False Accusations About False Allegations – On One of the Most Insidious Rape Myths

Trigger Warning!

DSK, Kachelmann, Julian Assange – what do these scandals have in common besides being about alleged rapes and sexual assaults by powerful celebrities? All of the alleged victims of these rapes had to face the accusation, made by public figures, the media and public opinion, of having falsely accused their rapist. Can you think of any other crime where this has repeatedly been the case?

Sure, one could argue that these particular cases all involve celebrities, are thus much more relevant to the public, and false accusations seem more probable when money and exposure appear to be a possible motive. However, the truth is that it is not just extreme or extraordinary cases that seem to justify the questioning of the accusers’ honesty. In fact, it is a widespread habit to distrust the word of sexually abused women, one of the reasons why only 13% percent of rape cases end in a conviction and only 15% of rapes are reported in the first place. But what makes this crime so suspicious, compared to any other?

The myth of the stranger rape has long been debunked, that is in circles that have actively looked into rape research. However, the idea of an anonymous man lurking in a dark alley to wait for his random female victim still persists. In reality, the majority of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by people personally known to the victim: relatives, colleages, friends, boyfriends… Other myths include the assumption that rape victims would naturally go to the police immediately after the offense, their memory of the crime would be coherent and without gaps, and they would have obvious physical injuries as proof. Often, so-called victim blaming enters the equation as well; the belief that if the victim drank alcohol and/or dressed or behaved provocatively, she was somehow tempting her rapist and wanted to have sex to begin with.

All of these assumptions do not reflect the reality of most rape cases, yet they are deeply ingrained in our consciousness. It would be naive to believe that police officers, judges and lawyers are completely free from their own moral prejudices. In fact, investigations into so-called false rape accusations have shown that cases were labelled as such simply based on the police officers’ judgment (for example if the victim did not “appear credible” because she had personal relations with the aggressor), or because the allegations were later withdrawn or retracted (for which there could be many reasons that don’t exclude the actual veracity of the crime).

The numbers that I could find for actual false allegations of rape and sexual assault are settled somewhere between 3% and 9%; an almost insignificant amount when compared to other crimes. These numbers need to be recalled when talking about alleged false accusations. Following the media reports during such high-profile cases as the DSK scandal, one could easily get the impression that false allegations among women are rampant, when this is simply not the case. Feminists have fought for centuries to actually make rape a crime under any circumstances and to make it possible for women to report these crimes and be taken seriously. An increase in charges can therefore be considered progress, not the result of some feminist conspiracy in order to oppress men. But the reinterpretation of the male aggressor as the actual victim is a common and unfortunate trend. This becomes evident in the reappropriation of certain terms or sayings, such as the proverbial elevator, which women were not supposed to share alone with a man in order to protect themselves from sexual assault. These days the common belief is that it is the man who should avoid riding an elevator with a single female, in order to protect himself from false accusations.

The idea is that women are now in a more powerful position, in which they can destroy a man’s reputation and life in a moment’s notice, when in fact accusing someone of rape is not equal to a Sunday afternoon stroll. Victims have to endure medical tests and, of course, repeated interrogations that are often traumatizing, as well as detailed investigations into their most intimate private lives. In the process, women are often subjected to the judgment, scrutiny and misgivings of male doctors, police officers and judges, which is not to say their female counterparts were immune to the pervasiveness of rape myths.

Rape myths protect men as sexual aggressors in allowing them to justify their actions, while at the same time calming the public: after all, it could never happen to them or their daughters, because they play by the rules (i.e. don’t drink alcohol, don’t wear “slutty” clothes, aren’t promiscuous…). Moreover, they help to manifest hierarchical power structures between men and women, in that they encourage women to self-police and to seek the “protection” of other men, whereas men are allowed to do as they please and to shift responsibility to the victims. Claiming that in large parts women falsely accuse men of rape is a false accusation in itself. It is another rape myth that needs to be publicly debunked in order to ensure that women no longer remain silent about their suffering. Innocent until proven guilty – we have to remember to apply this first and foremost to the victim.

edgar degas "interior (the rape)" 1868/1869


about false allegations: Liz Kelly, The (In)credible Words of Women: False Allegations in European Rape Research, 2010.

about the power of rape myths (in German): Susen Werner, Stereotype Vorstellungen über Vergewaltigungen (Vergewaltigungsmythenakzeptanz) als Prädiktoren der Beurteilung von Vergewaltigungsdelikten durch RechtsanwältInnen, 2011.

a brief summary about the most common rape myths: click here


7 responses to “False Accusations About False Allegations – On One of the Most Insidious Rape Myths

  1. I find it a pity that, instead of empathizing with male victims of false accusations, you feel the need to marginalize this phenomenon, “lest female victims are in danger of not being taken seriously”.

    I would like to remind you that both facts are true: —

    1. a significant portion of true rape victims do not report or withdraw
    2. a significant portion of rape accusations is false and there are innocent men in prison

    One does not condradict the other. It is very important to uncover the assholes on both sides and not let them get their way


    • The empathizing with the victims of false accusations has been done quite thoroughly by the media over the last few months, to an extent that I find unjustified by the actual numbers. Yes, false accusations exist and I am not denying that anywhere. But when you put like you did in your comment, it simply gives a false impression, mainly that the amount of actual rapes and the amount of false accusations are similar to each other. That is a false statement and unfortunately a common myth that is in need of debunking, to set the record straight.

  2. Your stats need to be explained in context, otherwise you mislead your audience.

    As explained in ‘The Stern Review of how rape is handled by the authorities in England and wales’ 2010 (an independant review carried out by Baroness Stern), 12% of all allegations of rape recorded by the police end in a conviction, which is approximtaley the same as any other crime. Rape [i]doesnt[i] have a low conviction rate compared to other types of crime. The real conviction rate for rape is actually [b]58%[/b] (2008). The mistake many people make is to work out the conviction rate from the police and the prosecution stage, when infact, it should only be worked out from the prosecution stage [b]only[/b].

    What you’re actually talking about when you quote the 12% figure (or more commonly, the 6% figure) is ‘the attrition rate’ (the other 94% allegations of rape recorded by the police that DO NOT end in a conviction). You must however understand the reasons why the attrition rate is so high, and that is because of the factors at the police stage.

    Again, The Stern Review helps us understand the ‘attrition rate’ grey area.


    ‘The 6 per cent figure emerges from putting together a large number of studies of different years. A Home Office study carried out in 2003/4 in eight police forces showed a pattern that is more or less repeated in other studies.

    Of 100 cases reported to the police:

    15 – Not recorded/retracted/withdrawn (*including a baseline figure of 8-10% [i][b]provably[/b][/i] false allegations).

    20 – Later withdrawn by the complainant.

    23 – No action, not enough evidence.

    14 – No action for other reasons (police incompetence?).

    26 – Suspects charged with rape.

    [i]of those 26 charged:[/i]

    7 – Dont proceed.

    7 – No conviction.

    6 – Convicition for rape related offence.

    6 – Convicted for rape.

    So we can see that there are various factors within the attrition rate which account for the high numbers of allegations that dont reach the courts, including 23 of the 100 that simply dont have enough evidence, 8-10 that are [i]provably[/i] false (how many allegations are false in the other factors within the attrition rate but dropped by police without question we dont know).

    We wont get the full picture on rape untill Baroness Stern’s recommendation that the British government do a full investigation into the prevalnce of false rape allegations, but that doesnt seem to be a priority.

    We should also be careful in stating that only 15% of rapes are reported to the police. In Britain, the figure is that only 11% of rape victims report, but that figure is from the British Crime Survey, its womens own subjective experiences, and likely does not represent the true figure, given various factors (too numerous and detailed for this post). The most responsible thing that we could do is omit those British Crime Survey statistics as dubious, and instead focus on those stats we know as factual.

    • Thank you for the link. I only had a chance to glance at it so far, but I don’t think I have stated anything falsely. The number of rape convictions may not be lower than for any other crime. I don’t know about that. But you mention the reasons for why cases don’t end up at the prosecution stage. A lot of it has to do with victims withdrawing their complaint, probably also being discouraged by the fact that there often isn’t any hard evidence. As you can read in the sources I provided, the personal judgement of people involved with the judicial system may have a lot to do with that. Proving the facticity of a rape is difficult without any hard evidence. The same goes for false allegations. It needs to noted, however, that just because a rape case cannot be proven, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. But why do you say that the British Crime Survey statistics are dubious and which stats do you consider factual and why?

  3. sexual assault vs aggravated sexual assault

    consent is a one way street that favors false accusers

    our rape shield laws and our consent laws really need to be rewritten to take into account mitigating consenting factors and advanced consenting factors not only in court but in police investigation itself.

    this would cut down on the amount of false reports.

    also the statistics cited in this article are widely debated and contested as the research methods to generate them are a hogwash.

    as is due process is severely violated and once accused of rape a man or a woman (but most typically a man) is presumed GUILTY until proven innocent and the beyond a reasonable doubt conviction can be used in a case of he said/she said based solely on testimony which makes completely no sense. one person shouldn’t be believed more than another simply because they have a better story. there needs to be physical evidence of a crime!

    • Where? When? Why? What? You blurt out all of these statements that hardly make any sense. Please specify or just keep it to yourself. I do not mind responding to provocative comments, when I feel like they’re based on actual research. But I’m tired of reading angry, uninformed, classic men’s rights comments, that are only written to provoke and distract. I am making an example of you, further comments in this manner will not be published.

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