Skepticism and Criticism of Eugene Kanin’s Study Of False Rape Reports

[Shorter Amp: Eugene Kanin famously found that 41%, or perhaps 50%, of rapes reported to police are false. Kanin's study is both badly designed and unverifiable; more reliable studies have found that between 2% and 8% of rapes reported to police are false reports.]

In a new (sort of) post on on Ifeminists, Wendy McElroy1 suggests that false rape reports are common, relying heavily on Eugene Kanin’s famous study of false rape allegations. This study is commonly cited by MRAs and anti-feminists. McElroy writes:

How prevalent is the false reporting of sexual assault? Estimates vary widely.

According to much-cited feminist statistics, two percent of all reports are false. Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will (1975), for example, claims that false accusations in New York City dropped to that level after police departments began using policewomen to interview alleged victims. Elsewhere, the two percent figure appears without citation or with a vague attribution to “FBI” sources.

According to a study conducted by Eugene Kanin of Purdue University, the correct figure may rise to the 40 percent range. 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.”

Studies and statistics often vary and for legitimate reasons. For example, they may examine different populations. But such a dramatic variance — two percent to 50 percent — raises the question of whether political interests are at work.

Tellingly, McElroy doesn’t go on to question whether Kanin — or the police whose records Kanin reported — might have “political interests” or biases. If McElroy applied her argument honestly, her “dramatic variance” logic would necessarily raise suspicions of both statistics. Instead, her skepticism (in this article, at least) is reserved solely for feminists.

I think the 2% statistic deserves skepticism and criticism; it’s popularity among feminists is an example of what I meant when I wrote “Within feminism, there’s sometimes too little skepticism regarding statistics and news stories which emphasize harms against women. We’ve created a culture which does a rotten job of self-correction.”

That said, the 2% statistic is not wildly out of line with some other reported statistics. Quoting an article in St. John’s Law Review:2

To illustrate, when the Portland, Oregon police department examined the 431 complaints of completed or attempted sexual assault in 1990, 1.6% were determined to be false. This was in comparison with a rate of 2.6% for false reports of stolen vehicles.

Similarly, Sgt. Joanne Archambault of the Sex Crimes Division of the San Diego Police Department routinely evaluated the rate of false reports over several years and found them to be around 4%.

More recently, the FBI reported an unfounded rate of 5.4% for forcible rapes (quoted in a newspaper article, via Abyss2Hope). However, because “unfounded” does not mean “false,” the actual “false” number would be lower than 5.4%. Quoting the Oregon sexual assault task force report (pdf link):

It is critical to bear in mind that a report determined to be unfounded is not synonymous with a false allegation or report. This distinction is important enough that it is worth repeating – a report that has been unfounded is not the same as a false report (or false allegation).

The FBI definition of unfounded specifically refers to cases that are found to be false or baseless. [...] Typically a baseless report is the result of a mistake of law – the reporter believed that they were the victim of a crime when based on the state criminal code they were not.

Even Eugene Kanin has written “unfounded rape can and does mean many things, with false allegation being only one of them, and sometimes the least of them.” (Pdf source.)

So how common are false rape reports? No one can say for certain. However, after conducting a review of the (extremely limited) available research, a recent report by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women concluded:3

When more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.

So what about Kanin’s report, which found that over 40% of rapes reported to police are false? I wouldn’t suggest that Kanin has a political agenda — but I do think his methodology (which consists of tabulating police data from an unidentified small town) was overly credulous.

First of all, it’s important to realize that Kanin has kept secret what police force he was studying. This may have been necessary to gain access to police records, but it also means no other researcher has ever had the chance to verify Kanin’s findings and claims. There is no indication that Kanin attempted to interview any of the alleged false rape accusers to get their perspective, or in any way attempted to independently verify anything he was told by police. Kanin also implies that the recanters were told they’d be charged with filing false reports, but does not report the outcome of those charges.

In other words, Kanin’s study consists of Kanin uncritically reporting the claims of a single police force in a small, unidentified city, without those claims having been checked or verified in any way whatsoever.

Contrast that to this description of a genuinely rigorous study conducted by the British Government:4

The largest and most rigorous study that is currently available in this area is the third one commissioned by the British Home Office (Kelly, Lovett, & Regan, 2005). The analysis was based on the 2,643 sexual assault cases (where the outcome was known) that were reported to British police over a 15-year period of time. Of these, 8% were classified by the police department as false reports. Yet the researchers noted that some of these classifications were based simply on the personal judgments of the police investigators, based on the victim’s mental illness, inconsistent statements, drinking or drug use. These classifications were thus made in violation of the explicit policies of their own police agencies. The researchers therefore supplemented the information contained in the police files by collecting many different types of additional data, including: reports from forensic examiners, questionnaires completed by police investigators, interviews with victims and victim service providers, and content analyses of the statements made by victims and witnesses. They then proceeded to evaluate each case using the official criteria for establishing a false allegation, which was that there must be either “a clear and credible admission by the complainant”5 or “strong evidential grounds” (Kelly, Lovett, & Regan, 2005). On the basis of this analysis, the percentage of false reports dropped to 2.5%.

Kanin (quoted by Marcella Chester) describes how the police relied on by his study determined that a case was false:

In fact, agency policy forbids police officers to use their discretion in deciding whether to officially acknowledge a rape complaint, regardless how suspect that complaint may be. Second, the declaration of a false allegation follows a highly institutionalized procedure. The investigation of all rape complaints always involves a serious offer to polygraph the complainants and the suspects. Additionally, for a declaration of false charge to be made, the complainant must admit that no rape had occurred. She is the sole agent who can say that the rape charge is false. 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.

However, as the sexual assault task force for the State of Oregon (pdf link) wrote (emphasis theirs):

Victim Recantation is a retraction or withdrawal of a reported sexual assault. Recantations are routinely used by victims to disengage the criminal justice system and are therefore not, by themselves, indicative of a false report.

If over 40% of women reporting rape recant — even though multiple, more rigorous studies have found false rape reports are usually 2%-8% of all reports — that could indicate a police culture which gives rape victims an extremely strong reason to want to “disengage the criminal justice system,” even if they’re threatened with a fine or a short jail stay. And, as we will see, routinely pressuring all reported rape victims to take a lie detector test is a sign of a police department with a strong bias against taking rape reports seriously.

Jody Raphael, of the DePaul University College of Law, wrote:6

[Kanin's study] is frequently cited on web sites devoted to debunking the prevalence of rape. During this ten year period, the police department followed policy (now deemed unlawful by the U.S. Congress for police departments receiving federal funds) that required polygraphing complainants and suspects as a condition of investigating rape reports. Kanin’s department only declared a complaint false when the victim recanted and admitted it was.

In his published journal article, Kanin (1994) admitted that “A possible objection to these recantations concerns their validity….rather than proceed with the real charge of rape, the argument goes, these women withdrew their accusations to avoid the trauma of police investigation.”

And indeed, the Kanin study has been criticized for the department’s use of polygraph testing in every case, a process that has been rejected by many police departments because of its intimidating impact on victims. The International Association of Chiefs of Police disapproves of requiring polygraph tests during rape investigations because “victims often feel confused and ashamed, and experience a great deal of self-blame because of something they did or did not do in relation to the sexual assault. These feelings may compromise the reliability of the results of such interrogation techniques. The use of these interrogation techniques can also compound these feelings and prolong the trauma of a sexual assault” (Lisak, 2007, p.6).

Given the popularity of Kanin’s study, especially in light of the collapse of the Duke University lacrosse players prosecution, David Lisak (2007), an associate professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, cautions that this particular police department employed a common procedure in which officers’ inherent suspicion of rape victims results in a confrontational approach towards the victim that would likely result in an extraordinarily high number of victim recantations. Lisak also points out that Kanin’s is not a research study, because it only puts forth the opinions of the police officers without any further investigation on his part.

Kanin (1994) himself cautioned against the generalizability of his findings…

Sally Baird, in a letter to the editor, also cites Lisak’s article, writing:

Prof. Kanin’s study was examined in the article “False Allegations of Rape: A Critique of Kanin” by Dr. David Lisak in the September/October 2007 issue of the Sexual Assault Report. Dr. Lisak is an associate professor of psychology and director of the Men’s Sexual Trauma Research Project at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Dr. Lisak says that “Kanin’s 1994 article on false allegations is a provocative opinion piece, but it is not a scientific study of the issue of false reporting of rape. It certainly should never be used to assert a scientific foundation for the frequency of false allegations.”

He makes the point that Kanin “simply reiterates the opinions of the police officers who concluded that the cases in question were ‘false allegations.’” After citing an International Association of Chiefs of Police manual (Investigating Sexual Assaults, www.theiacp.org/documents/pdfs/RCD/InvestigatingSexualAssaultsPaper.pdf, p. 13), which states that polygraph tests for sexual assault victims are contradicted in the investigation process and that their use is “based on the misperception that a significant percentage of sexual assault reports are false,” Lisak then observes that “It is noteworthy that the police department from which Kanin derived his data used or threatened to use the polygraph in every case… The fact that it was the standard procedure of this department provides a window on the biases of the officers who conducted the rape investigations, biases that were then echoed in Kanin’s unchallenged reporting of their findings.”

For more reading, I’d highly recommend:

Abyss2Hope is far and away the best blog on this subject: Here, here, here, here and here, for starters. And see as well, Date Rape Is Real Rape.

Successfully Investigating Acquaintance Sexual Assault: A National Training Manual for Law Enforcement includes an excellent chapter on the question of false rape allegations (pdf link).

False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault (pdf Link).

UPDATED TO ADD LINKS:

Yes Means Yes: Thorough study of every rape case on campus for a decade finds false reporting rate of 5.9%«

Man Boobz: >Men’s Rights Myth: False Rape Accusations « man boobz

  1. If McElroy’s post feels a little stale, that’s probably because it’s a Kobe-related column she wrote six years ago, with paragraphs strategically deleted. []
  2. Hecht-Schafran, L. (1993). Writing and reading about rape: A primer. St. John’s Law Review, 66, 979-1045. Due to the age of those studies, I haven’t read the primary sources, or even the secondary source, which was quoted to me in an email from Kimberly A. Lonsway, co-editor of Sexual Assault Report. []
  3. Quoted from “False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault,” by Kimberly Lonsway, Joanne Archambault, David Lisak. (Pdf link.) []
  4. Quoted from “False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault,” by Kimberly Lonsway, Joanne Archambault, David Lisak. (Pdf link.) []
  5. I’m a bit skeptical of accepting an “admission by the complainant” as proof of a false rape report, for reasons described elsewhere in this post. In this case, it would depend on what their criteria for “clear and credible” are. []
  6. Violence Against Women, Vol. 14, No. 3, 370-375 (2008). Pdf link. []
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89 Responses to Skepticism and Criticism of Eugene Kanin’s Study Of False Rape Reports

  1. 1
    paul says:

    Geez.

    Who has the temerity to cite guff like that? The landscape is littered with police departments that have been sanctioned for blowing off rape complaints. Is there any other crime for which complainants have routinely been subjected to polygraph tests?

  2. 2
    Sailorman says:

    Much of this has to do with how you define the term “false accusation” as it is used to describe rape accusations. Just like the term “rape” can be fairly applied to a variety of situations, the term “false accusation” can also be applied to a variety of situations.

    So as a result, a lot of the variance in statistics is related to how the authors define “false accusation,” combined in some circumstances with how the authors define “rape.” Since those definitions are apparent only if you read the papers in question (and only if each paper discloses them fairly), then the blogosphere “war of the summary quotes” tends to pit apples against oranges.

    To illustrate with two common examples:

    1) If you define FA as “an accuser knowingly lies to the police in order to attempt to wrongfully convict the defendant” you will get a fairly low %age of people doing that for rape. I have no idea how you would measure this, though i suspect it may be close to the 2-8%.

    2) If you define FA as “an accuser makes a police report believing she was raped; however, the accuser’s report of the conduct does not meet the criteria for legal rape” then you will obviously get a much higher percentage of people. Since rape laws are quite stringent and most people don’t really understand them, it is plausible that this may be close to the 50% which some folks cite.

    Absent a definition of what “false” is (and, in some cases, what “rape” is) then the argument is pointless. It’s mostly a semantic issue.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    SM, I certainly agree with you that definitions matter. Indeed, that’s discussed at length in some of the links I included.

    If you define FA as “an accuser makes a police report believing she was raped; however, the accuser’s report of the conduct does not meet the criteria for legal rape” then you will obviously get a much higher percentage of people. Since rape laws are quite stringent and most people don’t really understand them, it is plausible that this may be close to the 50% which some folks cite.

    The FBI’s “unfounded” number, 5.4%, includes all rape reports known to the FBI which were found to be “baseless,” which means an event which doesn’t meet the legal criteria for rape. If the FBI’s unfounded number is 5.4%, then it’s not plausible that the number of baseless rape reports is close to 50%.

  4. 4
    Glenn's Cult says:

    Ampersand with all due respect, those who like to flaunt the 50% statistic of false accusations typically include those in which the alleged perp goes to trial and is found not guilty. Not guilty in their minds equates to FA.

    Oh and keep up the good work. I therapy blog about the MRA’s using snarky humor, you tone it down and blog facts, statistics, and I truly enjoy reading what you write. It shows me that there are those who do “get it.”

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    Amp, just knowing how hard it can be to do a huge research post and get few comments on it — this post is gorgeous and very, very well done.

  6. 6
    chingona says:

    Just seconding Mandolin.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks, everyone!

    I’ve learned to expect that posts like this are often pretty dead in comments. Which is okay; my real goal with a post like this one, is to have the information and arguments be readily google-able for anyone stuck in an argument with an anti-feminist who cites Kanin’s study of false rape reports.

    I’m pretty pleased with the outcome so far.

  8. 8
    PG says:

    Nicely done! Even for the shorter search “kanin rape,” you’re second only to the Wikipedia article on Rape statistics. Unfortunately, several of the top 10 after that is “Kanin wuz right!” stuff, including a Cathy Young article for Salon.

  9. 9
    chingona says:

    On second thought, I do have a question for Sailorman.

    2) If you define FA as “an accuser makes a police report believing she was raped; however, the accuser’s report of the conduct does not meet the criteria for legal rape” then you will obviously get a much higher percentage of people. Since rape laws are quite stringent and most people don’t really understand them, it is plausible that this may be close to the 50% which some folks cite.

    Amp already dealt with the statistical aspect of this, but you said something similar on another thread – that perhaps a lot of people make reports fully believing they have been raped (hence, most likely actually raped in the moral and ethical sense), but they haven’t been raped under the legal definition.

    On a gut level, this strikes me as implausible. I would think there would be many more situations where a victim would believe she was raped and would NOT report it because she assumed (correctly or not) that it would not meet the legal definition, than the opposite occurrence. I don’t have any evidence either way (other than what Amp has just provided), but since I’ve seen you make this suggestion more than once, I’m wondering what you are basing it on. Are you just speculating or is there some reason or basis for your suggestion?

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    (BTW, after looking at the google results page, I changed the title of this post so that googlers could more easily see what it’s about.)

  11. 11
    Charles S says:

    chingona,

    I would think there would be many more situations where a victim would believe she was raped and would NOT report it because she assumed (correctly or not) that it would not meet the legal definition, than the opposite occurrence.

    I think Sailorman is wrong for a different reason (his claim of plausibility is not backed by any of the studies Amp cites, including Kanin, and he cites no studies in support of his claim), but the issue you raise here doesn’t effect the plausibility of what Sailorman suggests. It is well documented that you are correct that many more rapes that meet the legal definition go unreported than the number of rapes that get reported, but the unfounded report rate is based on comparing the number of rapes reported that meet the legal definition to the number of rapes reported that don’t meet the legal definition. The much larger number of rapes that don’t get reported are ignored in calculating the unfounded (and the false) rape report rates.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    Chingona,

    Sailorman has been arguing that feminists — and possibly women in general — are bad at defining rape ever since he had a series of major disagreements with Maia. He seems to comment about it on every thread that touches on rape.

    I like Sailorman, but it is a dead horse, and not appealing when he beats it.

  13. 13
    C.Zero says:

    I’d like to point that your criticism of Kanin’s study, while thorough, contains an error:

    You assume that everyone who was convicted for rape actually committed it.

    When a PD says that ~2% of rape accusations were false, it means that 2% were both false and found to be false in court. The main contention of MRAs is not that false rape accusations sometimes happen, but is that there is a number (unknown?) of false rapes that are reported and lead to conviction, which the PD would obviously not count in its assessment of false rape rates.

    Anyway, I love the facts and keep ‘em coming.

  14. 14
    Myca says:

    When a PD says that ~2% of rape accusations were false, it means that 2% were both false and found to be false in court. The main contention of MRAs is not that false rape accusations sometimes happen, but is that there is a number (unknown?) of false rapes that are reported and lead to conviction, which the PD would obviously not count in its assessment of false rape rates.

    Sure, but similarly, there are bound to be a percentage of cases in which an accusation is counted as false despite being true. Without evidence, it seems silly to count either of them much.

    —Myca

  15. 15
    Jake Squid says:

    You assume that everyone who was convicted for rape actually committed it.

    I don’t think that’s true. It certainly assumes that everyone who was convicted of rape was convicted for a crime that was committed by somebody, even if not the person convicted. That is to say that there is no evidence that it was a false charge of rape regardless of whether the person convicted committed the rape or not.

    What Myca said about the silliness of trying to calculate without the least bit of evidence is very true. I’m sure that there have been false reports of battery in which somebody was convicted. Nobody seems too worried about that & we have no evidence that such a thing occurs with any significant frequency. If we have no evidence, it becomes akin to arguing about dancing camels in the needle’s eye. Or some other tortured analogy.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    You assume that everyone who was convicted for rape actually committed it.

    I don’t think I assume that. I’m sorry if my poor writing gave you that mistaken impression.

    When a PD says that ~2% of rape accusations were false, it means that 2% were both false and found to be false in court.

    That’s simply not true. If police think a rape report is either false or baseless, they count it as “unfounded.” It doesn’t require a trial at all.

    And, what Myca and Jake said. :-)

  17. 17
    james says:

    Kelly, Lovett, & Regan (2005) is not a study of the frequency of false rape reports. The study was never designed to count the number of false rape reports, they don’t attempt to count the number of false rape reports, and never claim to have counted the number of false rape reports. I don’t understand why anyone would cite it in that context. It’s hard to find a worse study for that purpose than Kanin’s, but this is it.

  18. 18
    Mandolin says:

    Want to support your assertion, james?

  19. 19
    james says:

    What do you want me to say? Just go and read Kelly, Lovett, & Regan (2005), you’ll see my claims are correct.

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    OK, I’m supposed to take your word for it over that of the British government? Yeah, right. Make an argument.

    If you have an actual beef with the study or its purposes, quote things. If you are, in fact, just rambling, get out of the thread.

  21. 21
    james says:

    OK, I’m supposed to take your word for it over that of the British government? Yeah, right. Make an argument.

    If you have an actual beef with the study or its purposes, quote things. If you are, in fact, just rambling, get out of the thread.

    For you to take my word over that of the British government would require you to have actually read the study. I am fairly sure you haven’t – or you wouldn’t be suffering from any misunderstandings about the study’s contents. I am only asking that, unless you read the study, you take my first-hand account of its contents over whatever fifth- or sixth-hand accounts you have picked up through hearsay.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    (Cross-posted with James).

    With all due respect, Mandolin, I don’t think James’ criticism is necessarily unreasonable. He’s not asking us to take his word for it, as I see it; he’s asking us to check the primary source, rather than trusting the secondary source I quoted.

    I’ll see if I can get my hands on the primary source. If I can, I’ll post again letting folks know what I find.

    ETA: Primary source is here. Checking it out.

  23. 24
    Ampersand says:

    I haven’t yet read all 136 pages of Kelly, Lovett, & Regan (2005), but I’ve read enough to convince me that I can stand by my post as written, for the most part. Kelly, Lovett, & Regan (2005) covers a lot of things about how rapes are processed in the British justice system, but contrary to what James is implying, there is a substantial discussion of rapes reports that the police classified as false.

    In particular, James, you should read pages 63-69 of the pdf file (47-53 according to the page numbers). From the summary on the last two pages of that section:

    Eight per cent of reported cases in the sample were designated false by the police. … The authors’ analysis suggests that the designation of false allegations in a number of cases was uncertain according to Home Office counting rules, and if these were excluded, would reduce the proportion of false complaints to three per cent of reported cases.

    Admittedly, there is a difference between 2.5% (in the source I quoted) and 3%, but that’s a small difference. Overall, I’d say that passage clearly supports the claims I quoted in my post.

    I’m curious to know what your argument here is, James, because you seem very off base.

    [Edited to de-snark a little.]

    UPDATE: On page 50 of the study (page 66 as Adobe Acrobat counts it), the number is given as 67 false complaints out of 2,643 reported cases, which is 2.5%.

  24. 25
    Ismone says:

    C.Zero,

    With regard to false rape convictions, I’ve worked for an innocence project in the past, and most false convictions that we have found involved stranger rape and mistaken identification, which was often cross-racial. Many times, the actual rapist was located and convicted through the same DNA testing that exonerated the falsely accused and convicted man.

    Ismone

  25. 26
    james says:

    You have to read that section in context. The study is a very focused analysis of rape attrition in the criminal justice process. False rape reports are only looked at to the extent that it impacts on attrition, they’re not looked at in and of themselves.

    They don’t look at a classification of false in the sense we’ve been talking about above (i.e. Kanin’s sense, the total number of reports that are false), they look at formal reasons for rape reports being dropped from the justice process, in this case due to being classified as meeting the official criteria for being designated false. Reports that are false in our sense are going to formally suffer attrition due to other reasons (withdrawal, insuffient evidence, no prospect of conviction, no evidence of assault). That’s perfectly appropriate given their aims, but it’s not much use for our purposes.

    That’s what I mean when I said: “The study was never designed to count the number of false rape reports, they don’t attempt to count the number of false rape reports, and never claim to have counted the number of false rape reports.” They don’t. All their numbers are couched in terms of attrition. When they use the term false allegation it’s a technical reason for withdrawal from the criminal justice process. Not a generical claim about whether an allegation is true or not. They accept plenty of objectively false reports are withdrawn for other reasons.

  26. 27
    C.Zero says:

    Ok, so to clarify my earlier statement:

    When a rape case is viewed as “unfounded” it means that the PD (or FBI) determined it to be unfounded, thus the case would not have resulted in a conviction.

    And I do fully realize that there are rapes that are not reported. This is a huge problem, not only with justice but with regards to data collection.

    The problem is that there are going to be a number of cases that are NOT considered baseless by the police or the jury, but actually were. Saying that, just because there are a number of unreported rapes that these two numbers are equal is fallacious and has no basis in fact or logic.

    I’m not suggesting that this number is nearly as large as the 50% cited, but could be larger than the ~2% that you determined. I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That was my point.

  27. 28
    chingona says:

    I don’t have any handy cites, but I believe the best independent estimates, based on extrapolations from convictions that are overturned, put the wrongful conviction rate at around 3 percent. That’s for all crimes. And my understanding matches Ismone’s – that in rape cases, wrongful convictions usually occur when the suspect is incorrectly identified in the case of a stranger rape. That is, even in those cases, there is no false report. A rape did occur, but the wrong person was arrested for it. So even if you look at wrongful convictions for rape, it’s not going to give you a number that you can add to the percentage of false reports.

  28. 29
    Ampersand says:

    James, I don’t have the time to examine the Home Office report in detail this weekend, but I’ll try to respond to you sometime in the coming week.

    C.Zero wrote:

    I’m not suggesting that this number is nearly as large as the 50% cited, but could be larger than the ~2% that you determined. I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That was my point.

    It could be larger, it could be smaller. No one knows. That’s true, and I don’t think anyone here has said otherwise.

    The problem is that there are going to be a number of cases that are NOT considered baseless by the police or the jury, but actually were.

    And likewise, there are going to be a number of cases that are considered baseless, but were actual rapes. There is no way of knowing either number.

    However, I don’t think anyone — not even Kanin — is claiming to be able to say how many false rape reports occur as a matter of absolute truth. The claims are all about how many false rape reports we can be reasonably certain have occurred based on existing evidence.

    Saying that, just because there are a number of unreported rapes that these two numbers are equal is fallacious and has no basis in fact or logic.

    Did anyone say that?

    Incidentally, rape prevalence studies consistently show that there are many more rapes never reported to police, than the total number reported to police. From this, we can safely conclude that the total number of rapes is larger than the total number of false rape reports made to police.

    However, I’m not sure why this comparison came up, and it’s not really relevant to anything.

  29. 30
    Sailorman says:

    Mandolin Writes:
    April 17th, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Chingona,

    Sailorman has been arguing that feminists — and possibly women in general — are bad at defining rape ever since he had a series of major disagreements with Maia. He seems to comment about it on every thread that touches on rape.

    That’s not it at all.

    The people who are worst at defining rape are the legislators, who are in charge of making the rape laws. The legal definition of rape is in their hands, and they generally do a fairly shitty job of it.

    Other folks–both male and female, BTW–tend to have a different problem, which can be summarized as “talking about rape in a manner that implicates rape laws, without really knowing what the rape laws say.” There are huge social issues, but frequently the social issues are based on a foundation of legal principles and the foundation gets ignored.

    Feminists do a good job defining moral rape, but they don’t get to define legal rape (the legislature does that) and feminists tend to do a very bad job distinguishing between the two. that leads to sloppy writing.

    Whenever you get someone writing about conviction rates (law!) or false reports (law!) or police response to rapes (law!) or that type of thing, the law matters. Arguably it should be one of the first things that gets looked at, but frequently the legal aspects get pushed aside.

    That makes no sense, at least to me. You can write on rape and just talk about what is right and wrong in a moral sense, and you then don’t need to go into legality at all. But as soon as you start talking about convictions and legal falsity and police and jail and such, how on earth can you have the conversation without a knowledge of what you speak?

    So, Chingona:

    since I’ve seen you [suggest that people tend to think things are rape when they are legally not] more than once, I’m wondering what you are basing it on. Are you just speculating or is there some reason or basis for your suggestion?

    First of all, i hope you noticed that I qualified the heck out of that statement you quoted; “it is plausible that this may be close to the 50% which some folks cite.”

    But as for the reason: Personal experience, mostly. I have had a lot of people complain about something being rape and not leading to a conviction. But when I have checked the statutes in question, the described behavior was not legally covered as rape in that state.

    The most common example is alcohol-induced rape. Many people believe that if a woman is drunk, she cannot consent to sex and therefore even if she consents to sex the encounter is automatically classified as rape. This is 100% correct morally speaking–duh, don’t have sex with people who don’t know what they’re doing–but many statutes specifically address the issue. And you know what? It often isn’t automatically rape, if the woman in question got drunk of her own free will and then “consented.”

    So, to take that as an example and apply it to this conversation: The classification of such an encounter as “usually,” “sometimes,” or “rarely” legal rape is obviously going to affect whether a report of such rape is classified as false or not. Do you see what I mean?

  30. 31
    chingona says:

    But as for the reason: Personal experience, mostly. I have had a lot of people complain about something being rape and not leading to a conviction. But when I have checked the statutes in question, the described behavior was not legally covered as rape in that state.

    In these cases, did the person file a report and it went to trial and did not result in a conviction? If it went to trial, presumably the prosecutor thought it did fit the legal definition. If it didn’t go to trial, then it probably fits in that category you’re describing.

    And yes, I did note the qualifications you placed on your statement. I noted them last time, as well. I’m not playing gotcha here.

    I would note, though, that in most feminist discussions of rape that I’ve seen, there is an awareness that not everything we consider rape is covered in the law, some of the things that are rape may never be adequately covered in law, and there still is value in talking about why and how those acts are rape and why they’re wrong and what to do about it. So just because you see some feminists describing X or Y as rape, doesn’t mean we’re totally ignorant about the law and are filing police reports for all these things.

  31. 32
    Sailorman says:

    well, yes–as I said, discussions about the morality of sexual interaction and the scale between consent and rape certainly don’t need to include legal issues. I don’t think we have any disagreement there.

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  34. 33
    Rich B. says:

    What would be an interesting next step is to see if rape reports could be characterized in such a way that certain contexts would be deemed “warning areas”, and others could have their numbers reduced below 2% (or whatever the real number is.)

    When a close relative was going through a divorce, he filed a motion to have joint physical custody of the kids (having the kids at his house half the time, rather than just the every-other-weekend thing). This was immediately followed by a report that he was sexually abusing the kids. (I am assuming that this was a “false report,” as it was duly investigated by Youth Services and found to be unfounded.) But during the several weeks of the investigation, he was denied all visitation rights with the children. This seems like a sensible precaution, but I think that the various backgrounds in which rape reports happen make it worthwhile to tease out the contexts in doing this sort of analysis.

    My point is that I wonder how many of the false rape reports involve some extrinsic fact — such as custody of children — where there is more at stake that “just” the alleged perpetrator going to jail. If that is the case, then it should help demonstrate that in other cases of alleged rape, the false reports are significantly lower.

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  37. 34
    kot867 says:

    There is a key factor that everyone is ignoring:

    What about false charges that actually go to trial?

    All of the statistics involve charges that were dismissed as without foundation, without going to trial. This excludes cases where the police and prosecutors made mistakes and brought charges.

    The other side of that coin is what about when the victim was telling the truth and police didn’t believe her.

    These two factors mean that the number of false rape allegations can never actually be determined and any statistic should be regarded with skepticism. The problem is when you come out and say only 2% of claims are false, that is #1 bullshit and #2 prevents the accused from getting a fair trail.

    One more thing, polygraphing in my opinion is a reasonable measure in situations where it is one person’s word against another person’s. If you have some other idea of how to tell which person is lying please share.

  38. 35
    Scott Crawford says:

    I find most articles I’ve read on this matter to be biased from one side or the other. In your blog you cite several examples of how Kanin’s study was flawed (fair enough), but I have NEVER seen any data showing ‘HOW’ anyone has come up with a statistice for unreported rapes. They’re unreported, so how do you have a reliable statistic?

    It stands to reason, that whoever is coducting a study like this, also has some sort of political agenda. I mean is it as vague as asking a bunch of college girls if they’d ever felt coerced into having sex, or gotten drunk at a party and had sex that (looking back) they wish they hadn’t? Do all of those get put into the study as ‘unreported’ rape or sexual assault? I don’t know.. but, I haven’t seen any published methodology of how these numbers are attained other than some vague reference to an FBI statistic that no one is able to cite further. Oddly however, there are many cases of proven false allegations (Duke Lacrosse, eg.) that no one ever prosecutes!

    If a woman reports a rape, and through lack of evidence or whatever, no one is convicted, then that should not be counted as a ‘false accusation’. Also, if a woman reports a rape, and then backs out and refuses to cooporate, then the police should investigate further and see if she indeed is lying.

    Rape is such a horrible crime, it deserves transparent and reliable statistics and studies. Additionally, there HAS to be some sort of law change requiring the identity of rapes suspects be concealed the same as the victim’s. Once a man is accused, no one can unring that bell.

  39. 36
    Ampersand says:

    Scott, that’s a little off-topic for this post, but it’s an old post so I don’t mind.

    1) Most rape prevalence studies are printed in academic journals, which are not usually available on the web. But two of the major studies were conducted by the Federal government, and you can get a good idea of how they were conducted by reading the summaries published by the government:

    The NIJ/CDC “National Violence Against Women Study” found that 14.8% of American women experience a completed rape at some time in their lifetime. A typical rape-defining question was worded like this: “Has a man or boy ever made you have sex by using force or threatening to harm you or someone close to you? Just so there is no mistake, by sex we mean putting a penis in your vagina.”

    The Department of Justice’s Sexual Victimization of College Women study included a sub-study in which college women were asked about lifetime incidence of rape, while most of the study asked about rape since the beginning of the school year. 10% of the women interviewed reported having been raped at some point in their lifetime. Rape was defined as “unwanted completed penetration by force or the threat of force.”

    2) I think it’s a bit irrelevant to worry about the bias of the people conducting studies. Either the study is well designed and conducted, or it is not; that’s what’s relevant.

    3) I agree with you that, absent a verdict, names of both alleged rape victims and accused rapists should not be published. I posted about this here.

  40. 37
    Daran says:

    Scott:

    They’re unreported, so how do you have a reliable statistic?

    “Unreported” means not reported to the police. Survey methods don’t rely upon subjects reporting to the police.

    It’s also a fallacy to assume that we have a better idea of the number of reported rapes than we do of unreported ones. The official figure in any year is that published in the FBI Uniform Crime Report, but I have yet to see any explanation of how the multitude of contributing police departments compile their own figures, or whether there is any consistency between departments, or indeed within a single department.

    It stands to reason, that whoever is coducting a study like this, also has some sort of political agenda. I mean is it as vague as asking a bunch of college girls if they’d ever felt coerced into having sex, or gotten drunk at a party and had sex that (looking back) they wish they hadn’t? Do all of those get put into the study as ‘unreported’ rape or sexual assault? I don’t know.. but, I haven’t seen any published methodology of how these numbers are attained

    In addition to the two surveys cited by Ampersand, Koss‘ is also available on the web. Here’s another. None of the surveys that I have seen have ever asked “a bunch of college girls if they’d ever felt coerced into having sex, or gotten drunk at a party and had sex that (looking back) they wish they hadn’t” and then put them “into the study as ‘unreported’ rape or sexual assault”. Koss, for example does ask a question about whether her subjects ever gave in to verbal pressure, but does not include these into her figure for rape.

    The notion that rape surveys use vague questions about pressure or regret to inflate their results is a pernicious one, but it has no foundation in fact. I blogged on this subject here.

    Oddly however, there are many cases of proven false allegations (Duke Lacrosse, eg.) that no one ever prosecutes!

    There really aren’t.

    Think about it, the UCR figure for reported rape in 2008 was 89,000. As argued above, that figure is unreliable, but it will do as a ballpark figure for now.

    How many cases of proven false allegations can you find in a year? I doubt it would be as many as 89 – 0.1% of the number of reports.

    Note that I am not claiming that the rate of false allegations is as low as 0.1%. The point is that nobody really knows. What might appear at first glance to be a large body of anecdotal evidence of false allegations really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, statistically speaking, which is not to deny the huge harm these cases cause to falsely accused people, and others.

  41. 38
    Scott Crawford says:

    First, I’d like to say ‘thanks’ to both of you for not going down the road of name-calling, etc. to a person with an opposing view.. This is my first time posting on this blog, and I was half expecting a ‘cyber-crucifiction’. I sincerely appreciate both of your professionalism and courtesy.

    I do respectfully disagree with Daran regarding the number of known false accusations (not that many, not even 89 of 89,000) for the same reason as the other statistics. I submit, that since the police almost NEVER actually charge a woman (and the District Attorney who is probably up for re-election and needs the female vote would never prosecute) who falsely claims rape that the number of verifiable false claims is inaccurate as well. However, if one does a little research, they will find that the reasons given for the VERIFIED false claims are often… um… ‘trivial’… needed an alibi for an unfaithful pregnancy (or an alibi for something else), wanted revenge, wanted sympathy. So if facts have shown that these incidences DO indeed happen, how many others are never discovered because the woman stops cooperating, etc.?

    http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20030811_spilbor.html
    http://www.equityfeminism.com/archives/years/2003/000074.html

    The truth (in my opinion) is, that almost all of these surveys are flawed on several fronts. Even (as Ampersand said), the questions are that specific, you’re still relying on an unverifiable data. What if that survey was given verbally with a polygraph attached? Interesting thought, huh?

    And, none of us have acknowledged the MASSIVE amount of Federal, State, and even Local funding to rape prevetion/crisis centers. I’m not saying that these are poorly spent dollars, I, in fact, think they should all be Very Well-Funded.. however, these dollars are based on statistics…. and… honestly… very likely flawed statistics.

    I believe that all rape should be reported to the police, and until we have designed a process (female interviewers, Hell! a Super Bowl ad) to make women feel more comfortable coming to police, it’s going to be hard to get any sort of accurate numbers. I DON’T believe that there are almost A MILLION rapes in the US each year (89,000 reported x the ’90% unreported’ rule that feminist organizations (desperately in need of funding) argue). That would mean that 1 out of 150 women are raped every year (US pop is 305M, roughly half are female= 152M).. So Really?.. over the past 15 years… 10% of the women in your neighborhood of 150 women were forcibly raped?!!! Come on..

    There was something mentioned in the original article about polygraph tests. Since many of police-reported rapes are litterally a ‘she said’ case without any defining physical evidence (due to waiting too long to come forward, not going to the hospital, etc.), shouldn’t the police (preferably female officer) thoughtfully and sincerely take a statement, make copious notes, and then administer a polygraph? Again, considering the seriousness of the charge, should not all people accusing someone of a crime, be subject to verification? And just so we’re clear.. I’m not talking about the woman that was found beaten and battered with her underwear around her ankles.. I’m talking about the ones that call the police and say, “I was raped.. his name is John Doe”.

    Looking forward to your responses.. thanks again for an intelligent debate.

  42. 39
    Ruchama says:

    10% of the women in a neighborhood raped within the past 15 years doesn’t seem like that outlandish a statistic to me. Considering how many women I know who have told me that someone raped them (and considering that it’s really only very close friends who would have told me), that number definitely seems within a reasonable range. And most of them did not report it to the police — a few because it happened when they were children and the rapist was someone in a position of power over them, and quite a few more because they knew that there was no way that the rapist would be convicted and they didn’t want to have to go through the whole process knowing that nothing would come of it.

  43. 40
    Ruchama says:

    Also, your statement that you want a system where women will feel comfortable reporting rape to the police is completely at odds with your suggestion that anybody who reports a rape be administered a polygraph. Many women don’t report rapes precisely because they think that they won’t be believed, and a polygraph would just add another layer to that suspicion.

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  45. 41
    Myca says:

    That would mean that 1 out of 150 women are raped every year (US pop is 305M, roughly half are female= 152M).. So Really?.. over the past 15 years… 10% of the women in your neighborhood of 150 women were forcibly raped?!!! Come on..

    I’m not sure why you find this hard to believe. It seems perfectly reasonable and plausible to me that roughly 10% of women are raped. Judging solely by my personal circle of friends, and the rapes I know about, it’s more than that.

    —Myca

  46. 42
    Ampersand says:

    Scott,

    It’s my habit to be civil. But if some of the other folks here decide to treat you unkindly, I’m not necessarily going to criticize them. I encourage civility on this blog, but not necessarily to the point of telling people to swallow all of their often quite righteous anger — especially for an issue like rape, which has impacted some posters here personally.

    Put another way, part of the cost of stating controversial views, is being willing to deal with it when people criticize you harshly or angrily; free speech is, after all, a two-way road.

    I submit, that since the police almost NEVER actually charge a woman (and the District Attorney who is probably up for re-election and needs the female vote would never prosecute) who falsely claims rape that the number of verifiable false claims is inaccurate as well.

    The best studies of false rape report prevalence don’t use “number of arrests” as their measure. Since the measures I cite in the original post aren’t based on arrest records, pointing out that arrest records are not a good measure is irrelevant.

    It is the nature of all crimes — not just rape, and not just false rape accusations — that it is impossible to measure prevalence with 100% accuracy. By definition, a crime is something that people are motivated to keep secret. However, just because we don’t know an exact, perfect figure doesn’t justify ignoring the best measurements we do have. There are a lot of sophisticated crime prevalence measures out there, and although they’re not perfect, they’re better than nothing.

    * * *

    You linked to an article by Jonna Spilbor; Spilbor’s suggestions, as I argued in a previous post, are both utterly unconstitutional and completely incompatible with any system which wants to encourage genuine victims of rape to report their attackers to police.

    The truth (in my opinion) is, that almost all of these surveys are flawed on several fronts.

    Without specific arguments, why should I care about your opinion? I mean, my opinion is that the moon is made of packing tape. So what?

    Even (as Ampersand said), the questions are that specific, you’re still relying on an unverifiable data. What if that survey was given verbally with a polygraph attached?

    Polygraphs are not objective or reliable.

    Polygraphs are perhaps the most controversial tool in law enforcement. Some states and federal court judges now accept lie-detector results, but many states ban them outright. A 1998 Supreme Court decision allowed such bans, but read in part, “There is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable: The scientific community and the state and federal courts are extremely polarized on the matter.”

    * * *

    I believe that all rape should be reported to the police, and until we have designed a process (female interviewers, Hell! a Super Bowl ad) to make women feel more comfortable coming to police, it’s going to be hard to get any sort of accurate numbers.

    You’ll never get accurate numbers from police reports alone. Not for rape — and, in fact, not for any crime, except homicide. There isn’t a single serious social scientist or criminologist who’d suggest using police reports to measure crime prevalence.

    I certainly agree that it’s beneficial to make it easier for rape victims to report rapes to police. But the reason for that isn’t for the sake of better prevalence statistics. Better prevalence statistics will never come from police records.

    I DON’T believe that there are almost A MILLION rapes in the US each year (89,000 reported x the ‘90% unreported’ rule that feminist organizations (desperately in need of funding) argue).

    What, specifically, are you implying with that “desperately in need of funding” comment? Because it sounds like you’re making a very serious accusation without any evidence.

    That would mean that 1 out of 150 women are raped every year (US pop is 305M, roughly half are female= 152M).. So Really?.. over the past 15 years… 10% of the women in your neighborhood of 150 women were forcibly raped?!!! Come on..

    1) Your argument assumes that no one is ever the victim of more than one rape.

    2) I don’t understand why you’re using these seat-of-the-pants calculations when there are actual studies of rape prevalence you could refer to instead (including three that have been linked in this thread). These studies tend to find that somewhere between 8% of 15% of US women are raped at some point in their lifetimes.

    3) That a number is large is not, in and of itself, evidence that the number is false. Be careful not to commit The Great Wall of China Fallacy.

    * * *

    Now you suggest that anyone reporting a rape to police should be polygraphed. Problems with this:

    1) Polygraphs are not accurate or objective.

    2) What Ruchama said (comment #44).

    3) There’s nothing unique about rape; many crimes can be reported based on only one person’s report. It’s common, for example, for drug busts to be based on a single police officer’s word (and there are multiple known cases of police lying). Muggings often take place with only two people — victim and mugger – present. Did June really steal Barb’s car keys, as Barb says, or did Barb loan her care to June, as June says? Etc, etc.

    So a policy of singling out alleged rape victims to be polygraphed seems like pure prejudice against rape victims.

    And just so we’re clear.. I’m not talking about the woman that was found beaten and battered with her underwear around her ankles.. I’m talking about the ones that call the police and say, “I was raped.. his name is John Doe”.

    Yes, so it’s only the good, virtual rape victims — those who were violently raped by strangers — who you think deserve the law’s protections. The other rape victims you seemingly feel should lack all protection of the law.

    I realize, of course, that’s not what you intended. But that’s what the distinction you made implies.

    Rape is when one person forces another person to have sex, without consent. It doesn’t require being beat up, or any of the other irrelevant bullshit you mentioned. And talking about that stuff as if it’s a required part of “real rape” has very real, harmful effects, because it leads to people who actually WERE raped thinking that their rape “doesn’t count” because they weren’t beaten bloody.

  47. 43
    Simple Truth says:

    I think it was touched on here earlier, but legislation is quite narrow about how to define rape in many places. Depending on the jurisdiction, it can leave out spousal rape, any rape that doesn’t have PIV sex (such as anal or oral), rapes that occur due to a fear (not threat) of force, etc. It can also have an element of intent that alcohol, lack of knowledge, etc. can negate the act as being classified as rape.

    Rape laws are geared towards the defendant, because when it goes to court, it’s his freedom on the line. Therefore, the state has a greater burden of proof than just “he said, she said.”

    Having just taken a Criminal Law final, this is fresh in my mind. I’m still pretty convinced that 99.9% of court cases where rape is charged, rape actually occurred. The humiliation, burden of proof, and just the stupid way the laws are constructed would discourage reporting/pressing false charges.

  48. 44
    Daran says:

    Ampersand (quoting Scott Crawford):

    And just so we’re clear.. I’m not talking about the woman that was found beaten and battered with her underwear around her ankles.. I’m talking about the ones that call the police and say, “I was raped.. his name is John Doe”.

    Yes, so it’s only the good, virtual…

    I presume you mean “virtuous”.

    …rape victims — those who were violently raped by strangers — who you think deserve the law’s protections. The other rape victims you seemingly feel should lack all protection of the law.

    I realize, of course, that’s not what you intended. But that’s what the distinction you made implies.

    What it implies is that Scott believes that reported rapes can be divided into those where it is immediately clear that there can be no reasonable doubt that a rape occurred, and those where this is not immediately clear. In the former case, Scott believes the police should focus their inquiries upon identifying a suspect, and proving (or disproving) their guilt. In the latter, Scott’s view is that the police should first inquire into whether the alleged crime occurred in the first place.

    It does not follow that Scott doesn’t think that genuine victims in the latter class don’t deserve protection. What he thinks is that they need to be distinguished from those who are not victims. If you wish to object to this view, then do so., but let’s not descend to attacking straw men and casting unfair aspersions upon our opponent-in-debate’s character.

    Rape is when one person forces another person to have sex, without consent. It doesn’t require being beat up, or any of the other irrelevant bullshit you mentioned. And talking about that stuff as if it’s a required part of “real rape” has very real, harmful effects, because it leads to people who actually WERE raped thinking that their rape “doesn’t count” because they weren’t beaten bloody.

    argumentum ad consequentum It would, of course, not be difficult to point out the harmful consequences of the “believe the victim” stance taken by many feminists, including the possibility of innocent people spending many years behind bars for alleged crimes which never actually happened.

    In any case, Scott is not ‘ talking about that stuff as if it’s a required part of “real rape”’. If that were his view, he would advocate summary dismissal of those cases where “that stuff” is not in evidence.

    What he actually advocates when “that stuff” is missing is that the complainant be polygraphed. That’s consistent with a view that “that stuff” is not an essential element of the crime of rape, but rather evidence a rape took place. Scott suggests that in the alternative, a negative polygraph test could be evidence that a rape happened.

    Nothing in this comment should be taken as agreeing with or endorsing the views I attribute to him here.

  49. 45
    Ampersand says:

    Daran:

    No! I meant virtual! Virtual, damn your lying eyes! What the fuck is wrong with you? It’s obvious in context I meant virtual! You must not be a native English reader! What the hell language do you learn over there in England, anyway? Eating too much pub food has ruined your word comprehension! You’ve got knees in your ears and bees up your nose!

    …Okay, maybe I meant virtuous.

    I thought I made it clear that I wasn’t accusing Scott of intending to imply these things (hence the sentence, “I realize, of course, that’s not what you intended”); I’m sorry that wasn’t clear to you.

    Finally, you’re wrong to suggest my argument was Argumentum ad Consequentiam. It’s not a logical fallacy to argue against a policy by pointing out that it would lead to bad consequences.

    I agree that an “always believe the victim” stance, if extended to criminal trials, would be bad policy because it would have bad consequences. That’s not Argumentum ad Consequentiam.

  50. 46
    Ruchama says:

    What it implies is that Scott believes that reported rapes can be divided into those where it is immediately clear that there can be no reasonable doubt that a rape occurred, and those where this is not immediately clear. In the former case, Scott believes the police should focus their inquiries upon identifying a suspect, and proving (or disproving) their guilt. In the latter, Scott’s view is that the police should first inquire into whether the alleged crime occurred in the first place.

    But that’s not the job of the police. That’s the job of the legal system. If both people involved agree that they had sex, but one person says there was consent and the other person says there wasn’t, then that’s something for the judge or jury to listen to and rule on. In many of these cases, there wouldn’t be enough evidence to convict — and that’s not because the crime didn’t happen, but because that evidence just doesn’t exist. But the police should investigate the case and collect as much evidence as they can so that everything that should be presented at the trial will be.

  51. 47
    Ampersand says:

    If both people involved agree that they had sex, but one person says there was consent and the other person says there wasn’t, then that’s something for the judge or jury to listen to and rule on. In many of these cases, there wouldn’t be enough evidence to convict — and that’s not because the crime didn’t happen, but because that evidence just doesn’t exist.

    In the US system, both the police and prosecutors act as gatekeepers, preventing cases from reaching the trial stage. If there isn’t enough evidence to convict, odds are that it’ll never get a trial.

    Of course, there are lots of examples of police and prosecutors using this power badly. But you seem to be saying that it’s not the police’s job to act as a gatekeeper, and I think that’s not true. Maybe it shouldn’t be their job, but — at least in part – it is.

  52. 48
    Ruchama says:

    Yeah, I guess I was saying that it shouldn’t happen, not that it doesn’t happen. I don’t know enough about the details of criminal procedure to totally go through and separate who’s supposed to do what and for what purpose. I think that what pinged me was the use of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is definitely beyond the scope of the police — the police just need to be concerned with probable cause.

  53. 49
    Piko says:

    Victim Recantation is a retraction or withdrawal of a reported sexual assault. Recantations are routinely used by victims to disengage the criminal justice system and are therefore not, by themselves, indicative of a false report.

    From Kanin’s study:

    A possible objection to these recantations concerns their validity. Rape recantations could be the result of the complainants’ desire to avoid a “second assault” at the hands of the police. Rather than proceed with the real charge of rape, the argument goes, these women withdrew their accusations to avoid the trauma of police investigation.

    Several responses are possible to this type of criticism. First, with very few exceptions, these complainants were suspect at the time of the complaint or within a day or two after charging. These recantations did not follow prolonged periods of investigation and interrogation that would constitute anything approximating a second assault. Second, not one of the detectives believed that an incident of false recantation had occurred. They argued, rather convincingly, that in those cases where a suspect was identified and interrogated, the facts of the recantation dovetailed with the suspect’s own defense. Last, the policy of this police agency is to apply a statute regarding the false reporting of a felony. After the recant, the complainant is informed that she will be charged with filing a false complaint, punishable by a substantial fine and a jail sentence. In no case, has an effort been made on the part of the complainant to retract the recantation. Although we certainly do not deny the possibility of false recantations, no evidence supports such an interpretation for these cases.

  54. 50
    Ampersand says:

    First, with very few exceptions, these complainants were suspect at the time of the complaint or within a day or two after charging.

    I think it says a lot about how weak Kanin’s argument is that he seriously put forward this claim. Do you believe it’s impossible for a rape victim to decide that they want to “disengage the criminal justice system” within their first couple of days of dealing with it? How is that logical?

    A friend of mine reported a rape to small town police, and they questioned her — and made it clear to her they thought she was lying — that same day. She didn’t withdraw the charge, but the disrespectful attitude of the police could have easily have convinced another person that they’d had enough.

    If we assume that what Kanin was told is true, then what it shows is that most people who recant decide to do so within a couple of days. That doesn’t logically prove anything, one way or the other, about if the recantations were sincere.

    Second, not one of the detectives believed that an incident of false recantation had occurred.

    Well, gee, if the detectives say they believe something, then it must be true!

    This is arguably the biggest flaw of Kanin’s study. He didn’t talk to a single alleged false rape complainer, or actual rape victim; he just took every word the cops said as gospel. To quote from the original post:

    Kanin’s study consists of Kanin uncritically reporting the claims of a single police force in a small, unidentified city, without those claims having been checked or verified in any way whatsoever.

    Speaking of unverified claims, I’m frankly skeptical about the truth of Kanin’s final claim:

    Last, the policy of this police agency is to apply a statute regarding the false reporting of a felony. After the recant, the complainant is informed that she will be charged with filing a false complaint, punishable by a substantial fine and a jail sentence. In no case, has an effort been made on the part of the complainant to retract the recantation.

    Since Kanin’s methods make it impossible for his claims to be checked or verified, it’s impossible to know for sure. But doesn’t that seem sort of implausible to you? Like the elaborations of a bad liar?

    Kanin’s argument is that 40-50% of women making rape complaints to police are, in fact, liars — but not even one of these many liars would tell a lie in order to avoid “a substantial fine and a jail sentence.” How does that make sense?

    Furthermore, what the fuck kind of misogynistic police force treats people reporting rape this way? First of all, they give all alleged rape victims polygraphs. Secondly, if the person decides to withdraw a complaint, they threaten them with jail time.And we’re supposed to believe that this is a police force applying the law in an unbiased way, and providing a reasonable environment in which rape victims will feel free to report crimes to police?

    Finally, if it’s true that “the policy of this police agency is to apply a statute regarding the false reporting of a felony,” and that women who recant are “charged with filing a false complaint,” then what were the results of those charges? Were the women put on trial? What percentage of those trials led to “guilty” verdicts?

    If 40-50% of the women in a town who reported rapes to police were charged with a crime and then either fined or put in jail, unless they successfully defended themselves at trial, why hasn’t anyone in the world but Eugene Kanin reported on it? Because that seems like a pretty amazing story to me. I’ve been reading about the legal issues around rape for well over a decade, and I’ve never seen anyone else report anything like that.

    Piko, do you have any skepticism at all about these claims?

  55. 51
    Dianne says:

    What he actually advocates when “that stuff” is missing is that the complainant be polygraphed.

    Why not read the tarot cards and have a psychic consult god on the issue as well? It’d be about as accurate. At least, I’ve never seen any evidence that polygraphs are any more accurate than chance at determining the truth or lack of truth of an assertion. If anyone has contrary data, please present it, but unless there’s data that I don’t know about, I’d skip this particular aspect. Yes, if there is doubt about whether a rape occurred go ahead and investigate the accusation, but do it in a reality based manner.

  56. 52
    Piko says:

    To illustrate, when the Portland, Oregon police department examined the 431 complaints of completed or attempted sexual assault in 1990, 1.6% were determined to be false. This was in comparison with a rate of 2.6% for false reports of stolen vehicles.

    Is it rather convenient for you to use statistics tallied by the same source you find bias? Or get statistics from such objective and lauded sources as the The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women?

    There is no indication that Kanin attempted to interview any of the alleged false rape accusers to get their perspective, or in any way attempted to independently verify anything he was told by police.

  57. 53
    Ampersand says:

    Piko, the Portland, Oregon police department is not an anonymous entity. You can call the Portland police department and ask who put the statistic together; scholars and reporters could contact that person; other researchers, if they want, could double-check with the PPD to make sure the statistic was reported accurately. If the Portland Police department started putting out wild lies, there’s at least a theoretical possibility that whoever spread the lies could be caught and face some sort of consequence.

    None of this is true of the anonymous police department Kanin reported on.

    Kanin wrote his study in such a way so that it was impossible for any other researcher or reporter to verify his claims. This places an extra burden on him to verify that what he was being told was true.

    Nor was the Portland Police Department the only source used in my post — indeed, it was an extremely minor part of my argument. In contrast, unverifiable claims by anonymous police officers working for anonymous police departments is pretty much all Kanin has going for him.

    Finally, I note that you didn’t even attempt to respond to 95% of my arguments. I suspect this is because you have no response.

  58. 54
    Piko says:

    Kanin’s argument is that 40-50% of women making rape complaints to police are, in fact, liars — but not even one of these many liars would tell a lie in order to avoid “a substantial fine and a jail sentence.” How does that make sense?

    Kanin said his study shouldn’t be generalized. I assume the police investigated and found no to to little basis of the complaint, or you could choose to see that the police are bias.

    It initially seems illogical to recant when faced with the threat of jail and a fine; they had no incentive to recant. Yet there was an incentive, If the accuser recanted, they could avoid the distress of the polygraph and further interrogation. Maybe the threat of jail and a fine was less distressful than a polygraph and interrogation. Still, it seems off to me. I would personally try to avoid jail or a fine.

    Well, gee, if the detectives say they believe something, then it must be true!

    I can understand this sentiment in cases where there was no suspect, yet it may not be accurate in cases where a suspect was identified and interrogated, and the facts of the recantation dovetailed with the suspect’s own defense. But you can always say the police lied and altered the report before they sent Kanin the case record (unlikely).

    If evidence was sufficient, Kanin talking to victims and witnesses may be superfluous. Yet it’s still good procedure.

    Kanin was skeptical of the police. In the report, he said he received the case records and supplemental information from the police to verify the validity of the false allegations. Yet all this information was filtered and controlled by the police, and there is no mention of what the records entailed.

    There is an addenda to Kanin’s study where he gained access to police records of two large Midwestern state universities, and found a false reporting rate of 50%. The police forces at these universities did not use a polygraph. Kanin never mentioned the names of the universities.

  59. 55
    Piko says:

    You posted a police statistic without any regard to researching the validity of the statistic, and from your comments and article you obviously have a distrust of the police on these matters. Do you think people here are going to research the statistic? You posted an unverified statistic to sway your audience.

    So it’s rather ironic and funny to me that you posted a statistic in such a way while condemning the integrity of the evil bias police.

  60. 56
    Dianne says:

    Maybe the threat of jail and a fine was less distressful than a polygraph and interrogation. Still, it seems off to me. I would personally try to avoid jail or a fine.

    This strikes me as evidence that the recanted accusations were real: Assume, first, that the accusation was false. In that case the accuser has recanted to avoid inconvenience and possible embarrassment. That seems less serious than jail or a fine, to me at least.

    On the other hand, if the accusation was true then the accuser recanted to avoid repeated hostile interrogation about a severely traumatic event. Rape is a trauma severe enough to lead to PTSD even when there is no other trauma surrounding it (i.e. the police act professionally, no one accuses the victim of asking for it, etc.)

    Given the choice between continually reliving a rape for possibly years on end, including being interrogated about it by hostile police, harassed by the defendent’s lawyer, etc, I could see someone simply giving up and not being willing to undertake the attempt, even when threatened.

  61. 57
    piko says:

    The British Home Office is apparently not a reliable source on rape according to these articles. I have serious doubt about the credibility of any study commissioned by the British Home Office. The home office is a pulpit for dispersing propaganda, not science.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/feb/25/ukcrime.prisonsandprobation

    Convictions for reported rape cases have reached an all-time low because of a “culture of scepticism” among the police, according to Home Office research published last night.

    The study finds that despite long-running efforts by the government to boost the conviction rate, only 5.6% of reported cases end in the rapist being convicted in court.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1257981/Harriet-Harmans-unreliable-statistics-rape-scare-victims.html

    Harriet Harman was ordered to stop misleading the public about rape by an official inquiry report yesterday.

    The Equalities Minister was accused of pumping out unreliable figures about the low number of rapists brought to justice, thus discouraging victims from reporting attacks.

    The six per cent figure relates to reported cases. In fact, the conviction rate for those actually charged with rape is nearly two out of three, higher than comparable figures for other violent crime.

    The report’s view is doubly humiliating for Miss Harman because it was she who set up the review.

  62. 58
    Dianne says:

    Speaking of sources, is the Daily Mail considered a reliable source? I had the impression it was the British equivalent of the National Enquirer, but I could be wrong. Anyone want to comment?

  63. 59
    piko says:

    Speaking of sources, is the Daily Mail considered a reliable source? I had the impression it was the British equivalent of the National Enquirer, but I could be wrong. Anyone want to comment?

    The Dailymail didn’t create the statistic. (facepalm)

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/mar/15/stern-review-rape-less-focus-convictions

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7062386.ece

  64. 60
    piko says:

    After thinking about Kanin’s study, there is no logical reason why an accuser who was actually raped would recant their accusation. If they pursue their charge and it is real, they get to put offender in prison and be safe, and also avoid a charge of falsely reporting a crime.

    Moreover, the accused in Kanin’s study was also given a polygraph, yet no concern is brought up that false confessions may result on the accused’s part. Both accuser and accused were treated equally and the presumption of innocence was inherent. Neither accuser or accused received special privileges, Lasik is wrong.

    The polygraph is forbidden to be used today as part of rape shield laws and federal guidelines on states who wish to receive VAWA benefits. This produces a double standard as the accused is subjected to these tests while the accuser (not victim) is exempt from them. It is enabling accusers while denying rights to the accused.

    Most states now have sex offenders take polygraph tests, but in some locations, the offenders have to pay for it themselves.

    The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the use of polygraphs for sex offenders saying that polygraph testing “produces an incentive to tell the truth, and thereby advances the sentencing goals.” The vast majority of states require polygraphs for sex offenders on parole.

    Using this logic by the 2nd U.S. Circuit court of Appeals, it seems that using the polygraph would produce an incentive for rape accusers to tell the truth or recant if they made a false rape allegation ere they irrecoverably ruin an innocent man’s life. But according to pseudo science, polygraphs are highly inaccurate on those who accuse another of rape, yet not inaccurate on the accused.

    Is a polygraph more stressful to a rape accuser than a stint in jail is to an innocent man falsely accused? How dare one question the authenticity of an accuser! How unjust and unconstitutional that is! What is due process and the presumption of innocence?

  65. 61
    Tom Nolan says:

    Dianne

    Speaking of sources, is the Daily Mail considered a reliable source? I had the impression it was the British equivalent of the National Enquirer, but I could be wrong. Anyone want to comment?

    The Daily Mail is a belligerent right-wing newspaper, no question, but that doesn’t mean it can make up quotes from Baroness Stern with impunity. And Ampersand himself considers it an acceptable source: he links to the Mail in the ‘Australian Jury Finds Accused Rapist “Not Guilty” Because Woman Wore Tight Jeans’ post.

  66. 62
    mythago says:

    there is no logical reason why an accuser who was actually raped would recant their accusation. If they pursue their charge and it is real, they get to put offender in prison and be safe, and also avoid a charge of falsely reporting a crime.

    Because every true accusation of rape automatically results in imprisonment for the rapist? That’s optimistic, I suppose, but absurd. And relying on that absurdity renders the rest of your argument invalid.

    There are plenty of reasons a rape victim might recant a true accusation. For example, they might quite logically deduce that if a police department assumes nearly half of people claiming to have been raped are lying, to the point of administering polygraphs, then such a police department will not treat accusations of rape as serious or important, will not pursue rapists with the same zeal as other crimes, and will be unlikely to seek prosecution of rapists when caught.

    EDIT: piko’s claim about “sex offenders” and polygraphs is more than a little disingenuous. The 2d Circuit opinion he carefully does not name is U.S. v. Johnson, 446 F.3d 272 (2006), which upheld polygraph testing – with strict limitations on the scope and use of the answers and test results – as a condition of parole for a convicted sex offender. piko appears to be suggesting that the Court upheld unlimited polygraphs wherever sex crimes were mentioned.

  67. 63
    piko says:

    Both accused and accuser were administered the polygraph. It would be logical to deduce that it was standard operating procedure to ensure the presumption of innocence. Moreover, there is no incentive to recant as the rapist goes free perhaps to strike again, and the accuser is charged with the a crime of filing a false report.

    Of course no rapists go to prison, that is exactly why they go to the police to file a report.

    The suggesting is on your part.

  68. 64
    Ampersand says:

    Piko:

    Of course I’m against polygraphs being used as part of the judicial process. It shouldn’t be used on complainants, and it shouldn’t be used on suspects. Because polygraphs are (how many times do I have to repeat it?) not objective or reliable.

    The British Home Office is apparently not a reliable source on rape according to these articles. I have serious doubt about the credibility of any study commissioned by the British Home Office. The home office is a pulpit for dispersing propaganda, not science.

    Your argument here is pure ad hom. It’s a logical fallacy to suggest that a study is automatically false because it was funded by a government agency that was (allegedly) wrong about a statistic that isn’t even from the study we’re discussing. All government agencies are wrong sometimes; it would be ludicrous to claim that therefore we should dismiss all government-funded studies.

    Either you have a logical, credible case to make against the specific methodology used by the specific study I cited; or you don’t have a case against the study at all. So far, it’s obvious you don’t.

    Finally, this question:

    Is a polygraph more stressful to a rape accuser than a stint in jail is to an innocent man falsely accused?

    Presents, I believe, a false choice. We don’t have to make that choice.

    We can advocate for people making rape reports being treated in a respectful manner — including not being polygraphed, or treated as liars — and simultaneously advocate for those accused of rape being afforded all their rights, including a presumption of innocence, and including not being polygraphed.

  69. 65
    Ampersand says:

    Piko, having actually looked at the Stern Review myself, I think your case is even weaker than I at first thought.

    As I’ve already said, your argument was an illogical “ad hom” — “Because the Home Office was inaccurate in study A, we should dismiss Home Office study B.”

    But even if we ignore the ad hom problem, your case still fails, because in fact the other Home Office study was accurate. Here’s how your quote described it:

    The study finds that despite long-running efforts by the government to boost the conviction rate, only 5.6% of reported cases end in the rapist being convicted in court.

    You then implied that this figure was a sham, citing news reports of the Stern Review. But the Stern Review (which can be read here) doesn’t disagree with the above quote in any way.

    The Stern Review did say the 6% statistic has become widespread and is frequently misunderstood, and is therefore unhelpful. But the Review did not claim that the figure is inaccurate, or that the original study was dishonest or badly conducted.

  70. 66
    Piko says:

    The Stern Review states a 58% rape conviction rate, and contradicts the old 6% statistic created by the Home Office. The 6% statistic isn’t some slight statistical error, the discrepancy is huge and the statistic has been used politically which indicates the error was intentional.

    I have personally ran into this 6% statistic via angry fearful women who proclaimed we lived in a rape culture where men get off easy for rape, the system didn’t believe when a woman was raped, and the law was written by rapists. These arguments may sound familiar, and they are common arguments from radical feminists; however, this time they were spouted by women who had no connection with radical feminism.

    Harman was dispersing the statistic on a crusade to reform the justice system, how police respond to rape, and procuring more convictions. I feared for British men that the justice system would enable rape accusers while denying rights to the accused because increasing convictions was the primary goal.

    The statistic served its purpose for a long time before it was struck down by Stern. There is no doubt that the statistic was ideologically and politically bias. Incidentally and ironically, it hurt women too as it discouraged women from coming forward who were raped.

    The Kelly, Lovett, & Regan study suspiciously and conveniently produces a statistic of 2.5 percent which indicates that false reporting of rape occurs the same as for any other crime. This too a common belief of radical feminism which is the belief that false rape allegations rarely occur and is no different than for any other crime. The Fawcett Society are in love with Kelly, Lovett, & Regan. A coincidence? Based on the track record of the Home Office concerning rape related statistics, probably not.

    Stern does not acknowledge this study in her review, but calls for a independent study on false allegations of rape. She also mentions that the accused should also have the privilege of remaining anonymous unless convicted.

    On a side note, if you type in “Home Office rape conviction” in Google, you will find a page with the description of the old 6% conviction rate, yet when clicked on the hyperlink, the page is not found. Stern pwned the home Office. lulz.

  71. 67
    Piko says:

    Here is another criticism of Kanin’s study by Lisak:

    Kanin describes no effort to systemize his own ‘evaluation’ of the police reports-e.g. by listing details or facts that he used to evaluate the criteria used by the police to draw their conclusions. Nor does Kanin describe any effort to compare his evaluation of those reports to that of a second independent research-providing a ‘reliability’ analysis. This violates a cardinal rule of
    science, a rule designed to ensure that observations are not simply the reflection of the bias of the observer.

  72. 68
    mythago says:

    It would be logical to deduce that it was standard operating procedure to ensure the presumption of innocence.

    How does a polygraph “ensure the presumption of innocence,” a presumption to which an accused is entitled until duly convicted of a crime? If a polygraph seems to indicate that the accuser is telling the truth and the accused is not, the accused is still entitled to the presumption of innocence under US law.

    And repetition does not make a specious argument true. There are plenty of reasons, many of them quite sound, for someone genuinely a victim of rape to recant.

  73. 69
    Simple Truth says:

    On a side note, if you type in “Home Office rape conviction” in Google, you will find a page with the description of the old 6% conviction rate, yet when clicked on the hyperlink, the page is not found.

    It’s because the page has been archived. The reports are still very accessible. Not exactly pwnage in my book.

    “In recent years there’s been a small but steady increase in conviction rates in sexual assault cases. Overall, only 6% of rapes reported to the police result in a conviction. However, 37% of all cases prosecuted as sexual assault result in a conviction for sexual assault, and 59% of cases prosecuted as sexual assault result in conviction for rape or another offence.”link

    An overall statistic means an average from all the years, including the years where rape meant only PIV intercourse, consent did not have a legal definition, and a 13-year-old could be found to legally consent (all changes that have happened since 1993). Hence the 6%. Assuming previous events like these were what drove the law towards defining rape in more situations (as it does now,) previous poorly-worded definitions in law would have also driven down the conviction/trial rate for the previous cases (hence the need for change.)

    None of this invalidates a prior 6% conviction rape out of all reported cases. It doesn’t make the women/children/gay men liars – it means the justice system wasn’t serving the needs of the population. Hence the law change. Hence the better conviction rate now. Hopefully it will continue to better serve the population.

    Your statistics don’t prove that the rape conviction rate has been deflated to cause a scare. It proves that the conviction rate has gone up because the law has changed to better define rape and allow less guilty men to go free.

    “He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost, for support, not for illumination.” – Chesterton

  74. 70
    Simple Truth says:

    Oh, and this: a study done in 2005 that breaks down all that “false reporting” and shows when and where the reports were withdrawn. Even at a 9% rate of false reporting (which I’m skeptical about), it is pretty average – on par with other crimes and less than the big insurance crimes (arson, theft, etc.)

  75. 71
    Daran says:

    Ampersand:

    …It’s obvious in context I meant virtual!…

    I did wonder whether by means of a malamanteau of “virtuous” and “stereotypical”, you intended to convey that the stereotypical virtuous rape victim was a myth, not real, hence “virtual”.

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  77. 72
    Mandolin says:

    From a thread on Pharyngula:

    I hate threads like these. It’s been 30 years this very year since my attack. I get to relive it all again as soon as the topic comes up.

    To this day, I cannot stand to smell on anyone’s breath any alcohol mixed with orange juice, especially vodka. Everything comes crashing back to me at the very smell.

    I even get to relive the worst memories of the aftermath, all over again. I can still get extremely pissed off at the polygraph guy who treated me like the scumbag in the whole mess. I can still remember the counselor who told me that, really, I could have been hurt a lot worse (at the time I was attacked, there was a serial rapist who liked to stab his victims with a damned screwdriver).

    You know, I might have been 18 and trusted the wrong person once, but I wasn’t a fucking moron. I knew it could have been worse. But telling me that didn’t help the pain I had right then.

    But please, don’t let the actual suffering of real people get in the way of your wanking about polygraphs.

    I hate that in these discussions, people so often forget what rape means, what its particulars are, how it lives in blood and bone. Apologists want it sanitized, sterilized, reduced to abstractions. But it isn’t an abstraction, it’s a reality in all too many women’s lives.

  78. 73
    ethan says:

    The Kelly, Lovett, & Regan study suspiciously and conveniently produces a statistic of 2.5 percent which indicates that false reporting of rape occurs the same as for any other crime.

    Piko: How exactly is the 2.5% statistic “suspicious?” Do you have any actual concerns with their methodology?

    Ampersand: You are awesome. I found this post for the exact reason you created it — a nice summary argument of disparate sources I’ve stumbled across at one time or another. Thank you!

  79. 74
    ethan says:

    ps the wikipedia page on rape statistics desperately needs your help! It has had very little activity lately, and there is a good opportunity to transform it from its original intent as a pro-Kanin study into an article that clearly explains the various dynamics and complexities of rape statistics:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Rape_statistics

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  82. 75
    Fernando says:

    “Victim Recantation is a retraction or withdrawal of a reported sexual assault. Recantations are routinely used by victims to disengage the criminal justice system and are therefore not, by themselves, indicative of a false report.”

    The methodology in Kanin’s study doesn’t mention victim recantation as its definition of false rape reporting, it mentions victim outright denial of the veracity of their report:

    “declared false only because the complainant admitted they are false”

    Admission of falseness and recantation of charges aren’t the same thing .

  83. 76
    Fernando says:

    To elaborate, a recantation means that the charges were withdrawn, but no admission of falseness was made, in Kanin’s study an admission of falseness is required for classifying the report as false.

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  88. 77
    dasilva says:

    I have to back up Fernando here

    in the methods
    “agency policy forbids police officers to use their discretion in deciding whether to officially acknowledge a rape compliant regardless how suspect that complaint may be’
    So how they decide what was false is not due to police discretion

    “For a declaration of a false charge to be made, the complainant must admit that no rape has occured. She is the sole agent who can say that the rape charge is false. 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”

    so the study only uses admission of false allegations as part of the statistic. It did not used the person disengaging from the criminal justice system or refusing to press charges.