False Rape Charges: More Common Than People Think

Forcible rape or sexual asaault, when it actually occurs, is a crime that is despicable. I wanted that to be my opening sentence in this post, for a good reason. When rape actually occurs, it should be investigated and prosecuted thoroughly. But in almost all rape and sexual assault cases, the central problem is that no one else was around during the alleged rape, other than the alleged assailant and the alleged victim, to offer any corroborative testimony as to the allegations made, or to the consensual or non-consensual nature of the event.

Increasingly, the problem of false rape accusations is coming more and more to the media’s, and the public’s, attention. Recent high-profile cases such as the Duke University Lacrosse case, in which three white players on the Duke University Lacrosse team were accused by a black erotic dancer of raping her, only to be later vindicated, and the Hofstra University rape case where a student accused four male students of rape, only to later recant her story, are becoming more common. The problem in all these cases is, “Who is telling the truth?” Substantively, a legal defense to a rape case consists of one of two approaches: 1) That sex between the accuser and the accused never occurred; or 2) That sex did take place between the accuser and the accused, but it was consensual. It may come as a surprise to a good number of people, but false accusations of rape can take either form of these two scenarios.

Let’s examine two questions: 1) Why would anyone falsely accuse another person of rape?; and 2) How common is the incidence of false rape accusations? The most common answer to the first question, usually reveals some element of revenge, for something done to the accuser that she (or he, believe it or not,) is angry or enraged over. A study conducted on this subject in the Journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, (Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994,) reported that false accusers were commonly motivated by a need for an alibi or a desire for revenge. In the Journal Forensic Science Digest, (Vol. 11. No. 4, December 1985,) equally common reasons given by women who falsely accused somone of rape were “spite or revenge,” and to compensate for feelings of guilt or shame (for having willingly engaged in the prior sex.) Alleged rape victims have admitted in the past that they had made the false rape charges for three reasons: 1) To create an alibi about some other event; 2) To exact revenge; and 3) To generate attention or sympathy. The need for attention is not uncommon, as was revealed in the case of the Detroit woman who gave police details about her alleged rapist and his truck, then admitted she had lied: it never happened. (Source: Detroit Free Press, April 21, 2004.) More recent has been the case of Dallas Cowboys football player Michael Irvin, who was falsey accused of sexually assaulting a woman in July of 2007. That woman later recanted her story, and the District Attorney involved dropped all charges against him.

Also, lest anyone think that only unintelligent or uneducated women might falsely accuse someone of rape, it should be known that educated women lie, too, and several reports compiled from college and university police departments corroborate this fact. A study conducted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Purdue University, made clear that university women were just as likely to file a false rape charge as a valid charge.

A new statistic has emerged on the topic of false rape accusations, increasingly known as the “1 In 4 Figure.” No, it doesn’t mean that one in four rapes are never reported to police; it refers to increasingly solid statistical evidence that indicates that 1 in every 4 reported rapes, never actually occurred; that “1 in 4 accusations of rape are false.” Lending credence to the growing acceptance of this figure, is nothing less than a study published in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Justice, entitled “Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish .” This study documented 28 cases of rape which, “with the exception of one young man of limited mental capacity who pleaded guilty,” consisted of defendants who were convicted of rape by juries, only to be later exonerated by DNA tests. Each of those defendants – innocent men – had served an average of 7 years in prison by the time they were released.

There is a section of that report that quoted two prominent criminal defense attorneys, Peter Neufeld and Barry C. Scheck, co-founders of The Innocence Project, a legal organization whose goal is to seek the release of defendants who have been falsely imprisoned. Neufield and Scheck reported that “Every year since 1989, in about 25 percent of the sexual assault cases referred to the FBI where results could be obtained, the primary suspect has been excluded by forensic DNA testing. Specifically, FBI officials report that out of roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases since 1989, about 2,000 tests have been inconclusive, about 2,000 tests have excluded the primary suspect, and about 6,000 have “matched” or included the primary suspect.” This FBI data on false rape accusations is striking indeed.

As I said in the opening of this post, the increasing recognition of the “1 In 4” incidence of false rape accusations does not in any way minimize the tragedy of forced rape and sexual assault, when it actually does occur. But what this statistic’s growing recognition does do and should do, is remind everyone of the importance of the presumption of innocence, and of the value of DNA-based evidentiary testing in these cases.

At our practice, we know from firsthand experience that not all rape cases are clean-cut, easy-to-answer stories. We know how to effectively investigate and defend accusations of rape. If you or someone you know has been accused of sexual asaault or rape, call us for a free consultation.