False rape allegations are not the problem to address

False rape allegations are not the problem to address

Our president said it’s a very scary time to be a man in America right now.

Boy, I’m glad he told us — I wouldn’t have realized it otherwise, what with me still being on top of the socio-political ladder in this country.

Seriously, though, this is a topic of conversation that ought to be held across the nation, and far away from politics and the partisan divide.

So for a second, let’s drop our opinions about Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation and the hypocritical miasma permeating Washington to talk frankly about rape and sexual assault.

I wrote about rape myths last April, covering the misconceptions of stranger rape and how society often blames victims, but one subtopic I did not touch on was the myth of false accusations. Depending on where you get your information, false rape accusation rates can range anywhere from as low as 2 percent to as high as 60.

Both figures are most likely incorrect, though one figure is much closer to the truth.

A 2010 study published titled, “False allegations of sexual assault: an analysis of ten years of reported cases,” (led by David Lisak, an associate professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts at the time) examined why it’s so difficult to pin down false rape allegation rates.

One of the issues with many studies have about false rape allegations is they often do not define what a “false allegation” is.

“To classify a case as a false allegation, a thorough investigation must yield evidence that a crime did not occur,” the study reads, adding that cases involving a survivor not cooperating with authorities, insufficient evidence to move forward with prosecution, inconsistent statements made by the survivor, or when a survivor was intoxicated or made a delayed report are not in and of themselves evidence of a false allegation.

Then there’s the misclassification of rape cases in the criminal justice system. The study points out the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Handbook states an “unfounded” allegation is only for cases when “no crime occurred.”

However, “despite these guidelines… misclassification of cases by law enforcement agencies is routine,” the study continues, adding that many rape allegations involving an uncooperative survivor, little evidence, inconsistent statements, or involving intoxication are wrongly classified as an “unfounded” rape allegation.

Authorities also often classify rape allegations as “baseless,” which is when an allegation “does not meet, in the eyes of investigators, the legal definition of assault. For example, if a victim reports… she was raped while intoxicated, and truthfully states that she cannot clearly recall whether there was penetration, investigators might classify such a case as ‘baseless/unfounded,’” but should not be considered false, the study reads.

Given these obstacles, there are few valid studies that provide meaningful data about false rape accusations, Lisak continues, and many others that provide poor data.

One study, referenced in the 1975 book “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape” (by Susan Brownmiller) determined the false allegation rate was 2 percent. However, the only citation for that figure “is a public remark made by a judge at a bar association meeting.”

Another study by Eugene J. Kanin, “False rape allegations,” performed in 1994 found 41 percent of rape accusations were false. However, the study lacked “any articulated or systematized method of analysis,” failed to define what he considered a false allegation, and depended on a potentially faulty rape allegation classification system, “rend[ering] Kanin’s findings extremely suspect.”

Taking these shortcomings into account, Lisak’s study found that out of 136 rape allegations reported in a decade, only eight cases showed a thorough investigation revealed no evidence of an assault.

Lisak and his team also listed eight other studies that appear to have taken at least some of the same pains they did, and came up with similar results, ranging from 2 to 10 percent, with an average of 6.2 percent.

Is that concerning? Maybe for men.

But let’s compare that to the estimated 16 to 20 percent of women who are survivors of attempted or completed rape, the nearly 33 percent who have experienced sexual violence, the 51 percent who’ve been sexually touched without their consent, and the 81 percent who have endured sexual harassment.

That’s, of course, an average of the entire woman population. Turns out, if you’re not white, it gets much worse — nearly half of multiracial woman have experienced sexual violence sometime in their lives.

Suddenly, a false accusation rate of 6 percent is looking pretty dandy. I know far too many women who would do anything for those chances.

Heck, even men have a better chance of being a survivor of sexual violence than being falsely accused of it.

But some people continue to believe false rape accusations are the real problem, and may point to another study which concluded false rape allegations happen five times more often than false accusations of other crimes.

That could be alarming, if the study didn’t also conclude the false allegation rate was around 5 percent, and if everyone who was sexually assaulted filed a police report.

But that’s not even close to the case — the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates out of 1,000 rapes, only a third are reported to authorities, and the Office on Violence Against Women (under the Department of Justice) estimates 63 percent of all sexual assaults are never reported.

Here’s another fun fact: out of those 1,000 rapes, only seven cases on average lead to a felony conviction. Actual rapists have a better chance of being accused, arrested, and even prosecuted before leaving the legal system scot-free than someone falsely accusing you of sexual assault — which also means if you are falsely accused, you stand an excellent chance at not being imprisoned (unless you’re a minority, but that’s a whole other issue).

Are false sexual assault allegations a problem? Sure. As one New York Times writer put it, a friend of his said, “I’d rather be accused of murder than of sexual assault.” I completely sympathize with that — getting falsely accused of any crime would be a scary experience, but getting accused of sexual assault, especially in this day and age, could be downright terrifying.

And false allegations not only hurt the accused, but harms the credibility of the millions upon millions of people who have been legitimately assaulted, and helps the people who commit such heinous crimes.

But this is only a detail, a blip on the radar.

The real problem remains that many men believe they’re free to exercise whatever power they want over women, and that our society largely continues accept this. At best, we bury our heads in the sand, choosing to ignore the issue and how we contribute to it. And at worst, we take those who were brave enough to stand up and be heard, and we beat them back down into the hell they’re struggling to escape.

Every day, women take risks I can’t even comprehend or imagine because of my standing in American society. The least I can do in return is believe them.

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Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray’s research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literary studies, British literature, and rhetoric and composition. Prior to teaching in the U.S., she worked as an editor with Routledge and taught English at colleges in India. She is a resident of Kirkland.
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