Thanks to Valena who passed along this really helpful article on false rape claims in the most recent newsletter of the American Prosecutors Research Institute’s National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women (how’s that for an authoritative sounding mouthful?). The idea that lots of women make false rape reports circulates widely in our culture, but several very good studies have shown consistently that the true range of false reports is probably between 2% and 8%. Moreover, the majority of these false reports, also contrary to popular myth, are deliberately vague and seek to avoid having anyone arrested for the crime – they were made by mentally-ill people seeking attention and caring, not by vindictive women out for revenge.
The article is a pretty straightforward read, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in sexual assault prevention and response read at least the first six pages, as the authors very succinctly lay out what studies have been done on the prevalence of false reporting, what they have found, and how we know they are accurate (or inaccurate – they also explain why studies that have produced much higher numbers are wrong because they rely on the number of cases not prosecuted, which is a very different standard than a false report and has a lot of potential for bias). This is the kind of information that is great to have at your fingertips when arguing with some rape apologist, and the kind of information that is very useful in a university setting where people tend to respond best to concrete research citations.
I also found the rest of the article fascinating, as it covers things like the signs of a possibly false report (hint: the more closely an account conforms to our “classic” vision of a violent stranger rape with a weapon, the more likely it is to be false – which is not to say that now we should go around doubting those who report a stranger rape, merely that the fact that the rapist is known to the survivor should increase her or his credibility, not decrease it as often happens now), how to approach inconsistencies in a survivor’s story without accusations of falsification, and the vexed question of whether or not false reporters should be prosecuted (My personal take? No if they are mentally-ill attention seekers, yes if they are deliberately committing fraud with an intent to injure a specific person. So very, very rarely.).