Monday, August 15, 2011

The myth about false rape reports

I really enjoyed the last book I read (title omitted to prevent spoilers, but feel free to ask for it in the comments or email me if you want to know) until I got to the "girl who cried wolf" part. In a nutshell, a lust-driven 15-year-old girl chases after a married man, who turns her down appropriately, and then she (falsely) accuses him of being involved with her, i.e. statutory rape.

I'm really, really tired of the false rape cliche in literature and film. In this case, her motives were essentially revenge. It comes up all the time-- a female is rejected/scorned/broken up with and so she decides to get back by falsely accusing the male of rape, or the female and male have sex and she regrets it later so she calls it rape. False rape really doesn't happen as often as so many people think it does. Studies conducted worldwide (and summarized in this issue of The Voice, a publication by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women) point to a figure of 2-8%.

That's it. It's not 41%, as suggested by the severely flawed yet often cited Kanin (1994) study. Additionally, false reports almost always fit the stereotype of a sexual assault, the kind in which a victim can remain most "blameless" under society's flawed notions of what is considered sexual assault. False reports are almost never allegations against someone the victim knows, almost never "date rape" stories that are so often dismissed as acts of vengeance or regret. Actual false rape reports read along the lines of a "classic" (and actually very rare) scenario, involving a stranger or vaguely described acquaintance who is never named and use of a weapon and/or serious physical injury. The "assault" will only have included penile-vaginal penetration and the victim will say she struggled and physically resisted to the utmost. Essentially, the story painted will cast the "victim" in the most best light possible, with the least blame placed upon her by society. False rape reports are made mostly by mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals.

So this whole "women cry rape for revenge all the time" thing is complete and utter nonsense, yet people continue to perpetuate this harmful myth. When someone (a very brave someone) comes forth to report sexual assault by someone they know, one of the most common reactions is to doubt it, to look for other possible motives the victim might have to lie. Why? When someone reports being mugged, most people assume s/he is being truthful. What makes sexual assault so different?

The prevalence of false rape stories in literature and the media serves to keep this myth alive. It is always severely disappointing to me when "the girl who cried wolf" is used as a cheap plot point. False rape reports are not as widespread as most people believe, and they are almost never the ones people think are false (i.e. acquaintance rapes).

PS- The article I linked to above is a very good, worthwhile read.

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