What do we know about false rape allegations?

Recently1 Scott Greenfield over at Simple Justice sent me a tweet asking my thoughts on Dara Lind’s article on false rape allegations.  After taking a quick read through, I was fairly dismissive of it.  Much to her credit, upon seeing the twitter exchange between myself and Scott, Dara immediately corrected the error in her piece.  She also made herself available for any questions I had while writing this post, so you will see some her responses included where appropriate2.  While I disagree with some of the conclusions she came to in her article, I was really impressed with the way she conducted herself and she has certainly earned my respect.

So what is the main conclusion I disagree with?

For one thing, research has finally nailed down a consistent range for how many reports of rape are false: somewhere between 2 and 8 percent, which is a lot narrower than the 1.5 percent to 90 percent range of the past.

My first problem with this is that there aren’t any US studies that I am aware of that actually use the 2-8% range.  The only place I’ve seen that range used is in the The Voice article which, as I’ve previously discussed, isn’t exactly peer-reviewed research.  Even Lisak, who is a listed author of The Voice article says the range is wider at 2-10%. I asked Lind about this and here is her response:

Q2: In the article you state “For one thing, research has finally nailed down a consistent range for how many reports of rape are false: somewhere between 2 and 8 percent” and have a section heading of “A growing consensus: between 2 and 8 percent of allegations.” In your research did you find other authors coming up with that range besides Lonsway herself or when referencing the 2009 The Voice article?

A: To answer questions 2 and 53: I almost certainly relied too much on Lonsway, between the interview I conducted with her and her response to Lisak.

I also asked about how heavily she weighed the relative importance of the various studies she researched:

Q4: When arriving at your conclusions, how heavily did you weigh recency and location (or perhaps the better way to phrase – how much credence did you give to studies done outside the US or more than 20 years ago)?

A:To answer question 4: Strong bias for recency, little if any bias for US-based (I was working off Rumney, after all) but some. I did try to make the paucity of recent US-based studies clear in the article.

Here is another area where I disagree with her – I don’t see why there would be some sort of universal rate of false reporting worldwide, so the international studies aren’t particularly meaningful to me 4 .  Once you strip out the international studies and the studies over 30 years old, all we are really left with is the MAD study and the Lisak study.  In previous posts I’ve detailed many of the problems with the MAD study, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Study was conducted by End Violence Against Women International, an organization that can hardly claim to be unbiased in regard to the prevalence of false rape reports
  • Prior to the study Joanne Archambault, the executive director of End Violence Against Women International, expressed her opinion that the real rate of false reporting was 4% 5
  • The communities studied were not a random sample, but rather had to apply for the study and were then chosen by a selection committee
  • Despite the data collection period being from 2005-2006, the study results have yet to be published in any peer-reviewed journal 6
  • Reports could only be classified as false after a “thorough, evidence-based investigation.”  However, such an investigation isn’t really possible if you follow EVAW International’s training materials which discourage asking too many questions for fear of receiving inconsistent responses 7 and suggested stopping the investigation if things seemed off 8

Read more

  1. Ok, so not particularly recently, but getting a post up in under a month is about as quick as things get over here
  2. To start with, she mention the following: “I want to be upfront that these are just my views and not the views of my site, editors, etc. I own my errors.”
  3. Question 5 was “When evaluating the studies, did you have any concerns about bias on the part of the authors?”
  4. Though if you disagree, those international studies are going to fall victim to the same pitfalls as I discuss in the next section
  5. Surprisingly, when the boss tells you what they think the answer to a question is, people tend to arrive at similar conclusions
  6. Lisak’s citation for the study actually refers to it being from an “Unpublished manuscript”
  7. “The purpose of any follow-up interviews should therefore be to gather additional information and clarify any questions, not to go over the same information again.”
  8. “Given the size of the caseload that most investigators and prosecutors handle, it seems difficult to justify the inordinate time that would be involved in investigating and prosecuting someone for filing a false report—given that it is typically only a misdemeanor offense.” and “While it is understandable that investigators might want to prove that the report is false out of a sense of frustration and a determination to get to the truth, this is probably not the best use of limited resources.”