On Friday morning in Lee County (Florida) two women were arrested in unrelated cases on the same day for filing false rape reports.

One of these women alleged that a taxi driver took her to a field and forced her to have sex with him. Detectives interviewed the taxi driver who told them that the sex was consensual and that the woman made up the story because she was angry that he didn’t pay her for the encounter. When police confronted her with this story, she said she no longer wanted to press charges. Police then arrested her for filing a false report.

In the other case a woman went to a house to “buy some pills” and claimed that the man forced her to smoke crack and then raped her. But her story changed several times as police interviewed her. Eventually they determined it was all a lie so they charged her with filing a false report.

The detectives say that both women made up the stories so they wouldn’t get in trouble with their boyfriends. If they are correct, imagine if police had believed their stories? What would happen to the poor men who were accused of these crimes? Their lives would be ruined and all for some selfish person’s false accusation made to hide their own questionable behaviour. And the reason they would choose that story as an alibi is probably because they knew that few people would question the validity of their accusation.

1 in 3 women

I’ve often heard people bat around the “1 in 3 women” statistics, like this one from Amnesty International: “At least 1 in 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.” I’ve always wondered what the definition of “otherwise abused” is because that could include just about anything, maybe even name calling (I’ve been called some names in my lifetime!).

In general conversation these “1 in 3 women” statistics often get truncated to “1 in 3 women are raped.” In my own personal experience talking with people about this, I find it hard to believe but I admit this could just be my own personal experience. So I went looking for some more statistics that might shed more light on this.

False accusations

How frequently are false accusations of rape made? It’s difficult to tell for certain but some studies have been done. Below are some summaries of a few of these.

There are few common threads to be found in these studies. About one-quarter of rape accusations are false. And there are similar motivations cited for making false accusations of rape. One motivation is that the accuser wanted to seek revenge on someone–and a terrible revenge that is because the innocent victim would spend many years in prison and likely be shunned by his friends and family.

The second most common reason given is that the accuser felt guilty for having slept with the person. Perhaps it was really themselves they were trying to persuade that they didn’t consent to the encounter. Did they hope that making an accusation of rape would help them feel less guilty? Would they feel no guilt for having sent an innocent person to jail for many years?

Some studies on false accusations

Former Purdue sociologist Eugene J. Kanin conducted a nine-year study to find out how many false accusations of rape occur. The study reported that in over 40 percent of the cases reviewed, the complainants eventually admitted that no rape had occurred (“Archives of Sexual Behavior,” Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994). He also studied rape allegations in two Midwestern universities and found that 50 percent of the allegations were recanted by the accuser.

Recanting an accusation does not necessarily mean it was a false accusation, but the reverse is also true: surely some who do not recant were not telling the truth.

The report concludes that most of the false accusers were motivated by a need for an alibi or a desire for revenge.

The U.S. Air Force conducted a study in 1985 in which they reviewed 556 rape accusations. I guess if you’re in the Air Force and you make such an accusation they put you through a lie detector test. One quarter of the accusers admitted that no rape occurred, and they admitted this either just before they took a lie detector test of after they had failed it. A further investigation by independent reviewers found that 60 percent of those rape allegations were false.

The Forensic Science Digest published results and the report concluded that the most common reasons the women gave for falsely accusing rape were “spite or revenge,” and to compensate for feelings of guilt or shame (“Forensic Science Digest,” vol. 11. no. 4, December 1985).

The Washington Post conducted their own investigation of rape reports in Virginia and Maryland in 1990 and 1991 and found that nearly one in four were unfounded. When the women were contacted by the Washington Post, many of the alleged victims admitted that they had lied.