False Rape Statistics [2022 Data on Sexual Assault Allegations]

In this false rape statistics article, we uncover the truth behind sexual assault allegations, the prevalence of false reports, and the difficulties real victims face.

Many claim rape occurs less often than reported due to false rape allegations from victims.

Unfortunately, when false rape allegations are proven, they often gain significant media attention and are used as a way to undermine valid reports of rape.

This article reviews what the data says about false rape allegations, statistics on how common it is, and why these allegations occur. 

Top False Rape Statistics Statistics You Should Know:

  • Only 2.1% of cases were designated as false by police in a study of 850 cases.
  • 60% of all false rape allegations had an emotional motive.
  • Men of color experience higher conviction rates for all crimes, including sexual assault. 
  • Some police officers believed as many as half of all rape allegations to be false. However, analysis indicated a false allegation rate of just 3%.
  • 95% of college students choose not to report their assaults in an attempt to avoid the vitriol that many survivors experience.
  • 10% of media headlines contained one or more rape stereotypes, generally implying that the alleged victim was lying or “asked for it.”

What Is a False Rape Allegation?

  • A false accusation of rape is the intentional reporting of rape by an alleged victim when no rape has actually occurred. (Eugene Kanin, PhD, 1994)1
  • The determination that a report of sexual assault is false can only be made if the evidence establishes that no crime was committed or attempted. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2

Common Causes of False Rape Allegations

When someone makes false allegations about rape, the most common question is “Why?”. Here’s what the data says about why people make false rape allegations:

  • Emotional gain was the predominant motivation for filing false allegations:
    • 60% of all false rape allegations had an emotional motive.
    • One person (1.72%) in this study was motivated by material gain (e.g., money).
    • Nearly 25% used the false allegation to cover up other behavior such as adultery, lateness, consensual sex, and skipping school or work
    • (National Unit of the Dutch National Police (NU), 2017)3
  • 18% of complainants used false allegations to gain sympathy or attract attention.
  • 12 out of 45 (26.6%) false allegations were motivated by revenge (e.g., retaliating against someone who rejected them). (Eugene Kanin, PhD, 1994)1

When Reporting Sex Assault Claims…

Sexual assault and rape can be incredibly emotionally taxing, which can lead to many reporting inconsistencies to the police. 

  • The FBI and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) issued guidelines that certain factors shouldn’t be the sole reasons for labeling a report “false,” such as:
    • Delayed reporting
    • Insufficient evidence to prosecute
    • A victim’s decision to not cooperate with investigators
    • Inconsistencies in a victim’s statements
      • (International Association Of Cheifs Of Police, 2015)4

These inconsistencies in reports are often used to dismiss reports of rape as false, despite them frequently appearing with true reports. 


Global Statistics on False Rape Reports

Below we’ve assembled the data of several large studies of reports of rapes and how many of them were considered false reports. This data shows that false reports of rapes are relatively rare, with between 2.1% – 10.9% of cases being categorized as false. 

  • Only 2.1% of cases were designated by police as false in a study of 850 cases. (US Department Of Justice, 2006)5
  • In an Australian study of 812 cases, 77 (9.5%) cases were classified as “No Further Police Action.”
    • Only 17 (2.1%) cases were classified as false reports, and complainants were either charged with filing a false report or threatened with charges.
      • (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • In a British study of 2,643 rape cases, 216 (8.2%) were classified by the police as false allegations. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • 10.9% of cases were categorized as false allegations in another British study of 483 cases, and 123 were classified as “no-crime” by the police. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • 8.3% of 302 cases in 1985 were classified as false allegations, with 24% being categorized as “no-crime” by the police for various reasons. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • 3% of the 709 cases studied in Philadelphia in 1979 were classified as false allegations.
    • However, 15% of 709 cases were classified by the police as “unfounded”. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • In a 1977 Toronto study, 42 (36.2%) of 116 cases were classified by the police as “founded”; the remaining 74 cases were classified as “unfounded”. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2

Prevalence of False Rape Cases in America

False reporting of rape in America seems to occur at similar rates as in other developed countries. However, reporting from earlier years shows that police dismissed a significant proportion of rapes as false reports in the 1960s – 1970s.

  • The prevalence of false reporting is between 2% and 10%. (Violence Against Women, 2010)6
  • In a study of the 2,059 cases, 140 (6.8%) were classified as false reports. (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • 5.9% of sexual assault cases were coded as false reports in a study of 136 cases:
    • 61 (44.9%) did not proceed to any prosecution or disciplinary action.
    • 48 (35.3%) were referred for prosecution or disciplinary action.
    • 19 (13.9%) contained insufficient information to be coded.
      • (Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010)2
  • 41% of false rape allegations investigated from 1978 to 1987 were officially declared false. (US Department Of Justice, 2001)7
  • In 1968, Philadelphia Police Department officers thought that 75 to 90% of rape claims were false, whereas the actual proportion was at most 21%. (University Of Pennsylvania Law Review, 1968)8

How Often Do False Rape Reports Occur?

These statistics remain similar across the country, but they are more common against men of color:

  • 4.5% of sexual assault cases reported to the Los Angeles Police Department have been classified as false reports. (Law & Society Review, 2014)9
  • Men of color experience higher conviction rates for all crimes, including sexual assault. 
    • These disparities are often the result of systematic racism and negative stereotypes about men of color.
    • (Brown University, unspecified)10

Police Officers’ Perceptions of False Rape Reports

Even though false reports are low, studies show that many police officers believe false reports are much higher than reality:

  • 82.5% of police officers perceived high rates of false accusations of sexual assault. (East Tennessee State University, 2018)11
  • 50% of the officers did not perceive different behaviors of women making false accusations, while 37.5% did perceive different behaviors:
    • Inconsistency (26.7%) was a common perceived behavior of women making false accusations (e.g., changing stories, lack of credibility, and leaving out details – intentionally or unintentionally).
    • 5 out of the 6 participants reported: “anger at the investigator” as the main emotion women portray when making a false accusation of sexual assault.
    • 80% of those who made a statement about lie detection also stated that when an individual is lying, they fail to maintain eye contact.
      • (East Tennessee State University, 2018)11
  • Some officers believed as many as half of all rape allegations to be false. However, analysis indicated a false allegation rate of just 3%. (Liz Kelly, 2010)12
  • Half of all detectives believed 25% of rapes to be false allegations. Several held stereotypical ideas about what constituted a genuine rape complainant.
    • Women who reported late, knew their assailant, and had no physical injuries were the most likely to be regarded with suspicion.
    • (Temkin, J., 1999)13

How Do These Misinterpretations Affect Survivors?

These perceptions by police officers have a significant impact on the reporting of rape and sexual assault, according to the data:

  • 95% of college students choose not to report their assaults in an attempt to avoid the vitriol that many survivors experience. (Brown University, unspecified)14
  • 87% of survivors felt blamed for their assault after speaking with the police.
    • 70% experienced police officers who said that the survivor’s dress or behavior caused the assault.
    • 69% experienced officers who discouraged making a report.
      • (National Institute of Justice on The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault, 2012)15

Difficulties of Reporting Sexual Assault

Emotional turmoil can also have a major impact on how often sexual assault is reported. 

  • Some of the traumatic effects of sexual assault include:
    • Powerlessness: experiencing an ongoing sense of fear and vulnerability.
    • Betrayal: being unable to trust others’ good intentions.
    • Stigmatization: feeling shamed and/or “damaged” related to the sexual assault.
    • Traumatic sexualization: associating sexuality and sexual behavior with fear, pain, and coercion rather than pleasure, intimacy, and choice.
      • (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), unspecified)16
  • Delayed reporting of rape may be due to:
    • Impaired cognitive processing, altered states of consciousness, or cognitive dissonance.
    • DNA evidence may speak for the victim who does not remember a rape due to being unconscious.
    • Women with psychosis may incorporate an experience of rape into their delusions.
      • (Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 1995)17

Victims: Obstacles and Challenges of Reporting Sexual Assault

The pervasive victim-blaming of rape victims leads to many underreporting rapes and sexual assaults. Many choose not to report due to shame, fear of not being believed, or embarrassment.

  • Shame, guilt, and embarrassment,” confidentiality concerns,” and “fear of not being believed” were the leading perceived barriers to reporting rape for both male and female victims.
    • (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2006)18
  • Women said an “insufficient resources to obtain help” was a significantly higher perceived barrier than men did.
    • (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2006)18
  • Shame, guilt, and embarrassment” was a significantly higher perceived barrier for men reporting rape.
    • (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2006)18

Media Representation of Rape/Sexual Assault Cases

Media representation of rape may have a major impact on how the public perceives rape and its victims. These statistics show a significant difference between media reports of rape and their reality:

  • Rapes reported in media are typically sensationalized and do not often represent the reality of most rapes. (The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context, 2017)19
  • 54.4% of media reports described attacks committed by strangers, and 54.4% of the media-reported rapes were committed in public places. (The British Psychological Society, Sophia E. Shaw, et al., 2009)20
  • 10% of media headlines contained one or more rape stereotypes, generally implying that the alleged victim was lying or “asked for it”. (Violence Against Women, 2008)21
  • Pervasive media reports that blame the victim may account for the underreporting of rape to the police and the low conviction rate of 5.7%. (Violence Against Women, 2008)21

Laws/Grounds on False Rape Allegations

While the data shows that false allegations are rare, the victims of false rape allegations do have some legal options for recompense against their accuser:

  • Defamation of Character Lawsuit
    • If you were falsely accused of rape or sex crime that you didn’t commit and suffered a loss of employment, loss of standing in your community, and other damages, you may be able to sue for defamation of character.
  • Slander and Libel
    • To establish slander in a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that someone made the accusations against them while knowing they were false and did so with the intent of hurting their job standing or reputation.
    • For libel, a civil lawsuit must prove that written or printed accusations against the plaintiff were false and were made in a willfully defamatory manner — also known as “with malice and intent.”
  • False Imprisonment or Malicious Prosecution Lawsuit
    • To file a civil lawsuit over malicious prosecution, the plaintiff must be able to hold someone liable for initiating a civil or criminal charge against them while being fully aware that the claims behind the charge were false or weren’t reasonably true.
  • Criminal Charges Against Your Accuser
    • A criminal charge may also be made against someone who deliberately accused you of a crime they knew you didn’t commit with the intent of spurring wrongful prosecution and harm to your reputation.
  • (Neal Davis Law Firm, unspecified)22

Conclusion

The data shows that the vast majority of rape victims are telling the truth, and in many cases, the perception of the media, police, and society at large may prevent many cases from being reported in the first place.

This misconception of the frequency of false rape allegations, along with the media’s tendency to blame victims for being raped, has been shown to have adverse effects on the well-being of victims worldwide.

Footnotes

  1. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Eugene Kanin, PhD, 1994. “False rape allegations” – Eugene Kanin is a former professor in the Department of Sociology at Purdue University.
  2. Violence Against Women (VAW), 2010. “False Allegations of Sexual Assualt: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases.” A  peer-reviewed international, interdisciplinary journal dedicated to the publication of research and information on all aspects of the problem of violence against women.
  3. National Unit of the Dutch National Police (NU), 2017. A published study of 57 proven false allegations.
  4. International Association Of Cheifs Of Police, 2015. – Sexual assault response policy and training content guidelines.
  5. US Department Of Justice, 2006.  A study of 850 rapes reported to Victoria Police (Australia) from 2000 to 2003.
  6. Violence Against Women, 2010. A study of 136 sexual assault reports to a major Northeastern university over a 10-year period.
  7. US Department Of Justice, 2001. An article on 45 cases of false rape allegations by Eugene J. Kanin
  8. University Of Pennsylvania Law Review, 1968. A study on Police Discretion and the judgement that a crime has been committed – Rape In Philadelphia.
  9. Law & Society Review, 2014. – A study titled “Unfounding Sexual Assault: Examining the Decision to Unfound and Identifying False Reports”
  10. Brown University, unspecified. A BWell Health Promotion on Sexual Assault & Dating Violence
  11. East Tennessee State University, 2018. A study of 40 police officers from municipal police departments in Tennessee (33 males and 7 females)
  12. Liz Kelly, 2010. “The (in)credible words of women: false allegations in European rape research”
  13. Temkin, J., 1999. “Reporting rape in London: a qualitative study.” The Howard Journal Of Criminal Justice
  14. Brown University, unspecified. A BWell Health Promotion on Sexual Assault & Dating Violence
  15. National Institute of Justice on The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault, 2012. A report on “Implications for Law Enforcement, Prosecution, and Victim Advocacy”
  16. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), unspecified. An article on “Why Don’t They Tell? Teens and Sexual assault Disclosure”
  17. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 1995. A study on Delayed reporting of the rape victim.
  18. University of Missouri-Columbia, 2006. A study of 215 students (54.7% are female and 45.3% are male).
  19. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context, 2017. A study on Filing false vice reports: Distinguishing true from false allegations of rape.
  20. The British Psychological Society, Sophia E. Shaw, et al., 2009. “The print media and rape”
  21. Violence Against Women, 2008. A study on the Prevalence and Effects of Rape Myths in Print Journalism: The Kobe Bryant Case.
  22. Neal Davis Law Firm, unspecified.
Dainis Graveris

Dainis Graveris

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