A recent look at TruthLaidBear brings up a statement of “outrage” about a judge ruling a rape accusation false. A common theme among those who are outraged is as stated by one such (Shakespear’s Sister) that:
“Yes, there are some women (and men) who file false rape charges. They are, however, rare, usually quickly identified as false, and are almost always thrown out long before trial.”
Having been involved as an expert in a multitude of cases with significant publicity, I know that it is foolish to be certain of guilt or innocence based on news accounts. I do know, however, that the statement above is simply false.
A study of rape allegations in Indiana over a nine-year period revealed that over 40% were shown to be false — not merely unproven. According to the author, “These false allegations appear to serve three major functions for the complainants: providing an alibi, seeking revenge, and obtaining sympathy and attention. False rape allegations are not the consequence of a gender-linked aberration, as frequently claimed, but reflect impulsive and desperate efforts to cope with personal and social stress situations.” ( Kanin EJ. Arch Sex Behav. 1994 Feb;23(1):81-92 False rape allegations. )
In 1985, a study of 556 rape allegations found that 27% accusers recanted when faced with a polygraph (which can be ordered in the military), and independent evaluation showed a false accusation rate of 60%. (McDowell, Charles P., Ph.D. “False Allegations.” Forensic Science Digest, (publication of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations), Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 1985), p. 64.)
One interesting discussion on the internet is at the CrimProf Blog, where this topic was raised, and a number of former AFOSI (Air Force Office of Special Investigations) comment on this 30% number.
A â€œWashington Postâ€? investigation of rape reports in seven Virginia and Maryland counties in 1990 and 1991 found that nearly one in four were unfounded. When contacted by the Post, many of the alleged victims admitted that they had lied.
It is true, of course, that not every accuser who recants had accused falsely. But it is also true that some who do not recant were not telling the truth.
According to a 1996 Department of Justice Report, of the roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases analyzed with DNA evidence over the previous seven years, 2,000 excluded the primary suspect, and another 2,000 were inconclusive. The report notes that these figures mirror an informal National Institute of Justice survey of private laboratories, and suggests that there exists “some strong, underlying systemic problems that generate erroneous accusations and convictions.”
That false allegations are a major problem has been confirmed by several prominent prosecutors, including Linda Fairstein, who heads the New York County District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit. Fairstein, the author of â€œSexual Violence: Our War Against Rape,â€? says, “there are about 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan. Of these, about half simply did not happen.”
Craig Silverman, a former Colorado prosecutor known for his zealous prosecution of rapists during his 16-year career, says that false rape accusations occur with “scary frequency.” As a regular commentator on the Bryant trial for Denver’s ABC affiliate, Silverman noted that “any honest veteran sex assault investigator will tell you that rape is one of the most falsely reported crimes.” According to Silverman, a Denver sex-assault unit commander estimates that nearly half of all reported rape claims are false.
A 1997 â€œColumbia Journalism Reviewâ€? analysis of rape statistics noted that the 2% statistic is often falsely attributed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has no clear and credible study to support it. The FBI’s statistic for “unfounded” rape accusations is 9%, but this definition only includes cases where the accuser recants or the evidence contradicts her story. Instances where the case is dismissed for lack of evidence are not included in the “unfounded” category.
Moreover, the DNA exoneration project is revealing numerous cases of false conviction. In one case, an alleged rapist was identified by the alleged victim, and spent 19 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
While most of my practice has involved people who are clearly victims, in my image processing consultation practice I have seen multiple cases of false accusation of assault and rape. In one case, a man and a woman, both in the Navy but assigned to different ships, met and had sex while on liberty in Bahrain. The next day, the man approached the ship to which the woman was assigned and asked to see the woman to see if she wanted to go on another date. He was immediately arrested and charged with rape. Upon examination, the physical examination of the woman did not support the kind of assault she said happened, and image processing analysis of the skin injuries showed patterns inconsistent with her story. When asked for samples of the clothing and jewelry she was wearing at the time, she claimed that she had destroyed or burned them. Eventually the woman recanted and admitted the sex was consensual. It turned out that the woman was also sleeping with a noncommissioned officer also serving on the ship she was serving on, who was the person the alleged assailant asked permission of to board on the night he was arrested. When faced with her one night stand asking her lover for permission to board the ship to ask her for another date, she decided to claim rape rather than admit being unfaithful.
Unfortunately for the alleged “rapist,” this did not unfold quickly. The young man was under suscpicion (and assigned to a penal detail) for 18 months before the recantation. By that time, his military career had been ruined.
In a second case, there was a divorce and custody battle over the children. In this case, the mother appeared at the ER with significant bruising and claimed that the husband (who was living in different quarters) had beaten her. He was also arrested, but was released on bail. His only salvation was that he tapped his own phones. Shortly before the trial and subsequent custody hearing, the wife called and bragged about injuring herself in order to get custody of the kids.
I do not know the truth in the case in question, and neither to the other bloggers. However, the claim that false accusations are rare is simply untrue. One may disagree with the judgment in an individual case — there are plenty of false convictions and false acquittals in any real world justice system — but the promulgation of the false idea that accusations should be accepted uncritically is a bad thing.
UPDATE: A new study from India shows similar results. I have not read the original study, so can’t comment critically. However, it found that in India, 18.3% of rape accusations are done out of malice. Here’s a reference to it.
Following an Instalanche (thanks, Glenn), a couple of other folk have linked to this older article of mine. Of particular interest is an article by Judy Berman at Salon, who claims that this article, written in 2005, is based on a 2008 (error — it’s 2009) article in The Forensic Examiner without attribution. My reply to the Salon site follows:
It is fitting that in an article acting as apologist for false accusations you make one yourself. You claim that in my article on billoblog.com, I derive the information in my blog article from and article in the Forensic Examiner without attribution. This is a false accusation. If you look, you will see that my article was written in 2005, while the Forensic Examiner article was written in 2008. I am pretty good at what I do, but time travel is not yet a skill I have mastered.
Second, in dismissing the studies I cite, you cherry pick a reference to a 2006 article in Cambridge Law Review that reviews studies with a broad range of findings. Were you to actually read that article, you would find that this is an article that is focused primarily on UK issues and reviews findings from a number of countries.
It makes sense that different countries have different findings. Moreover, in contrast to your implication you make that all studies are equal, Rumney does not consider all of the studies of equal quality. In particular, most of the studies are those of police determinations and do not have objective criteria for evaluating those determinations. I chose the studies I chose because they *did* have such criteria.
It is unfortunate that acting as an apologist for the injustice of false rape accusations seems to be a litmus test for feminist solidarity. And it is also unfortunate that the defense of false accusations must be supported by making unfounded accusations against those with whom you disagree.
Another instalaunch. Thanks again, Mr Reynolds. I apologize to folk who got cut off here — I’m running this server from home, and it can get slow, sometimes, when a zillion folk come at the same time…