Conversations about False Rape Allegations are Generally Full of Bullshit

Content Note: Discussion of sexual assault statistics and an empirical analysis of false rape allegations.

This week an article  popped up on CBC about MRA activists in Edmonton putting posters up encouraging women not to lie about sexual assault just because they regret having sex with someone. I posted it on my Facebook feed with a bunch of comments about my rage, and a few of my fellow feminist friends responded. We ended up discussing false rape allegation statistics and their lack of empirical accuracy when a male friend of mine decided to ask me the deceptively difficult question of what should a proper estimation of the rate of false accusations be? I gave a really long answer (for a Facebook post that is), and was asked to make it rebloggable. So here is my extended response (now complete with 50% more grammar!).

My short answer is that there is no answer. Simply put, there is not enough data for relevant statistical analysis that would give us any sort of accurate picture of false rape accusations. While there have been many studies conducted on this issue, they are essentially based on meaningless numbers. Many of them focus on data obtained from police stations and thus rely on unfounding rates. Unfounding means that the police have decided not to pursue a case, and they may have chosen this option for a variety of reasons other than just the belief that a false allegation has been made. In many situations, unfounding occurs because there was not enough evidence to support a court case. It is also not uncommon for sexist attitudes to influence unfounding rates. In one of my classes in law school, we compared unfounding statistics from across the province of Ontario, and it was quite shocking to see how the rates differed between jurisdictions. Unfounding rates in jurisdictions where police officers have special training in regards to sexual assault were significantly lower than in jurisdictions that do not have that sort of training (for example, Toronto versus most of the other Ontario areas), or jurisdictions that still use training that emphasises the false idea that most complainants lie (see everything written by Baeza and Turvey in the preceding link).

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