False rape allegations and the media

As a student journo, our bible is a Journalism Training Organisation book, Intro: A Beginners Guide to Professional News JournalismIt balances good practical information about how the media really operates, with brief discussions of ethical concerns and criticisms the media encounters.

So I was a little surprised the “Police Round” chapter, by award-winning journalists Alan Samson and James Hollings, included this statement, unqualified by research or alternative opinion:

Sex crimes  It is illegal to report the victims’ names in any sex crime; it can be unethical and untasteful to describe a sexual crime in graphic detail. It is particularly important to be cautious about taking sides in the reporting: with emotions running high, false complaints are often made regarding sexual offences. Both sides can be very believable in their differing accounts.

This is the sum total of advice concerning reporting sexual offences.  Student journalists – who bring their own ideas about rape to our work – are being told by our journalism manual that false rape complaints are common.

This is a widely held belief.  Women are assumed to lie about rape because they had sex they later regretted, or they want revenge on someone in their life.  In a brief stint volunteering with Rape Crisis, every single police officer I met at Lower Hutt Police Station told me after we were introduced over cups of tea or during smoko breaks that my job must be tough because “most women lie about rape.”

In fact, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there are more false complaints of rape than other crimes.  New Zealand is currently, for the first time, researching the attrition rates of rape complaints made to the police, so that we know where, and why, complaints drop out of the system. 

If this study shows it’s because women are routinely lying about rape, I’ll eat the Intro journo book.  Without pasta sauce – and that is a solemn promise you should hold me to, internet readers. 

I believe it is more likely the results will show something similar to the most comprehensive study to date.  This showed you have a 6% chance in the UK of seeing the person you accused of rape prosecuted.  94% of rape complaints do not ‘make the grade’.  The researchers note:

False allegations have been one of the most contested areas within law enforcement responses to rape, with research suggesting rates are no higher than for other crimes sitting alongside perceptions of police officers and the media who take the opposite view.

and feature quotes from those involved in investigating rapes:

Well, honestly, it’s because most of them are not telling the truth … I think what happens to a lot of adults is they may have consensual sex with somebody, they get found out by their husband, partner, whoever, they then say “Oh but I didn’t consent” as a way of getting themselves out of that trouble … I mean I have dealt with hundreds and hundreds of rapes in the last few years, and I can honestly probably count on both hands the ones that I believe are truly genuine. (Comparison 1, Police Officer DC, M2, June 2002)

So of the 94%, how many complaints were found to be false when assessed by the researchers? 

A staggering…..3%.  

Those other 91% who didn’t see their rapist successfully prosecuted?  Merely badly investigated, badly prosecuted, badly supported for complainants, and subject to recurring rape myths which make it unlikely, despite contrary evidence, that women will be believed.  Let down by the justice system.  And probably by the media, who rather than representing the issue fairly, would no doubt have decided the complaint was false, since that’s so ‘common.’

Although rape is still under-reported according to support services and national victims of crime surveys, rates of reporting have increased dramatically over the last 25 years.  But look at rates of successful prosecution in the UK:


So more and more women must be coming forward to lie about sexual violence, huh? 

And why wouldn’t you, with all those pleasant side effects of having your insides scraped out for evidence, your naked body photographed and viewed by strangers, police officers doubting you, defence lawyers asking you about who you’ve shagged lately, and what kind of underwear you like, juries thinking you’re not telling the truth.  And that doesn’t even get to how the ‘public’ will treat you.

Oh, and lets not forget, a fair and balanced media trained to believe it’s likely you’re lying.

I feel a false rape complaint coming on…. 

20 thoughts on “False rape allegations and the media

  1. Awesome post, luddite. And angry-making!

    I wouldn’t even mind “neutral” reporting of sex crimes, if only such a thing were possible – to a lot of people, as soon as the phrase “so-and-so claims” pops up, it’s like a flag to doubt what the person says.

  2. Even a 3% rate is significant. That means 1 in 30-35 people is looking you in the eye and making a false complaint. You often won’t now which one it is. You, as a police officer or a journalist, will know how damaging such accusations are, once made. They can destroy families, careers, lives and may ultimately lead to the death of the accused by suicide.

    I can see good reason for caution. That doesn’t mean anything remotely like dismissing rape allegations. But it most definitely means any reported case should be handled with care – for all concerned – and be firmly based on verifiable evidence.

    That is the only thin that is fair to everyone. The advice in the manual is good advice. “Common” is 3% or 1 or 30.

    • I think you need to work on your percentages buddy. Upwards of 60% of those who have survived sexual abuse dont tell anybody, and (if we are being VERY generous here) 3% of those who do tell, so lets say 40% of survivors tell somebody, 3% of 40% are making a false allegation then… what % is that? How many people in 100?
      And dont overlook the fact that far far far more survivors don’t tell anybody (thanks to our culture of disbelief, victim blame and the stigma attached to being a survivor of sexual assault) than potentially lie about their assault. You are far more likely to be face to face with a survivor who hasnt been able to heal than a liar. Wake up!

  3. Hey Truthseeker,
    I’m certainly not arguing that an investigation is not called for if a rape allegation is made – just as with any crime, evidence should be gathered to prove or disprove the case.

    But when assumptions are made that rape complaints are frequently false when in fact they are not, investigations are likely to be less robust. Because the police are predisposed not to believe the complainant.

    I think the Louise Nicholas case highlighted these issues really well – what we were asked to believe essentially was that a group of older men in positions of authority had negotiated consensual group sex with a teenager with a history of having been coerced into sex. And indeed, the court did believe it – and the accused rapists were acquitted.

    I agree that for those accused of rape who did not do it, such a thing would be devastating. But I also think that when sexual violence is common, and successful prosecution is not, that we need to think about the costs of this. To individual women’s lives, the ability to be sexual with joy, to trust others, to live without fear. To women as a group. To men who love women who have been raped by other men.

    I don’t agree the advice in the manual is good advice. I think it’s problematic for the reasons I’ve stated. But I agree with you that robust, fair investigation should be the norm. It isn’t now – or our successful prosecution rates would be higher.

  4. I think we exaggerate the effects of the accusation. Has anyone done a study on how long it takes for someone to live the accusation down?

    My friends who’ve accused have never seen the lives the of their rapist change. Just a lot of screaming about how dare they falsely accuse such fine men.

    I don’t think a rape allegation actually hurts the perpetrator at all. It’s just another Patriarchical trick to make people worry about abuser some more.

  5. Hey Marsha – yep, agreed that these discussions are all about focussing on the “pain” of the perpetrator. But I also think, if we want to change how rape and sexual violence is viewed, then we need to acknowledge that for many men the idea of rape is truly appalling, and that those men are our pro-feminist allies. And for me, that requires some compassion about their possible positioning.
    My brother is a beautiful pro-feminist heterosexual man. One day we were talking about friends, a woman and man who were dating, and the fact the woman liked intercourse more than the man. She had joked with me, and I passed the joke to my bro, that she fooled her partner into intercourse.
    My brother was not impressed – he was 19 – and asked me to explain why that was ok, when normally I argued sex should be mutual and not coerced, forced, or manipulated.
    I believe he was right and I was wrong. And his viewpoint on it was not one, at the tender age of 29, that I had considered.
    I’m not saying the situation I’m describing is comparable to rape of women by men – but that a consistent position on sexual violence for me requires compassion and rejection of non-mutual sex in whatever forms it takes. And obviously, my brother continues to be a man I adore and am proud of.

  6. First of all, ludditejourno’s comment about the rape of a man that “I’m not saying the situation I’m describing is comparable to rape of women by men” is incredibly offensive. Rape is rape, and stop hiding behind a fortress of historical victimhood to pretend a rape victim with a penis is somehow a “lesser” victim. How dare you! Men are rape with greater frequency than women because of prison rape, but it is attitudes such as that which make the rape of males a punchline. This gender divisive crap has got to stop.

    Second, re: this statement: “In fact, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there are more false complaints of rape than other crimes.”

    Why do feminists think they need to make up statistics to raise awareness about rape? You are wrong. E.g., the FBI in the U.S. says false rape claims are four times more prevalent than false claims of crimes on average. No one knows the true level of under-reporting because so much of the “information” is faulty — based on surveys that ask women if they ever had sex when they didn’t want to. Newsflash: that’s not the test for rape and it never has been or else everyone, including men, has been raped. The most celebrated survey ever on the subject found that the vast majority of women the surveyors decided had been raped (due to such inane questioning) did not feel they had been raped.

    In addition, you denigrate the countless falsely accused of rape when you say only three percent of rape claimants are false. Objectively verifiable data indicates that at least 9 percent and probably closer to half of all rape claims are false. (See, e.g., S. Taylor, K.C. Johnson, Until Proven Innocent.) Yet the crime of making a false rape report has become so embroiled in the radical feminist sexual assault milieu that it has been improperly removed from the public discourse about rape. Sexual assault counselors often disingenuously refer to the fact of false rape accusations as a “myth.” Denigrating the experience of the falsely accused by dismissing their victimization as a myth is not merely dishonest but morally grotesque.

    We can all work to eradicate rape but we all need to stop lying about the prevalence of false rape claims. Spend several hours reading my Web site to educate yourself on the subject:

  7. Marsha,

    It is not as harmless as you may think. There was a case recently in which a man falsely accused of rape hanged himself after he was unable to get his job back and he spiraled into alcoholism. A young man I knew commited suicide last year after the girl he was accused and convicted of raping claimed it never happened and petitioned the judge who handled the case to overturn his conviction. Even though the girl agreed to prove she had never had sex, my friend still refused to acknowledge that nothing happened and killed himself before any judgment was made.

  8. Hey Archivist,
    I’m afraid both the tone and claims for “objectivity” you make mean I’m not going to even bother addressing your comments. Please do keep reading feminist blogs though.

  9. So according to Archivist, a woman tricking her boyfriend into sex is rape and shame on anyone who thinks otherwise (rightly so), but men pressuring, coercing and threatening women till they give in and have sex isn’t rape. Feminists feel they have to make up statistics about false rape claims, but rape deniers and apologists certainly wouldn’t have any motivation to do just that. THE LOGIC IS SO DELICIOUS

    TS: Rape victims commit suicide too. Many more don’t even try to see justice done because they know what will happen if they do.

  10. “THE LOGIC IS SO DELICIOUS” Why in the hell can’t you people talk about objectively verifiable facts without resorting to lame sarcasm? Do you really want to understand the legal difference between fraud and cajoling? You and the others here are so naive about these matters, yet you write with such confidence (you know, ignorance is bliss and all that), I would love to debate each and every one of you.

    Hey, ludditejourno — can’t debate facts, eh? Too “triggering”? And you talk about my “tone”? It must be wonderful to know everything and to certain you are correct. Pathetic.

  11. Hey Archivist, you’re not debating. You’re bullying and assuming you know more than other people just because you use words like “objective” and “facts” to justify your personal opinion.
    Like sliding “9%” (unverified – I don’t know if you are quoting accurately) into “closer to half” in your original post – come now, you don’t see a problem with that?
    I love discussing these issues and growing my awareness. In my opinion, your comments here are not doing that. And no, you’re not “triggering” me – but your use of that term confirms your bullying to me. Nasty.

    Please don’t post here again unless you can be civil – I’m not hosting a forum for abuse or abusers.

  12. Just going to leap in with regard to the 9% comment. Here’s where that figure comes in, and WHY it was reduced to 3%:

    A large scale Home Office study from 2000-2003 initially concluded that 9% of rape accusations were false (quoted from Bourke p.393). However, the researchers then realised that in those 9% of cases marked down as ‘no evidence of assault’, most of them were a result of someone other than the woman making the allegation (e.g. a passer-by seeing a distressed woman with ripped clothes), which the woman then explained away. There were also a few cases in which a woman had regained consciousness, either at home or elsewhere, and had gone to the police – worried about having been assaulted but unable to remember – to ascertain whether or not she had been. Once these cases were removed, only 3% of cases could be categorised as ‘false accusations’ – far fewer than popular understanding would have it.

  13. I do love how Archivist minimizes by redefining pressure, coercion and threats as ‘cajoling’ whereas FRAUD IS FRAUD GODDAMN YOU. Presumably s/he would have no problem with a woman forcing herself on a man by, for example, accusing him of having an affair (hence his lack of interest in sex), threatening to leave him and tell all their friends why, and finally bursting into tears, crying that he doesn’t find her attractive any more. After all, none of those things are indicative of a selfish manipulator who doesn’t care about anyone else’s feelings or wants.

  14. Archivist – I’m a man, and I’ve been raped by a woman. You’re just a sexist prick. Learn the difference, you certainly don’t speak for me or many men in my situation (FWIW, I support the comments made by ludditejourno & Deborah in this thread)

  15. http://www.freewebs.com/ferniesidethWhat I have been reading about this case is absolutely appaling.

    Here are some facts:

    The Alleged victim admitted to lying 56 times

    The alleged victim never appeared for the start of the trial and had to be brought to court by the Police.

    Only after being dragged out of a house 5 Days after saying she was raped in a stairwell did she change her story and claim she was raped in a house.

    The story change was only because CCTV footage showed otherwise, It showed she entered the house of her own accord and she was never in the stairwell

    She admitted entering a house with three strangers but only after CCTV showed this was the case.

    She is on record as being a “Previous Victim” but one would have to wonder if “as previous victim would she have enetered a house with strangers”

    SCCRC have told the three accused that no CCTV evidence exists from the Back door of the block of flats but clearly the Police report says otherwise.

    She also admits in her police statement to saying she had already had three men at the same time.

    Their defence teams did not challenge her evidence.

    They did not challenge the forensic evidence at-all.

    Their defence teams called no expert evidence to refute the claims of the police expert leaving me in no doubt they failed to try and never asked any experts if her evidence was challengable.

    Clearly if she changed her statement so materially and admits to lying 56 times her mentality is questionable.

    Read for yourselves

    • Hey Kaz, I’m not really sure I understand your comment after reading it several times? But I think you’re saying that this woman lied about where an event with three men took place, lied about other things, admitted she’d had sex with more than one man before, and had previously been a victim of sexual violence?
      So you assume she will have lied about the event, and called it rape when in fact it was not?
      But in fact many women who have been raped – especially women with mental health problems or substance misuse problems – are more likely to be raped again (and again). They are specifically chosen for victimisation by men, including groups of men, because they are unlikely to fight back effectively, or to call unwanted sex rape, or to be able to remember events clearly enough to challenge.
      I don’t know the “facts” with this woman – but if defence lawyers are not challenging, you can bet the police evidence was pretty compelling. Otherwise all the issues you have pointed to would be mercilessly picked over – even though they do not prove she lied about whether sex was consensual.
      If I’ve read your comment effectively, and I apologise if I haven’t, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one I think.

  16. Thanks for your comment. However, I dont think you have read the info on the site I posted.

    This female changed her statement several times. she said he had been robbed, then she said she had been raped by three unknown men. In her first rape claim she went into great detail of what she said happened to her.
    She said she had been raped in the stair way. When police told her that this was not on the CCTV cameras she admitted she lied.

    She then changed her statement five times.

    Its a long story as you can imagine but it is on the site if you click on my name

    She admitted to five of her own friends that she only said it to get criminal injuries compensation.

    Even a close family member says she is lying. None of this came out in court.

  17. “Buyer’s remorse” is not, nor should it be, grounds for accusing someone of rape.

    A simple and effective cure for false accusation is to require the accuser to serve the same jail sentence the accused would have. Toss in registered sex offender status to boot.

    That will cool the jets of these predatory females and their machinations quickly.

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