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The false accusation fallacy. April 20, 2006

Posted by Winter in rape.

This is an issue that has really annoyed me for a while. The minute anybody anywhere mentions the possibility of changing anything that may possibly benefit rape victims and lead to more convictions somebody pipes up with “But what about all those women who will make false allegations?” Poor Men, Ruined lives etc, etc. Having finally thought about the reasons why it annoys me in a way that is almost coherent, I’m going to attempt, in a short post to explain why this argument is a big, time-wasting, energy-sucking fallacy.

I have no doubt that having been falsely accused of rape must be devastating for someone, I don’t really think this fits in with debates over helping rape victims, i.e. women who have actually been raped and traumatized. I shall tell you why I think this same old argument gets wheeled out. Frankly when you bring this argument into a discussion that should be focused on women, you make it about men. Not about raped women, but about the behaviour of scheming conniving little bitches towards poor innocent men. When talking about rape survivors you are dealing with a group of people who are predominantly women, and should be focused on the needs of those women. Obviously, by default there is little room to talk about men in this context except for men as rapists. I can see how that may be threatening to some men, an in an attempt to take the emphasis of men as rapists, and as a handy way to enter the debate, wheel out the old false accusation fallacy.

I don’t believe that the issue of false accusations belongs anywhere near any sensible adult conversation about how to support survivors of rape, and how to improve the rape conviction rates. This is why;

  • By using the words false accusations you immediately associate rape survivors with falsehood. By sheer implication you are suggesting that many of these women are probably liars, and as a logical extension of that, trying to screw up some poor innocents guys life by accusing him of being a rapist. The last thing any woman who has been raped needs to hear is rhetoric about false accusations. She needs to be reassured that she will be believed and supported. She needs to believe that it was not her fault. SHE DOES NOT NEED TO SPEND TIME AND ENERGY TRYING TO CONVINCE PEOPLE THAT SHE HAS IN FACT BEEN RAPED IN THE FIRST PLACE.
  • Often these arguments seem to imply that if we make it easier to prosecute thousands of women will suddenly jump up and think “He’s pissed me off, I’ll call him a rapist. That’ll teach him.” The processing of rape victims is a long and stressful process that requires a certain amount of courage. Women are not going to put themselves through this lengthy process, which includes internal examination, just to get their kicks. There are not hundreds of women sitting out there just waiting to make false accusations.
  • Having been raped still carries with it a stigma. For this reason many women who have been raped do not attempt to prosecute their rapist because they just want to forget about the experience and try and put it behind them. Many women do not want to be in the position of carrying that stigma around. I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a crowd of women out there volunteering for it.
  • Having to explain to someone why false accusations aren’t relevant to this discussion takes a lot of time and energy and ultimately diverts the debate from it’s actual perpose.

    False accusations are a completely different issue to those concerning rape survivors and prosecution of actual rapes, and they should be treated as such.



1. Kaethe - April 20, 2006

I, too, have been greatly annoyed by The False Accusation Fallacy. And what I’m starting to wonder is why all these people who are so concerned about the deluge of false accusations don’t ask for all legal proceedings to be shielded? All of them. Total blackout of identities of victims and perpetrators in all crimes until after conviction. Continued blackout after the trial of the names of victims and any unconvicted parties.

Of course, a blanket shield law like that would probably mean that defense attorneys wouldn’t be able to tell the media about how their client didn’t do it, and how the victim’s past is clear indication that she’s a whore, etc.

2. Sarah - April 20, 2006

And then there’s the double standard where it’s only in a rape case that people assume there’s a significant chance the victim is making a false accusation.

If the same thinking was applied to every crime, it would at least be consistent, but it’s only when it’s rape that everyone assumes the victim is lying. Surely not a coincidence that it’s also a crime where the majority of victims are women?

3. IrrationalPoint - April 20, 2006

Wonderful wonderful post.


4. witchy-woo - April 21, 2006

I totally agree that the false accusation argument simply serves to divert attention and debate away from rapists while casting doubt over every woman’s integrity.

But it’s not even as though the figures indicate a frightening number of ‘false allegations’ – it’s less that 5% ffs!

Incidentally, the research in the report A Gap or Chasm indicated that a lot of supposed false accusations were made by women with significant mental health problems. This troubles me in itself… It sounds kind of easy for some ignorant police officer to assume that, because a woman is mentally ill, she won’t know if she’s been raped or not and then put pressure on her to agree that she consented.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t take the 5% figure at face value – I think it’s probably even less than that.

5. piecesofeight - April 21, 2006

Exactly. It seems every feminist blog I go to, there are men posting about false accusations and how these are damaging to the poor little boys. Firstly, the percentage of false accusations (out of all reported) in both the UK and the USA is 2%. Secondly the percentage of rape reports that end in a conviction is 5%. Doesn’t that suggest that maybe we should be focusing on the issue at hand? Rather than the extremely small amount of ‘false’ accusations. And that is so true sarah, that false accusations are only assumed in rape cases. Never mind the fact that the same number of false rape claims are made as in *all* other crimes. It’s just that some men hate to see an issue where it’s not actually about them. They can’t take any of the blame, oh no. It’s all about the lying bitches who want to get them back.

6. Sfrajett - April 21, 2006

Great post–you can see the defense playing on this and setting this up in the Duke rape trial case, leaking to the press that both boys have alibis (even though one of them has a history of assault, battery, and gaybashing).

7. Diane - April 21, 2006

Well said.

8. Haplo - April 22, 2006

I think men in general are touchy about this subject because it is a guilty until proven innocent kind of accusation, especially if the media is involved. Seems to me that both parties would be better off if the identities of both the accuser and the accusee were not known until some clarity was achieved, like a conviction.

Oh. Kaethe already said that.

I’m curious though – piecesofeight says that the % of false accusations of all rapes reported is 2%, while the successful conviction rate is 5%. What happens with all the rest? Would it be implausible to say that while the conviction rate for rapes is 5%, the actual % of these cases that really were rapes is higher? Which would similarly imply that the actual rate of false accusations is higher also?

I can’t think of any other accusation that carry as much weight and stigma as rape. I can’t think of any other crimes for which you can be tried, convicted, and sentenced before a shred of evidence is collected. That is why people react so strongly to it – as things currently stand, when there is a false accusation of rape, rare as it may, it can be an utter travesty because it can destroy lives. Of both parties involved.

9. Morgana - April 23, 2006

The thing that always gets me with the “false accusation” argument is that it’s made out that it’s a problem that is just as big as the problem of rape– making out as though men have to be afraid when walking alone, as though men have to fear forming relationships, men have to be afraid of looking what is culturally construed as “sexy” etc because these things could all result in him being falsely accused of rape– ie, making out that almost ALL men’s lives are affected by the threat of false accusations in the same way that almost all women’s lives are affected by the very real threat of rape.

Also, we know that false accusations destroy lives, and that’s bad in the rare circumstances when it happens. But aren’t MORE lives destroyed by rape? Yet, the argument seems to run that we shouldn’t take rape accusations seriously because even though there is a 98% chance that the woman is telling the truth (higher than that if you account for the fact that many wrongful accusations are a matter of a woman wrongly identifying her attacker, rather than lying about being raped in the first place), we must discredit almost all of these because the very few falsely accused men in our societies are more important than the masses of actually-raped women.

(And this is not to say that I think falsely accused men should just be sacrificed– I’m just saying that it’s extremely rare and in no possible way warrants dismissing the accounts of raped women).

10. the accidental historian - April 23, 2006

Shame I came to this late, as I would have liked to have made some of the points already so excellently made by the others above, esp. Sarah’s point about false accusation and other crimes. Excellent post!

11. Jonathan Davis - May 8, 2006

You need to bring yourself up to date with the facts.

The false accusation rate is at least 26% in the US, but more likely 40%. This is an absolute certainty based on DNA evidence. It may be much much higher. In New Zealand for example the estimated false accusation rate rate is over 80%. Whilst blowers in the justice system have tried to draw attention to the problem.

The point is that false rape accusations are a massive problem in the fight against real rape.

The problem stems from political actions which have made false accusations worthwhile – namely removing anonymity for men accused of rape in 1987.

We see in the UK that since 1985 rape convictions in real terms have risen 28% , whilst accusation, mostly date rape, have rocketed by circa 400% (since anonymity for the accused was removed in 1987).

Prior to 1987, the accusation rate was stable and growing slowly (thanks to victim encouragement efforts and improved police methods). After 1987 it exploded.

Kevin Myers argues persuasively in 2003 that “Malicious accusers are as bad as rapists“.

I agree with him.

If you really cared about rape victims, you MUST care about false accusers. They are one of the biggest problems for those fighting rape.

Lets solve the problem quickly by restoring full anonymity for rape accused and punishing hoaxers severely.

Furthermore, you ought to care about the hundreds if not thousands of innocent men who have been falsely accused and in several cases convicted.

Our justice systems is rightly based on protecting the innocent, not punishing the guilty.

“Better 100 guilty men at liberty than one innocent man in prison” has become “Rather hundreds of innocent men in prison…”

For what?

So that rape victims feelings are not hurt?

So that the newspapers have a juicy story?

So that women can keep the kids, launch a lawsuit, avenge an injury, avoid being called a slut?

Are you serious?

Real rape victims are having their cases share police and court resources with thousands of liars whilst innocent men go to prison all thanks to false accusations.

Where is the fallacy?

12. Naiades - May 11, 2006

I agree with you completely with the anonymity thing. everyone should be able to remain ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

The point I was making is that any time that anyone starts trying to improve conviction rates and treatment of actual rapists and actual rape survivour, someone alwsays, and quite hysterically brings up the issue of false accusations. I think I made it pretty clear within the article that I consider False accusations as a different issue, which frankly, diverts time, energy and attention away from the issue of real rape. I would be very happy to discuss how to cut false accusations, but I don’t think it belongs in the same discussion as how to really deal with the issue of rape in an effective way. By including false accusations in that conversation you tarnish rape victims with the same brush and deminish their integrity. It’s insulting. It is a fallacy that these two issues belong in the same discussion.

13. Anonymous - July 27, 2006

You have failed to identify any type of actual fallacy, thereby using a fallacy fallacy by which you calim anything you don’t like is a fallacy without giving any logical breakdown of how that is the case.

A discussion about how to protect rape victims automatically includes a discussion about how to protect men from false accusations. This is because any action that takes place must balance between the two. So of course it bleongs in the discussion.

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