other such crap shouldn't be granted any slack at all, and I think people who buy into false rape hysteria are little better. Once they get past a certain age, isn't it the adult thing to think for themselves and go....Hey, isn't that kind of black and white? Why didn't I see this before?
jimhines
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
"Mind you, I'm the sort of person who think that twits who say shit like 'All Muslims are terrorists' or other such crap shouldn't be granted any slack at all..."

Interesting. When you say that, my gut response is "Of course!" Anyone who thinks all Muslims are terrorists is an idiot in dire need of a clue-by-four.

I think it's the "All" that does it. Someone who tells me "All women do/would lie about rape" is a waste of oxygent. Someone who says "I think some women lie about rape" or "Lying about rape is common" ... it still feels grating to me, but not quite in the same way.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
That's because Muslims are people, silly. Women aren't. I said this elsewhere, but it's hard for a man to grasp---and a woman to convey--just how stacked ajnd impossible the deck is for women. Women start out with so many prejudices and beliefs against them, most of them contradictory, that there's simply no way a woman can win.

Frankly, I've dealth with people who go, Well, some women..and I'm like...and, so? How is this important? What damage does it do beyond an individual level? I mean, considering the damage men do to women, bitching about the stray women here and there is very much man bites dog.

I've yet to meet a good man who feared a false rape charge.

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