How often do women falsely accuse men of rape? Often? Sometimes? Almost never? And, how often do women falsely accuse men of domestic violence? The actual numbers might surprise you and may help change the way our culture views sexual violence allegations.
In a recent report published by the United Kingdom's Crown Prosecution Service, it was found that a mere 35 out of 5,651 or .6% women falsely accused men of rape, and only 6 women out of 111,891 or .005% falsely accused a man of domestic violence during the 17-month-long study.
The study was conducted in response to a 2010 court appeal in which a woman pleaded guilty to falsely retracting true accusations of rape she had made against her husband and was sentence to 8 months in prison for "perverting the court of justice."
Now, why is the study significant? Well, for starters, the low number of false accusations helps to undermine the myth that women are vindictive shrews who will lie about an act of sexual violence in order to get revenge on a man who treats them poorly, didn't call after a one night stand, or breaks up with them. One of the easiest ways for rape apologists to turn the tables on a sexual violence survivor who files criminal charges against her assailant is to exaggerate the prevalence of false rape allegations or attack the survivor's credibility.
In a world where women are threatened and slut-shamed for speaking up about sexual assault and for seeking justice for the crimes committed against them it is important for our society to support survivors. The report's findings serve as a supportive, factual counterpoint to any rape apologist who uses false statistics to claim that survivors "lie" about or "exaggerate" what happened to them in order to get revenge.
The report is also important because it highlights the reality that false allegations are often complicated by outside factors, such as:
Mental health issues: 18% of all the rape and/or domestic violence allegations examined by the study were made by someone with a mental health issue as assessed by a health professional. All but one of the accusations made by someone with a mental illness proved to be false or grossly exaggerated.
Some person other than a possible victim makes a false accusation: in one instance, a father reported that his daughter had been raped by her older boyfriend and pressured her to substantiate his claim by providing false information to the police.
An accuser is pressured to recant their statement: despite having visible injuries, one woman said she lied about her original assault accusation, but later claimed she recanted her statement because of threats of future violence made by her partner.
These outside factors must considered when allegations of sexual violence are examined because they are realities that the judicial system must deal with, and because we cannot allow the blame and shame game to morph into an even bigger monster. We cannot permit mentally healthy survivors to be called mentally ill, crazy, or nuts, simply because they make an allegation of sexual assault. We also cannot discount an accusation of sexual violence by a bystander who may be able to provide critical information in a criminal investigation. And we need to ensure that survivors aren’t pressured by police, lawyers, assailants, family members, or friends to recant true allegations, as the failure to prosecute an offender may lead to future abuse.
While the study reveals that there were a small number of false allegations over a 17-month-long period, we as a society need to stop unabashedly questioning the validity of rape, domestic violence, and sexual assault allegations as doing so only serves to silence, ostracize, and shame survivors. Just as men do not want to be judged or stereotyped because of the actions of one rapist, survivors do not want their very true and painful experiences to be invalidated by a handful of false sexual violence allegations.