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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 02:24 pm (UTC)
Do you believe someone who is intoxicated has the ability to give consent?
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
Well, I'd phrase it this way. You've got someone who seems interested in you, but they may or may not be sober enough to consent.

If you do nothing, you risk losing sex with someone that night.

If you go for it, you risk having sex with someone who didn't want it and wasn't thinking clearly.

For me, that's not a very difficult question at all.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
I'm all for education, as you've probably guessed by now.

"But how do you legally deal with "I made a bad decision and shouldn't have slept with the girl when I wasn't sober" as opposed to the men who actively use drugs or force to get sex?"

Most states have varying degrees of rape charges. Michigan has four degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct, for instance.

In many cases I doubt the former example would ever make it into court, given the difficulty of persuading a jury. But if so, my guess is that they would be prosecuted with different charges.
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
To quote someone else I read not that long ago regarding this very same subject: There's a huge difference between waking up after a night of partying and going, "What did I do last night?"/"What was I thinking?" and waking up and saying, "What did you do to me last night?"
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
I don't. That's why I have a policy never to have sex when I or the other party has been drinking! I tend not to drink in large groups or questionable company for that reason. It was only reaffirmed when my partner's cousin -- whom I don't like or respect -- came over when he and I were drinking, and I ended up making out with her! The next day I was horrified! (Not that I had a hot lesbian make-out session. That I had one with a female I normally can't stand!)
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
This brings up a whole area where I find myself not satisfied with any of the answers. "Where do you draw the line?" is indeed the relevant question.

The line that "someone who is intoxicated cannot give consent" uses a legalistic model that I find a little disturbing. It implies that sex is something men do *to* women. That men are, in fact, in charge of the situation, and for that reason it falls on them to conduct it ethically. If a woman is enthusiastically pursuing sex, her male partner is responsible for not only evaluating her ability to consent, but refusing her if he judges that she is not able.

This makes men responsible for policing women's behavior. Yuck.

Then throw in the complication that if she is drunk, he may well be also. Did *he* consent? Did they rape each other?

The real issue is control. Finding the line between "in control of one's own actions, and doing a piss-poor job of it, too" and "coerced or taken advantage of by someone who controlled the situation to suit himself"... I'm not convinced it's always possible to tell without witnessing everything.

I'm a little bit playing devil's advocate here. I'm well aware that the cold-blooded "get her drunk so she doesn't resist" scenario is way too common. But the idea that a person who is drunk is not responsible for his or her own actions makes me deeply uneasy too.


Jim C. Hines

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