FALSE RAPE CLAIMS….Eugene Volokh is researching the incidence of false rape claims. Researchers have had quite a difficult time pinning down what percentage of rape claims are actually false. Volokh writes:
….(short summary: estimates range from under 2% to 40+%, though I have no opinion about which is right). But in the meantime, I thought I’d mention one observation that may be helpful for thinking about other debates as well.
Many people who believe that false rape reports are a tiny fraction of all rape reports argue that very few women would make such false reports. The common line is that women don’t lie about rape, which must really mean that very few women lie about rape.
But even if this is true — and I strongly suspect that it is — this is entirely consistent with the possibility that a substantial fraction of rape reports are false.
He proceeds to do the math.
What I find troubling about this approach is that it suggests that false rapes occur because some proportion of women are deceitful. Michelle J. Anderson, in her article, The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault, cited Department of Justice statistics that the rate of false reporting for other crimes is about 2%. (p. 34). (Via CrimLawProfBlog.) So, there’s some small percentage of people (regardless of the structure of their genitalia) who are going to falsely accuse people of committing crimes against them. I have no opinion on whether rape is falsely reported more or less than 2%. If someone is going to accuse someone else of criminal activity, there are a couple of reasons why he or she would be more inclined to choose rape over other crimes.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for January-June 2004 reveals that property crimes, namely burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft, are overwhelmingly more common than violent crime (including reported rapes) and arson. It’s much harder to accuse someone of a property crime because they have to have taken possession of your property. The police can see where the property is located and often there is evidence as to how it got there. Rape on the other hand, involves issues we consider to be intensely private, especially since acquaintance rape and marital rape make up a large proportion of incidents.
In addition, rape itself is hard to define. Feminist scholars disagree fundamentally about how we should even think about rape, specifically regarding consent. I wonder, especially in studies that suggest a sizable proportion of rapes are falsely reported, how many of those false reports are themselves falsely characterized as such. For example, marital rape wasn’t criminalized in all 50 states until 1993, and as of 1999, 33 states still exempt husbands from rape prosecution when the wife is legally unable to consent. (Link.) Under such laws, police might view an accusation of marital rape as false, even though it would have been rape if it had been perpetrated by anyone but the husband.
Also, and Volokh admits this, keep in mind that most rapes go unreported, so any percentage of false claims is somewhat artificially high to the degree that rapes are less likely to be reported than other crimes. Anderson cites Department of Justice statistics in her article (p. 29) that over 60% of rapes and over 70% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
All this is to say that there are many reasons for which rape might be falsely reported more frequently than other crimes, but the dishonesty of women (or even people in general) is probably not the only culprit.