False Rape Accounts are Exceedingly Rare

The recent resurgence of sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby led to some interesting family discussions at the Thanksgiving table recently. In case you have not been following the news, Bill Cosby has allegedly throughout the course of his career sexually assaulted female coworkers; many have now come forward to make their stories public, and the resulting commotion has led to cancellation of new projects that Cosby had been about to launch, as well as a general tarnishing of his iconic reputation.

One of my cousins (let’s call her Allison) works in a support shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and she and another relative (let’s call him Roger) were arguing over how the public and the media should respond to the many allegations. The crux of the debate came from the fact that so many women have been coming forward all seemingly at once. They certainly couldn’t all be telling the truth, Roger asserted. Certainly some of them were doing it for the fame and/or potential money, he guessed.

Across the table, Allison was making her voice heard. As a daily defender of survivors of domestic violence, she was stressing the importance of supporting the victims through and through; it was not up to us the uninformed public to decide guilt or innocence. By continuing to condone an environment where the public and private motives of victims are questioned, she said, we make it more difficult for survivors to seek and find help. We raise the burden of proof for the victim. We presume guilt before innocence.

Roger replied, “Altruism is great, but this is the real world. The women who come forward and are found later to have lied about it – they ruin it for everybody else.”

That pretty much ended the discussion, and for the sake of everyone’s blood pressure at the table, conversation moved on to lighter topics. But that didn’t mean the issue left my mind. Clearly the conversation continues to trouble me.

The Cosby allegations are not the only allegations of late to be questioned in the public spotlight. Shia LaBeouf’s victimization as part of an art show has led to much debate over whether or not he was raped, whether or not he should have resisted more, and even more sinisterly – whether or not he orchestrated the rape for the purposes of the art show.

On the heels of this story, we have also heard about gang rape allegations at the University of Virginia, and now a backlash because some of the journalism describing the incident might be inaccurate.

What is it about the way we think about, talk about, and engage with domestic violence that systematizes a culture of denying victimhood?

In the aftermath of these three news stories, much of the reporting has focused on who is telling the truth and who is lying. Do the inaccuracies matter? Does it change the fact that these men and women were raped?

Based on the data, an exceedingly small amount of rape allegations are actually false (estimated 2-8% based on here and here). On top of this, most (60%) of sexual assaults will not even be reported, and a staggering majority will not get prosecuted.


By questioning what constitutes “real rape” (a adjective-noun phrase that I cringe to have to type), we send the message that victims have to prove to us that they are “real victims.” We prevent victims from feeling comfortable coming forward, and even give them real incentive not to. Who wants to be publicly shamed like this?

“What’s the worst thing that could happen if you believe that Shia LaBeouf [or any other victim] was raped?” Miri Mogilevsky of The Daily Dot asks. Her colleague Lindy West puts it eloquently at The Guardian: “A victim doesn’t have to be relatable or reliable or likable or ‘normal’ – or even a good person – for you to believe them. You can be utterly baffled by someone’s every move and still take their victimization seriously.”

What can we do?

First of all, support the victim. It takes a huge effort to come forward. Victims are identifying themselves because they are seeking help. Either help them or refer them to someone who is prepared to help, like your local sexual assault support service center that offers free, confidential help for victims and their friends.

Second of all, recognize that a) rape exists; b) it’s often committed by someone known to the victim; and c) false reporting is just as rare as false reporting of other felonies. Copycat reporting is a unique and relatively uncommon phenomenon, and it should be the last thing on our minds when supporting a victim of rape.

Finally, speak up when you hear rape jokes and other language that creates a hostile environment for survivors. You may not think you know anyone personally who has been raped, but the fact is – you almost definitely do – people just don’t talk about it. By speaking up when you hear someone saying something that belittles rape, you are helping create a supportive environment, even if the person who needs it the most may never acknowledge you for it.


  1. Your post, FALSE RAPE ACCOUNTS ARE EXCEEDINGLY RARE, brings light to a very significant issue in our society. Being a survivor of sexual abuse for over 10 years, let me share that in most cases, the decision to not speak out about childhood abuse is primarily for survival. The most painful, no, even more painful than the abuse itself, are judgements from people. People believe they somehow magically know what was experienced. No one knows what abuse feels like unless they have experienced it because It is impossible to understand it in any form other than personal experience. Judgement in our world is a fundamental problem all of its own; judgement of victims is appalling behavior. I choose to become a trained Rape Crisis Intervention Advocate and worked with victims from the moment they arrived at the hospital. I saw the truth frequently. Mark, I support you for speaking out and especially about your statement about rape jokes. Rape is not a joke. Kuddos to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What’s amazing to me is that if this weren’t Bill Cosby, we wouldn’t even be hearing about this. It’s really more about him than the victims, of course. It seems the real crime as far as the law is concerned is accusing someone of rape as you will be on trial, held to a higher standard of conduct, character, likability, location and demeanor than the perpetrator. His job is only to duck the bullets, your job as the victim is to prove it happened and you didn’t “ask” for it by some outward manifestation or previous conduct (like you slept with too many other men by some arbitrary standard) which might end up casting reasonable doubt. What’s the expression, “if you’re going to rob her, you might as well rape her, the rape will be free.”

    It’s a classic “he said, she said” and it’s still a man’s world. And we live in a violent society where homicide is among the biggest causes of death in our country, rape is a wink, wink, and we look the other way we see children being neglected and abused. Not our business. None of it is our business–I wonder who’s business it is.

    Thanks to your cousin for the work she does and to you for writing this post! Happy holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the article. I recently spent some time working with our Forensic Pediatrics division. In children, there is another complicating factor (at least in the state where I practice)–if a child is developmentally or emotionally unable to testify on the stand, the case never even makes it to trial. Because many children suffer sexual abuse at very young ages, and many others suffer such emotional trauma from the event that they cannot discuss it, this means that the vast majority of child sex offenders walk free–solely based on the legal requirement that they have a right to face their accuser in court (even if their accuser is 2 years old). I was shocked and appalled.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very well written, and sensitive. For a young physician, you show great maturity in your writing. Congratulations!
    It is victimization all over again, when somebody does report such an offence. They have to live through the pain and horror, many more times – and then, to think that 97% of those reported walk free! No wonder many don’t bother to report it!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a good read. Thank you for sharing and for your insight. Nobody should ever make light of someone being raped, and no one should ever argue the validity of someone’s confession of rape. If someone comes forward, we should be supporting them and like it was said above in previous comments, it’s about the victims’ well-being and safety – that’s what is most important.

    I feel like people can be too quick to judge things without enough evidence, or if they don’t know the right answers – ignorance is not bliss. Instead of casting judgments, ask questions about how we can help.

    Liked by 1 person

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