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False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought
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 falsely imprisoned.

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 investigation.

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 each other.

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 false."

Several years ago, I tried to track down the origin of this much-cited stat.
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 thesis."

In short, there is no reason to credit that figure.

"Forty-one percent of all reports are false."

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 were "false."

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 are common.
THE NOTORIOUS 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 case.

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 rapist."

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 society.

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 after all.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. Her column appears regularly in the Globe.

3. Mother's 'Work' Doesn't Warrant Paycheck http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194881,00.html
By Wendy McElroy, Tuesday, May 09, 2006

$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 deserve better.

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 income: $43,318?

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 'mom'
time valued at only $85,878. The quality of time spent was not a factor, only quantity.)

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 salary.

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 insult.

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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