About Half of Rape Allegations are False, Research Shows
False allegations of rape are believed to be more common than many persons realize. These are the findings of four research studies:
A review of 556 rape accusations filed against Air Force personnel found that 27% of women later recanted. Then 25 criteria were developed based on the profile of those women, and then submitted to three independent reviewers to review the remaining cases. If all three reviewers deemed the allegation was false, it was categorized as false. As a result, 60% of all allegations were found to be false.1
Of those women who later recanted, many didn't admit the allegation was false until just before taking a polygraph test. Others admitted it was false only after having failed a polygraph test.2
In a nine-year study of 109 rapes reported to the police in a Midwestern city, Purdue sociologist Eugene J. Kanin reported that in 41% of the cases the complainants eventually admitted that no rape had occurred.3
In a follow-up study of rape claims filed over a three-year period at two large Midwestern universities, Kanin found that of 64 rape cases, 50% turned out to be false.4 Among the false charges, 53% of the women admitted they filed the false claim as an alibi.5
According to a 1996 Department of Justice report, “in about 25% of the sexual assault cases referred to the FBI, ... the primary suspect has been excluded by forensic DNA testing.6
It should be noted that rape involves a forcible and non-consensual act, and a DNA match alone does not prove that rape occurred. So the 25% figure substantially underestimates the true extent of false allegations.
And according to former Colorado prosecutor Craig Silverman, “For 16 years, I was a kick-ass prosecutor who made most of my reputation vigorously prosecuting rapists. ... I was amazed to see all the false rape allegations that were made to the Denver Police Department. ... A command officer in the Denver Police sex assaults unit recently told me he placed the false rape numbers at approximately 45%.”7
According to the FBI, about 95,000 forcible rapes were reported in 2004.8
Based on the statements and studies cited above, some 47,000 American men are falsely accused of rape each year. These men are disproportionately African-American.9
Some of these men are wrongly convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned. Even if there is no conviction, a false allegation of rape can “emotionally, socially, and economically destroy a person.”10
McDowell CP. False allegations.
Forensic Science Digest,
Vol. 11, No. 4, December 1985
Ibid., p. 2, Kanin reports that in the city studied, "for a declaration of false charge to be made, the complainant must admit that no rape had occurred. ... The police department will not declare a rape charge as false when the complainant, for whatever reason, fails to pursue the charge or cooperate on the case, regardless how much doubt the police may have regarding the validity of the charge. In short, these cases are declared false only because the complainant admitted they are false. ... Thus, the rape complainants referred to in this paper are for completed forcible rapes only. The foregoing leaves us with a certain confidence that cases declared false by this police agency are indeed a reasonable -- if not a minimal -- reflection of false rape allegations made to this agency, especially when one considers that a finding of false allegation is totally dependent upon the recantation of the rape charge."
Connors E, Lundregan T, Miller N, McEwen T. Convicted by juries, exonerated by science: Case studies in the use of DNA evidence to establish innocence after trial. June 1996