Rape Accusations May Be More Common
By Wendy McElroy, Tuesday, May 02, 2006
I don't mean
the widely-circulated '1-in-4 women
will be raped in their lifetime' but
a statistic that suggests '1-in-4
accusations of rape are false.'
For a long time, I have been bothered
by the elusiveness of figures on the
prevalence of false accusations of
sexual assault. The crime of 'bearing
false witness' is rarely tracked or
punished, and the context in which
it is usually raised is highly politicized.
Politically correct feminists claim
false rape accusations are rare and
account for only 2 percent of all
reports. Men's rights sites point
to research that places the rate as
high as 41 percent. These are wildly
disparate figures that cannot be reconciled.
This week I stumbled over a passage
in a 1996 study published by the U.S.
Department of Justice: Convicted by
Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case
Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence
to Establish Innocence After Trial.
The study documents 28 cases which,
"with the exception of one young
man of limited mental capacity who
pleaded guilty," consist of individuals
who were convicted by juries and,
then, later exonerated by DNA tests.
At the time of release, they had each
served an average of 7 years in prison.
The passage that riveted my attention
was a quote from Peter Neufeld and
Barry C. Scheck, prominent criminal
attorneys and co-founders of the Innocence
Project that seeks to release those
They stated, "Every year since
1989, in about 25 percent of the sexual
assault cases referred to the FBI
where results could be obtained, the
primary suspect has been excluded
by forensic DNA testing. Specifically,
FBI officials report that out of roughly
10,000 sexual assault cases since
1989, about 2,000 tests have been
inconclusive, about 2,000 tests have
excluded the primary suspect, and
about 6,000 have "matched"
or included the primary suspect."
The authors continued, "these
percentages have remained constant
for 7 years, and the National Institute
of Justice's informal survey of private
laboratories reveals a strikingly
similar 26 percent exclusion rate."
If the foregoing results can be extrapolated,
then the rate of false reports is
roughly between 20 (if DNA excludes
an accused) to 40 percent (if inconclusive
DNA is added). The relatively low
estimate of 25 to 26 percent is probably
accurate, especially since it is supported
by other sources.
Before analyzing the competing figures,
however, caveats about the one just
mentioned are necessary.
First, the category of 'false accusations'
does not distinguish between accusers
who lie and those who are honestly
mistaken. Nor does it indicate that
a rape did not occur, merely that
the specific accused is innocent.
Thus, there is a drive by voices for
reform, like the Innocence Institute,
to improve eyewitness identification
techniques within police departments.
For example, the Innocence Institute
suggests "Police should use a
'double-blind' photo identification
procedure where someone other than
the investigator -- who does not know
who the suspect is -- constructs photo
arrays with non-suspects as fillers
to reduce suggestiveness."
Second, even if false accusations
are as common as 1-in-4, that means
75 percent of reports are probably
accurate and, so, all accusations
deserve a thorough and professional
Third, the 1-in-4 figure has 'fuzzy'
aspects that could influence the results.
For example, Neufeld and Scheck mention
only sexual assault cases that were
"referred to the FBI where results
could be obtained."
It is not clear what percentage of
all reported assaults are represented
by those cases. As well, the terms
'rape' and 'sexual assault' are often
used interchangeably, especially when
comparing studies, and it is not clear
that they are always synonyms for
Nevertheless, the FBI data on excluded
DNA is as close to hard statistics
that I've found on the rate of false
accusations of sexual assault.
Where do the other figures come from
and why is there reason to doubt them?
Let me consider the two statistics
that I have encountered most often.
"Two percent of all reports are
Several years ago, I tried to track
down the origin of this much-cited
The first instance I found of the
figure was in Susan Brownmiller's
book on sexual assault entitled "Against
Our Will" (1975). Brownmiller
claimed that false accusations in
New York City had dropped to 2 percent
after police departments began using
policewomen to interview alleged victims.
Elsewhere, the two percent figure
appears without citation or with only
a vague attribution to "FBI"
sources. Although the figure shows
up in legislation such as the Violence
Against Women Act, legal scholar Michelle
Anderson of Villanova University Law
School reported in 2004, "no
study has ever been published which
sets forth an evidentiary basis for
the two percent false rape complaint
In short, there is no reason to credit
"Forty-one percent of all reports
This claim comes from a study conducted
by Eugene J. Kanin of Purdue University.
Kanin examined 109 rape complaints
registered in a Midwestern city from
1978 to 1987.
Of these, 45 were ultimately classified
by the police as "false."
Also based on police records, Kanin
determined that 50 percent of the
rapes reported at two major universities
Although Kanin offers solid research,
I would need to see more studies with
different populations before accepting
the figure of 50 percent as prevalent;
to me, the figure seems high.
But even a skeptic like me must credit
a DNA exclusion rate of 20 percent
that remained constant over several
years when conducted by FBI labs.
This is especially true when 20 percent
more were found to be questionable.
False accusations are not rare. They
case of alleged rape at Duke University
has an explosive mix of elements:
gender, race, class, and charges of
sexual violence. Three members of
the school's lacrosse team, privileged
young white men, are accused of sexually
assaulting a stripper who is African-American.
The facts of the case remain murky.
According to media reports, medical
evidence seems to support the woman's
claim of sexual assault, but no DNA
match to any team members has been
found, and two of the accused may
have an alibi. The police report suggests
that the woman was initially picked
up when heavily intoxicated. The other
exotic dancer who was on the scene
initially disputed the alleged victim's
claims but then changed her story
somewhat, and apparently made inquiries
about profiting from her role in the
In the current trial by media, charges
of a rush to judgment abound. Women's
advocates and many others claim that
the alleged victim is being smeared
as a slut by a sexist culture which
holds that an ''unchaste" woman
who is raped must have been ''asking
for it." (Radio talk show host
Rush Limbaugh charmingly referred
to charges that lacrosse team members
had ''raped some
Meanwhile, some say that the quick
assumption that the players are guilty
reflects antimale prejudice. Writes
columnist Kathleen Parker, ''Reaction
to Duke's sad chapter is but the inevitable
full flowering of the antimale seeds
planted a generation ago. Thus, we
need little prompting to assume that
where there's a guy, there's a potential
Feminism has achieved real and important
progress in the treatment of sexual
assault victims. A couple of generations
ago, a stripper at a party with athletes
would have been viewed by many as
fair game. That this is no longer
the case surely makes us a more decent
But even some people who applaud this
change believe that in some cases,
the pendulum has swung too far. Many
feminists seem to think that in sexual
assault cases the presumption of innocence
should not apply. Appearing on the
Fox News show ''The O'Reilly Factor,"
Monika Johnson-Hostler of the North
Carolina Coalition Against Sexual
Assault declared that her role was
''to support a woman or any victim
that comes forward to say that they
were sexually assaulted."
To O'Reilly's question, ''Even if
they weren't?" Johnson-Hostler
replied, ''I can't say that I've come
across one that wasn't." Feminist
pundits discussing this case, such
as Wendy Murphy of the New England
School of Law, exude an overwhelming
presumption of guilt.
In some cases, activists have even
protested what they believe is excessive
coverage of false accusations of rape
and innocently accused men.
False charges do exist. FBI statistics
show that about 9 percent of rape
reports are ''unfounded" -- dismissed
without charges being filed. This
usually happens when the accuser recants
or when her story is not just unsupported
but contradicted by evidence. Some
studies, including one by pioneering
date rape researcher Eugene Kanin,
put the rate of false accusations
at one in four or even higher.
The results can be devastating. In
1996, Los Angeles police officer Harris
Scott Mintz was accused of rape by
a woman in the neighborhood he patrolled,
and then by his own wife as well.
At a pretrial hearing, the judge pronounced
that he had no doubt about Mintz's
guilt. Then, his wife admitted that
she made up the charge because she
was angry at her husband for getting
in trouble with the law; subsequently,
Mintz's attorneys uncovered evidence
that the first accuser had told an
ex-roommate she had concocted the
rape charge in order to sue the county
and that she had tried a similar hoax
before. By the time the case collapsed,
Mintz had spent five months in jail.
To recognize that some women wrongly
accuse men of rape is not antifemale,
any more than recognizing that some
men rape women is antimale. Is it
so unreasonable to think that a uniquely
damaging charge will be used by some
people as a weapon, just as others
will use their muscle? Do we really
believe that when women have power
-- and there is power in an accusation
of rape -- they are less likely to
abuse it than men? As Columbia University
law professor George Fletcher has
written, ''It is important to defend
the interests of women as victims,
but not to go so far as to accord
women complaining of rape a presumption
of honesty and objectivity."
If that's the lesson of the Duke case,
then some good will have come of it
Cathy Young is a contributing editor
at Reason magazine. Her column appears
regularly in the Globe.
3. Mother's 'Work' Doesn't Warrant
By Wendy McElroy, Tuesday, May 09,
$134,121 a year: that's what a 2006
stay-at-home mom would earn if her
work were fully paid at market rates.
The claim comes from a study by the
Massachusetts-based Salary.com, which
specializes in "salary surveys."
Although the figure is being touted
as appreciation of stay-at-home mothers,
it is actually both an insult and
an absurdity. Stay at home mothers
Alarm bells should already be sounding
on the absurdity point. How can the
monetary value of a vaguely defined
and complex category, like an average
stay-at-home mother's job, be assessed
so exactly to the last dollar? Does
it seem reasonable that a stay at
home mother should receive over three
times the median American household
Why was the statistic released so
shortly before Mother's Day?
Such obvious questions were not asked
by "400+ newspapers, TV, and
radio stations from the U.S. to Australia."
Instead, Salary.com gleefully reported,
"The survey was the #1 emailed
story on Yahoo! on Monday, May 2"
-- the same day it was released.
Salary.com's press release cleared
up one issue. The site had conducted
a survey, not a study, as the majority
of the media reported. A study is
a scholarly or scientific investigation
that uses controls to prevent bias
and error. A statistical survey collects
data by interviewing or asking questions
of individuals. A survey is less rigorous
but, depending on its methodology,
it can produce valuable results.
What was the methodology? Salary.com
surveyed about 400 women online; the
respondents consisted of both working
mothers and stay at home mothers.
Presuming an equal breakdown between
the two, about 200 stay at home mothers
were surveyed out of an estimated
population of 5.6 million stay at
home mothers. (U.S. Census Bureau,
2003); that is .00357 percent.
There is no indication of whether
respondents were randomly chosen or
filtered in some manner.
Online surveys are notoriously unreliable
because follow-up verification rarely
occurs and lying is a temptation.
For example, a question like "Do
you hit your children?" may produce
a high rate of false answers, especially
with no check on accuracy. Salary.com's
questions are not available.
Nevertheless, since they were used
to break down the hours of stay at
home mothers' labor, some questions
must have been akin to "how often
do you clean house?" Again, significant
inaccuracy may have occurred.
Pushing aside such factors, how did
Salary.com convert raw data on stay
at home mothers' hours into the figure
$134,121? (Working mothers who could
not afford to stay at home, as much
as they might long to do so, had their
time valued at only $85,878. The quality
of time spent was not a factor, only
To convert time into money, Salary.com
took a great leap.
It classified the top ten tasks reported
by respondents and calculated the
respective hourly wages for 'equivalent'
jobs in the marketplace; the jobs
included day-care teacher, chef, CEO,
psychologist and computer operator.
For example, if a stay at home mother
acted as the family-CEO for 4.2 hours
a week, then the hourly marketplace
rate for a corporate-world CEO was
credited to her annual 'earnings'.
Then, the worth of all ten jobs were
added together to produce a total
Two inflationary factors were employed.
First, some extremely well-paid jobs
were included. Second, because stay
at home mothers are deemed to be constantly
on-call, 51.6 hours of overtime with
overtime 'pay' were added to every
40-hour work week.
These inflationary factors ignore
basic realities of the job market.
For example, the 'equivalent' salaried
positions do not generally receive
overtime; that's a characteristic
of jobs paid on an hourly basis.
Moreover, CEOs and psychologists are
compensated, in large part, for their
extensive education and other qualifications.
More fundamentally, however, the survey
is based on fundamentally false assumptions
and it leaves out essential information.
One false assumption: Stay at home
mothers provide services to themselves
and to their families, not to a marketplace
of customers. Just as you do not 'deserve'
a salary for cooking your own breakfast,
neither does a parent who prepares
a meal. What you do for personal benefit
is different in kind from the labor
you auction in the marketplace.
Two items of missing information:
What of men? Fathers are repairmen,
carpenters, plumbers, yard workers,
accountants and occasional CEOs. Yet
there is no mention of the 'salary'
men should receive; perhaps such mention
would destroy the sensationalism of
the woman's $134,121 a year.
Where is the off-setting calculation
of economic benefits that stay at
home mothers receive in the form of
housing, food, or transportation?
The survey's conclusions are absurd,
and the act of throwing absurdity
at stay at home mothers as though
it were the gift of revealed wisdom
is a patronizing insult. Doing it
on the cusp of Mother's Day so that
Salary.com's paid-services receive
mega-media attention is a self-serving
But the main offense is that Salary.com
doesn't 'get it.' Women who stay home
are lucky enough to be able to choose
personal benefits over economic ones;
stay at home mothers have refused
to value their time in dollar signs.
When Salary.com refers to sitting
up with a sick child as 'over time',
it commercializes and cheapens that
act of love for both stay at home
and working moms.
It is similar to placing a dollar
value on intimate marital relations
because, after all, those 'services'
are available elsewhere for a fee.
When you define the value of family
meals in terms of cold cash, then
you've lost the importance of what's
really going on. When you convert
acts of love into acts for profit,
you've lost at life itself.
Stay at home mothers and working moms
should print out the faux-paycheck
that Salary.com offers at its website
Mom's Salary Wizard just for the pleasure
of tearing it up.
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