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Aug 25 2013

One Reason Why False Rape Allegation Statistics Are So High

Men, even good men, believe women lie about rape. There’s this myth that runs amok saying that some enormous proportion of rape accusations are just women lying to get attention, or revenge, or to hide their summer fling from mommy and daddy. And they believe it without question.

When male friends toss that grenade at me, I toss it back by asking if they know what the percentage is. “Fifty percent,” they’ll say, or above, depending on which MRAs their stats are coming from.

“It’s two to eight percent,” I say, and I need to remember to never do this when they’re walking or have something in their mouths, because the good ones are always staggered, and they always gasp. “But even those numbers are on the high side.”

Image courtesy Tim Fields via Flickr.

Image courtesy Tim Fields via Flickr.

I don’t need to go in to detail with the good ones. I don’t need to do more than remind them what actually happens to women who report. They realize immediately that very few people would be so motivated by some other factor that they would willingly subject themselves to the hell that is rained down upon rape victims. And then I remind them that while our culture often makes reporting a rape worse than the rape itself, when it comes to male victims, it’s damned near impossible to report at all. And if you’re a trans* person? Hell doesn’t even begin to describe it. Once we have finished that brief survey of Rape Culture Today, the good ones never spout nonsense statistics again.

For those who stubbornly wish to believe that bitches be lyin’, I can point them at studies. I have before and will again. But in the future, I will first make them chew on this “false” rape allegation statistic until their teeth break.

Error!

Massive trigger warning for graphic description of violent sexual assault and horrific treatment by law enforcement

Now, some of them will spit out that report along with their shattered teeth and flap their bleeding gums at me: “That’s just an anecdote.” And that is true. It is just one data point behind the 2-8%. Since we are Good Skeptics™, we know to look beyond anecdotes.

So let me add in a study of police attitudes toward rape victims. It would seem EEB isn’t alone, then. And if we could factor in the victims who never reported at all because of shit like this, that “false” rape allegation statistic would drop like a rock. Since they don’t, the statistics are skewed, making “false” allegations look more prevalent.

Now add the horrific treatment victims experience from defense attorneys who believe they’re scum. I can tell you from experience this can be worse than the rape. It can be a form of torture, and like torture victims, some rape victims will recant just to make the pain stop. Magically, their allegation is now “false.” But they’re no less raped, and the rapist is no less a sexual predator.

Add in the fact that some rapists have the lock on society, and can crush their victims. If their victims had the courage to report, they’ve soon got their buddies to sweep the crime under the rug. And another several ticks are added in the “false” rape allegation column.

Add in children who receive such a terrifying reaction to their attack that they recant just to protect themselves. More “false” rape allegations.

What about victims who aren’t supported by friends and family because many cultures make it easier to believe the victims are filthy, disgusting, crazy liars rather than people suffering from sexual assault? I think you know what happens to the statistics by now.

Add in the fact that some police departments don’t make a distinction between “reports that are actually, genuinely, provably false” and “reports that can’t be prosecuted due to statue of limitations, lack of evidence, or some other reason, but no doubt the victim was assaulted.” Both numbers end up counting under “false” allegations, although a sizable percentage weren’t false at all.

Add in about a trillion circumstances I haven’t remembered to include. Compare that to the enormous number of rapes and sexual assaults.

Image courtesy roga muffin via Flickr.

Image courtesy roga muffin via Flickr.

The reality is that false rape allegations are a tiny bit of flotsam on a sea of rape. Even if that 2-8% number were accurate, it would still be far too small to use to discount rape allegations out of hand. The fact that even that tiny percentage is inflated by cases like EEB’s should ensure that every decent human being treat victims’ reports as provisionally true. The idea that most or even many rape allegations are false is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence. Those who continue to insist otherwise have forfeited any right to be considered good people.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    tigtog

    Dana, thank you for collecting all these links in one post. May I crosspost it to the Finally, A Feminism 101 blog as a guest post?

    1. 1.1
      Dana Hunter

      You’re welcome, and of course!

      1. tigtog

        Excellent! I’ve posted it over at FF101 now, expect the influx of flying monkeys in 5-4-3-2-1…

        http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/one-reason-why-false-rape-allegation-statistics-are-so-high/

  2. 2
    rq

    Typo alert:

    statue of limitations

    I believe that should be “statute of limitations”, just for absolute clarity.

    And for the rest of it… I have no words. Horror doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  3. 3
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    This is yet another lesson I have learned about Rape Culture in recent months. Previously, I took the 2-8% figure as being ‘rape claims that were not true’ (which is how MRAs treat it, but they do not look into those numbers at all and there is info out there. Is that ‘poisoning the well’?). I have since been corrected and now reading all the various ways in which the figure is inflated is horrifying.

  4. 4
    hjhornbeck

    Bookmarked. And if I may add to the pile:

    We have two main estimates of sexual assault prevalence: police reports, and private surveys. While you could argue that there are reasons for filing a false report with the police, what incentive is there for lying on a private survey? There’s no possibility of punishment for the perp. You can use this to make a prediction: if false reports to the police are common, you would expect the number of assaults as cataloged by surveys to be lower. If they are rare, you’d expect the two figures to be close or equal.

    Neither scenario fits reality, though; private surveys indicate sexual assaults happen about twelve times more frequently than police reports suggest, and show that it is reported far less often than other crimes.

    Through mere numbers, we can demonstrate that the false report rate must be very low, and that any number which is not low demonstrates police interference.

  5. 5
    robertschenck

    It’s /almost/ surprising that there aren’t much higher percentages of false rape claims, if you listen to the rape apologists, it’s a ‘great and easy’ strategy. It’s a real statement of the human condition now that there are way more actual rapes than there are false reports of rapes. Rape is what you can get away with, false reports of rapes, not so much.

  6. 6
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I think Maryam Namazie needs to read this…

  7. 7
    Jackie

    Thanks, Dana.

  8. 8
    Susannah

    Thanks, Dana.

    Another of the “trillion circumstances” is mistaken identification, usually in the case of stranger rape; the victim does not know the attacker, and may not be able to identify him. Police often class this under “false allegations”.

    For example:

    Hazlewood & Burgess, (2001) have noted that the term ‘false allegation’ makes no distinction between complainants who wilfully misreport rape and those who have been raped but who
    mistakenly identify an innocent individual as the perpetrator. It fails to acknowledge the possible
    motivations behind false allegations and this report found no research on the proportion of false
    allegations which result from, for example, wilful misreporting versus mistaken identity.

    Taken from justice.gov.uk. I have seen similar examples elsewhere, but at the moment, I can’t find my links.

  9. 9
    robertbaden

    Do they count police mis-identification in those figures.? In cases where the victim is dead, or doesn’t remember the attack ?

    Those cases get a lot of attention when the mistakes are found out, at least for a while.

  10. 10
    sw

    Every real accusation of rape which is dismissed for whatever reason is counted as a false accusation. That is shit, and skews the numbers in one direction.
    But also every false accusation of rape that is accepted as true is counted as an actual rape. This is also shit, and skews the numbers in the other direction.
    There are definitely arsehole defense attorneys that get criminals off. But there are also arsehole prosecutors that get innocent people convicted.
    Unless we know which one happens more than the other, the numbers are inherently dodgey. That is a major problem when trying to investigate the statistics of dishonesty.

    Just my thoughts at least.

  11. 11
    Susannah

    #10

    Here we go again. :(

  12. 12
    Dana Hunter

    I think sw could educate hirself by following the links in the post, reading the comments thoroughly, and studying the studies. The same is true for all expressing the same sentiments. The answers to your worries await! By all means, avail yourself of the available information. However, this cantina is not a place where the commetariat need to worry about getting bogged down in endless 101 level discussions and countering rape apologia. There’s a nice sniny banhammer behind the bar that will be applied liberally to those who try. I don’t think sw is playing silly buggers with us, and I couldn’t find instances of hir doing so elsewhere, so I’m provisionally extending the benefit of the doubt.

    I also let sw’s comment through despite the danger of tangents because those are valid points, which have been addressed in other places that I’ve seen. But I’m hoping someone with better link-fu has some good resources at the ready for us.

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