In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh
circus show hearing, Trump made the comment that it’s open season on men in this country, that any woman with an axe to grind can ruin someone’s career with a single false accusation. In an era of #metoo and believe women, is it true that men are vulnerable to a wave of false accusations?
First of all, let’s dispense with the irony that it’s Trump as the one saying this. He’s been accused of plenty, not falsely, and admitted on tape to sexual assault (or as he asserts “locker room talk.”) He also falsely claimed that Kavanaugh has been “proven innocent,” a ludicrous statement. He can claim that he and Kavanaugh have been harmed by false accusations, but they hold two of the most powerful positions in the world. It clearly hasn’t held them back much.
I’m more concerned when I hear conservatives I care about, ward and family members, wringing their hands about the overblown threat of false accusations. It’s a particular issue in our Mormon congregations because some guidelines men follow are similar to the Pence rule, designed to prevent those perfidious women from make a false claim that will ruin their lives. One woman in my ward lamented in her testimony that the drunk girl in Steubenville could ruin the future of those boys. I was shocked to hear such a thing from a fellow church member. Some among us are simply more concerned with the futures of boys and men which they assume affect everyone or have higher potential whereas the futures of girls and women matter less because bad things only happen to bad girls who deserve it.
Here are the main reasons that worrying about false accusations is straining at a gnat (false accusations) while swallowing a camel (actual sexual assault):
- Very few rapes are even reported. An estimated 90% of rapes go unreported.
- False accusations are very rare; only 2-8% of all accusations are false.
- Accusations in general, both false and real, very seldom result in any noteworthy consequences to the accused. There’s a much higher risk of being falsely accused of murder and then imprisoned (which is also very rare) than there is of being falsely accused of rape.
- False accusations are easily discovered and follow predictable patterns. Police detectives are generally very skilled at identifying false accusers.
Here are the characteristics that often accompany a false accusation:
- The person making the accusation frequently comes from a chaotic background, a family with criminal ties, or has a personal history of making bizarre accusations.
“[A]lmost invariably, adult false accusers who persist in pursuing charges have a previous history of bizarre fabrications or criminal fraud. Indeed, they’re often criminals whose family and friends are also criminals; broken people trapped in chaotic lives.” [link here]
Clearly, though, people with a chaotic life may also be targeted and or groomed by someone wanting to perpetrate a sexual crime. But there are more characteristics that accompany false claims.
- The overwhelming majority of false sexual assault claims don’t name a perpetrator or perpetrators.
- False accusation stories tend to be dramatic, lurid stories. They often involve bizarre forms of cruelty, and details that are actually fairly easily to disprove. Because the accuser is trying to ensure their false story is not dismissed, they often create an exaggerated level of cruelty that is harder to ignore.
- The most common false accusations are made by teenagers who are trying to get out of trouble or to avoid blame for actions their parents don’t approve. In some of these cases, the parent is quite clearly coaching their child to ensure they tell the right story, the story the parent approves. Reasons for this type of false accusation range from pregnancy to missed curfew, and in 50% of these cases, the parent is the one bringing the complaint to the police department with a reluctant teen deliberately keeping the details vague.
- About 10% of false claims are people trying to get access to medication or health care, including psychiatric medication.
- When adults make false accusations, it is much less common, and often related to a criminal background or in some cases, a factitious disorder (similar to Munchausen) that causes the person to fabricate dramatic stories to draw attention and sympathy. It’s not at all common for an adult to make a false accusation years later about something that happened when they were a teen. (Link here. Also from this article:)
“Note that no study points to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder being associated with false reports of rape. This distinction is crucially important, since having mental illness is strongly correlated with being a victims of rape.”
While false accusers tend to have these characteristics in common, actual accusers have relatively nothing in common. They run the gamut demographically, coming from all social classes, religions, sexual orientations, and age groups. Another article points out that while false accusers have many common traits (as listed above), they have generally four different motives:
- Personal gain. They may lie about being raped on government property, hoping for a settlement, or otherwise hoping to manipulate the justice system (e.g. prisoner seeking a reduced sentence or a different cell assignment).
- Revenge. Interestingly this is not usually a scorned lover. It is more commonly revenge for economic motives such as a drug exchange gone awry or an agreement for goods in exchange for sex.
- Mental illness, specifically factitious disorder as described above. In these cases, the absence of physical evidence combined with changing details (to seek greater attention) makes them easily detected as false.
- The need for an alibi. The reasons teens might lie are listed above. For adults, it may be to cover up an infidelity.
In light of these things, when I see memes on Facebook saying that mothers need to teach their sons not to talk to a girl without their lawyer present, it’s frustrating. There are real, tangible consequences when women are seen as liars attempting to entrap and accuse men, and when men are seen as hapless victims of vindictive women.
- Do you think Mormons are more likely to fear false accusations?
- Are Mormon men more vulnerable to false accusations because of our strict chastity guidelines (teens), and the social situations missionaries are in, enacting with the public, including encountering unpredictable people?
- Does the fear of false accusations justify our guidelines preventing missionaries from entering homes?
- Are these facts about false accusations helpful in allaying the fears so many conservatives have expressed?