Why this Study on False Rape Accusations Is So Important

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As the Steubenville trial begins, information on false accusations is more important than ever.

Men’s Rights Activists are upset about actions the British government could take regarding a British study released yesterday by the Crown Protective Services (CPS) on false allegations of rape and domestic violence. Namely, that the government will no longer regard accused rapists as innocent until proven guilty. The study found that the cultural idea that false rape allegations are prevalent is patently false; in their research they found that over their 17 month study period there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence in England and Wales, but only 35 prosecutions for false rape allegations and six for false allegations of domestic violence.

Yet the idea that a false allegation of sexual assault is a weapon wielded by women who regret their consensual activities is a prominent one. In fact, its prevalence likely leads to women deciding not to pursue legal action around assault, out of fear they will not be believed.

Within the study, investigators found that out of the 159 individuals linked to false claims, many of them were young. Close to half of these women were under 21, and in cases involving minors under 18, almost 40% of the claims had originated with someone other than the purported “victim,” often a parent. So a not insubstantial number of these false allegations can be attributed to a parent who was suspicious or unhappy with their child’s sexual behavior.

Taking this into account, the number of outright false allegations from women decreases even more. Though any false reporting of any crime must be taken seriously, and the damage done by false rape accusations is substantial, we must also consider their relative scarcity when compared to real accusations. 

Ideas around false allegations of sexual assault are also prevalent here in the United States as well. This week the infamous Steubeneville trial of the two accused rapists begins. For those of you who don’t remember, this case involves the alleged rape of an incapacitated, extremely intoxicated high school girl in Ohio. Hacker collective Anonymous released various social media posts regarding the alleged sexual assault, including, most incriminatingly, a cellphone video where a laughing young man refers to the young woman, stating, “She’s so raped right now.”

Despite this, the defense lawyers representing the two accused football players will claim that the young woman had been drinking, but was coherent enough to consent to sex. The underlying defense here is that the woman was able to agree to sex with these men, did agree to sex with these men, but later regretted her actions and brought rape charges against the young men. It’s easy to see how a prevalent cultural belief that false rape accusations are common could influence both police and jurors in this type of situation.

Real data, from both the U.S. and abroad, that delves into the truth about cultural clichés is always useful. When that cultural cliché is of the "women cry rape all the time" variety, it’s even more important that we have objective research illustrating exactly how untrue it is.