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EVAWI > Resources > Best Practices > FAQs > False Reports
Q What percentage of rape reports are false?
Q When is it appropriate to prosecute someone for filing a false report of sexual assault?
A What percentage of rape reports are false?

This may seem like a straightforward question, but in fact determining the percentage of false reports is complex. The OLTI module False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issues to Successfully Investigate Sexual Assault clarifies that a report can only be determined false based on the evidence from a thorough investigation:

…the determination that a sexual assault report is false can only be made if the evidence establishes that no crime was completed or attempted. This evidence will only be available after a thorough investigation, not after only a preliminary investigation or initial interview with the victim.

While there is a wide range of figures in the literature, methodologically rigorous research shows that the estimated range of false reports is between 2-8%. These studies include:

These studies indicate a far lower prevalence of false reports than people often believe. EVAWI’s Start by Believing campaign is designed to address this misconception and prevent unwarranted suspicion from compounding the trauma of sexual assault with disbelieving reactions from friends, family members, and responding professionals.

False reports are sometimes confused with other types of disclosures or cases. An article published in Violence Against Women identifies important distinctions among related concepts:

  • Deliberate falsehoods. This is what most think of, when an individual deliberately files a false report for some personal gain or other purpose.
  • Untrue statements without malice. This would include reports made by an individual suffering from delusions or a young person who simply does not understand the consequences of making a particular statement or allegation.
  • Inconsistent statements. There are countless reasons why victims might make statements that are inconsistent or even untrue. This could be the result of trauma as well as drug or alcohol use, which may be voluntary or part of the crime. Victims’ statements may also be inconsistent because they are striving to make their report sound more “believable,” or because they are embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing certain aspects of the crime. However, a report that is made with inconsistent or even untrue statements is not necessarily a false report.
  • “Unfounded” criminal cases. These cases include reports that are false as well as those that are baseless. A false report is defined above; baseless reports include those that do not meet the elements of a criminal offense.

To better understand these issues, see the EVAWI article Incomplete, Inconsistent, and Untrue Statements Made by Victims: Understanding the Causes and Overcoming the Challenges.

A When is it appropriate to prosecute someone for filing a false report of sexual assault?

This issue is articulated in a study conducted by the English Crown Prosecution Service in 2013, to examine cases involving “allegedly false allegations of rape or domestic violence, or both” (p. 2). In that study, a total of 121 rape cases were examined where prosecution was considered for filing a false report.1 Yet analysis revealed that many of those cases did not appear to be false reports – or even if they were false, they were not made with deliberate intent.

  • For example, just over half (51%) of the cases involved young people, many of whom “showed a clear failure to think about (or even awareness of) the seriousness of making an allegation of rape” (p 26).
  • Almost one in five (19%) of these individuals had “mental health difficulties.” In some of these cases, it was clear that the person “did not understand the legal definition of consent” (p. 31).
  • Almost half (46%) of the cases were initially reported by a third party (more than half of which also involved a victim who was under 18 years old). In many of these cases, the person “later reported that the whole thing had spiraled out of control and he or she had felt unable to stop the investigation” (p. 14).
  • Alcohol and drug use was particularly common in these cases, including those where the person “might have been raped, but could not recall because s/he had drunk alcohol or taken drugs” (p. 32).

In fact, many of the cases included in the Crown Prosecution Service study involved no clear allegation of rape at all. This was particularly true when the person was young, where drugs or alcohol were involved, and/or when the report was made by a third party.

  • For example, in some cases, the person “had undoubtedly been the victim of some kind of offence, even if not the one which he or she had reported (p. 4).
  • In other cases, analysis revealed that there was no evidence to support the charge of a false allegation: “On close examination … there was nothing to show that what she was saying was untrue” (p. 31).

In such cases, it doesn’t make any sense to prosecute a person for filing a false report. As described by the researchers, some of these victims called police to report that they might have been raped, but they could not recall any details because of their drug or alcohol use.

When someone is not sure whether she/he was raped, the burden is on law enforcement to investigate and determine whether there is evidence to corroborate a sexual assault. The determination can only be made on the basis of the investigative findings – not the victim’s initial statement. At that point, the report should typically be documented as an informational report and only scored as a crime report if and when the evidence establishes that the elements of a sexual assault offense have been met.

For more information on this topic, please see the OLTI module: False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issues to Successfully Investigate Sexual Assault.

1. These 121 cases constituted all of the rape cases considered for prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service during a 17-month period. Of these, 35 were ultimately charged with the felony crime of “perverting the course of justice,” whereas 10 were charged with the misdemeanor offense of “wasting police time.” The report begins by contrasting these numbers with the 5,651 prosecutions for rape in the same time frame.
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