Fact: Rape is the most underreported crime, NOT the most falsely reported.
Actually, the prevalence of false reporting of rape is about the same as it is for other felonies – between 2% and 8%. A study of 136 sexual assault cases in Boston found only a 5.9% rate of false reports.
This myth serves to blame the survivor. It increases suspicion and hostility toward people who come forward. Although there are isolated incidents where people have lied about being raped, these are the exception rather than the norm.
One major reason that Americans believe that rape is often falsely reported is that the media sensationalizes false reporting stories, while it minimizes or fails to cover the hundreds of thousands of true stories that happen every year.
Another major reason this myth is so commonly accepted is the misconception that rape is “easy to claim and hard to dispute.” But this is far from the truth—many survivors describe their experience of pressing charges or reporting their assault to law enforcement as a “second rape.” Reporting a rape or assault is a difficult and lengthy process. The survivor must share very personal details with complete strangers, undergo a traumatic evidence collection process, and will likely be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny or suspicion. Most survivors experience negative impacts, such as trauma from re-living/re-telling violence committed against them, victim-blaming comments that compound self-blame, and a general lack of support. It is unlikely that someone would go through this long and painful process if their story was not true. In fact, the reality is that rape is extremely underreported — most survivors never report their experience, especially on college campuses.
Furthermore, many cases are eventually dropped because the structure of the criminal justice system – from police to judge – is not designed to handle the particulars of sexual violence cases. RAINN estimates that out of every 1,000 rapes, only 6 rapists will be incarcerated, meaning that “perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals.” Considering this, most survivors feel that there are enormous costs to reporting with usually very little to gain. So very few reports of rape are false — which means that the vast majority of them are true.
This post is part of a series on Myths & Facts about Sexual Violence: