9/4/2006 4:25:00 PM

How to Recognize False Allegations of Rape

Sexual assaults occur in the military as well as the civilian world. There is nothing in civilian society, however, which duplicates the incomprehensible reaction of military officials who lose all perspective when dealing with this problem

Unnamed complainants are labeled "victims" even before legal proceedings determine that a crime has been committed. Publicly named men accused of misconduct are treated as "innocent until accused," and are rarely given the benefit of the doubt.

Victimology vs. Justice

It is a primary tenet of "feminist jurisprudence" that women never lie when complaining of sexual abuse. This delusion is as ludicrous as the notion that all women think alike.

Any man who states the obvious, however, puts his career at risk. Even liberal Law Professor Alan Dershowitz was accused of sexual harassment just for discussing in class the possibility of false rape allegations. In 1993 Dershowitz told author David Horowitz that he began videotaping classroom lectures on the subject for his own protection, and that other experts in the field stopped teaching rape law rather than take the risk. 1

According to a report of the Defense Department Inspector General released in 2005, approximately 73% of women and 72% of men at the military service academies believe that false accusations of sexual assault are a problem. But military officials keep pretending that the problem does not exist.

Untruths Without Consequences

Linda Fairstein, a former head of the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office, has criticized the doctrinaire belief that women never lie. Writing in Cosmopolitan magazine, Fairstein quoted FBI statistics on unfounded claims of forcible rape. These reports, she wrote, occur at rates as high as 9%, compared to between 1.5% and 5% of reports submitted in all other criminal categories. She continued,

"Having worked in this field for decades, I've found this phenomenon especially painful to witness. Innocent men are arrested and even imprisoned as a result of bogus claims, and the precious resources of criminal justice agencies are wasted..[T]hese falsehoods trivialize the experience of every rape survivor." 2

A June 3, 2004, Washington Post article titled "Sexual Assaults in Army on Rise" reported the results of a five year study of reports of abuse. The number of "unfounded" cases tripled from 48 to 157 between 1999 and 2003. An Army spokeswoman could not explain why. It is time to find out.

Every allegation is different, and appearances often deceive. Certain indicators should be investigated in order to separate truthful allegations from fabricated ones. Primary motives for false reports, which are not uncommon, include a) Jealousy or Revenge; b) Need for an Alibi; and c) Emotional Problems/Desire for Attention. None of these should be a surprise.

a) Jealousy or Revenge

The phrase "woman scorned" is more than a stereotype. Linda Fairstein described several cases in which women "cried rape" in order to have revenge on former lovers. One involved a secretary who accused her boss of assaulting her after hours. The tearful woman seemed very credible-at first-but the man told Fairstein an entirely different story.

His admitted affair with the accuser was documented with a paper trail of travel receipts over a period of two years. The alleged rape occurred on the night that he refused her demand to divorce his wife. When Fairstein confronted the accuser, she admitted to being so upset with her former lover that she wanted to make sure he lost both his job and his marriage.

Accusations motivated by revenge are not uncommon. In a study done in a small Midwestern city over a period of nine years, Eugene J. Kanin, Ph.D. found that 27% of recanted allegations (12 of 45) were filed for purposes of revenge-usually after a real or perceived love affair ended. 3  Dr. Kanin added that because the suspect is always identified to authorities, revenge cases present the highest risk of a miscarriage of justice.

An average of 41% of accusers over nine years (45 of 109) recanted allegations of rape, even when facing possible penalties for filing false police reports. These recantations did not follow prolonged periods of investigation or interrogations that victim advocates frequently describe as "second assaults." 4

Seeking more information on the phenomenon, Dr. Kanin studied rape reports at two Midwestern universities over the course of three years. Counting only those allegations that were officially recanted by accusers, the study found a false allegation rate of 50%. The police agency involved, headed by a female investigator, found that in this group revenge was the motive for 44% of the recanted rape allegations. 5

b) Need for an Alibi

Sex crime investigator Fairstein compared alibi allegations to Pinocchio's nose-a white lie that grows and grows. She described, for example, a young woman who had traveled with a group and spent the night with a co-worker after drinking with him in the bar. She was not in her room to receive calls from her boyfriend, who instigated a search. This "victim" tearfully accused her co-worker of raping and restraining her in his room. The man was taken into custody, but a paper trail of receipts contradicted the woman's story. The accuser recanted, and investigators recommended psychiatric help for her.

In the military, one of the most egregious alibi allegations occurred in the aftermath of the Navy's infamous 1991 Tailhook scandal in Las Vegas. Ensign Elizabeth Warnick, known as "Belly Button Beth" because she allowed drunken aviators to drink tequila from her navel, accused two of her colleagues of gang-rape. Her accusations devastated the careers of the men, but Warnick admitted later that she had lied to mislead her boyfriend about her own behavior at Tailhook.

The Navy's failure to prosecute Warnick for her blatantly false allegation against male officers was an early example of "Double Standards Involving Women," a phenomenon CMR identifies as DSIW. Policies based on DSIW hurt women by creating resentment and distrust. Women in the military are not responsible for DSIW, but they frequently get the blame.

c) Emotional Problems/Desire for Attention

The May 2005 saga of "Runaway Bride" Jennifer Wilbanks, who fled her own lavish wedding and concocted a kidnapping story to explain her disappearance, demonstrates a syndrome psychologists call pseudologia phantastica. 6  The disorder, which is not limited to women or rape charges alone, requires identification and treatment, not unquestioning belief.

MSNBC commentator Tucker Carlson faced this problem in 2001. A woman he had never met claimed that he had drugged her at a Kentucky restaurant and sexually assaulted her with violence. Many sleepless nights and $14,000 in legal fees later, the accuser dropped the charges. Carlson survived, but the lives of many men falsely accused never are the same. 7

The military is not exempt from this unusual but disturbing behavior. At a recent Article 32 hearing to determine the need to court-martial Spec. Cooper Jackson, civilian Ashley Elrod testified that she made up a story about being raped by a Marine, Cpl. Justin Huff. Elrod told the lie to Spec. Jackson, who is accused of kidnapping and murdering Cpl. Huff, the alleged rapist. Spec. Jackson allegedly cut Cpl. Huff's throat and set him on fire. Under oath Ashley Elrod admitted making phone calls in which she lied to military men since she was 15 years old. "I have low self-esteem," she said. "I need someone to talk to." (Navy Times, June 26)

False rape accusations also have been filed to extort money from celebrities, to gain sole custody of children in divorce cases, and even to escape military deployments to war zones. All of these possibilities and more must be objectively considered by investigators, without interference from victim advocates who wrongly insist that women can do no wrong.

Objective Investigation of the Crime of Rape

Rape investigations are inherently difficult. Sex crimes usually occur in private, with few witnesses. Alcohol dulls memories, and "he said, she said" stories are frequently inconsistent. At the military service academies, personal conduct rules that do not apply in the civilian world create a perverse incentive for alibi reports.

These factors can be mitigated when authorities apply the same investigative techniques that they do in other criminal cases. Visible clues and patterns of behavior help to distinguish truthful allegations from those that are false.

Charles P. McDowell, Ph.D., of the U.S. Air Force Special Studies Division, has incurred the wrath of victim advocates by spotlighting the reality of false accusations. Writing in a publication of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, McDowell notes that:

"The ambiguity of many rape allegations is a genuine test of an investigator's ability; an inherent conflict arises between the investigator's obligation to accept the victim's complaint as legitimate and his obligation to remain open to the possibility that there may be a 'hidden agenda.' " 8

McDowell recognizes that an investigator's questions can make a victim of assault feel wronged again. This is especially so when investigators who have been misled in the past betray suspicion when inquiring about sensitive, personal matters.

The only way to minimize that problem is to understand the dynamics of false rape allegations and, in the process, learn the hallmarks of truthful accusations. This effort is essential not only for women's sake, but to avoid grievous injustice to men who may be severely punished for crimes they did not commit.

Trained investigators recognize "shorthand" cues that are not infallible, but are useful in assessing the validity of complaints. They also recognize that self-esteem is a central feature of human personality. Some people who fail to live up to their own standards try to protect their self-image by denying wrongful acts or offering excuses. McDowell analyzes how some accusers use false accusations as defense mechanisms to protect self-esteem:

"They do so by selectively 'forgetting' what happened, denying responsibility, projecting blame to someone (or something) else, overcompensating, or by seeking escape in a world of fantasy..When a person falsely claims to be the victim of a crime, an alternative reality is created. The focal point of that alternative reality becomes the crime itself, reducing the role of the "victim" to passive non-culpability." (pp. 59-60)

Validating Accusations

McDowell's article cites findings from a 1983 study of 556 rape investigations in which 27% were found to be false. Noting certain characteristics that set the two groups apart, McDowell explained factors that are sometimes but not always present when questionable allegations are made:

  • Many people have no understanding of what real victimization actually entails. "Their imperfect understanding of rape is often transparent, raising the suspicion of investigators who are sensitive to allegations that are either atypical or unrealistic." (p. 61)

  • Some individuals try to restore self-esteem and evade responsibility for their own behavior by fabricating claims of being "lost, intoxicated, frightened, confused, or otherwise incapable of preventing their victimizations." These stories are frequently rewarded with the "protected status" of "victim," which enlists the support of friends and sympathetic advocates. (p. 61)

  • Medical literature acknowledges that some patients make apparently credible but false complaints of physical ailments. False reports of rape, however, are sometimes bolstered by bizarre scenarios or self-inflicted injuries. Law enforcement people accustomed to seeing injuries are usually credulous, but they can recognize questionable characteristics. Self-inflicted wounds, for example, usually avoid sensitive areas or permanent disfigurement of the body. (62-63, 67)

  • Seventy-five percent of confirmed rape victims in the study said they knew the assailant. About half of the false claims involved a non-existent stranger, with another third involving slight acquaintances. The essentially anonymous rapist effectively absolves the complainant of responsibility and affirms her innocence. An unsolvable case also shifts responsibility to the alleged offender and ultimately to the police.

  • Genuine rape victims invariably are able to provide detailed descriptions of the rape. Women making false allegations typically are not clear in their descriptions. Some claim that they were unconscious or had their eyes closed. Others provide exquisitely detailed accounts, described with pleasure. Investigators must be cautious, but extreme under- or over-reporting can be suspicious, especially if stories change.

McDowell acknowledges that investigators' questions might upset women who have been sexually assaulted. In a discussion of ways to maintain rapport with women making questionable allegations of rape, he recommends that investigators closest to the complainant remain supportive, professional, understanding and non-judgmental. If unresolved conflicts emerge, they should be raised by a supervisor who assumes and recognizes the complainant's desire to be a responsible person.

Some accusers are relieved when disparities discredit their story because it is exhausting to maintain a lie. Others react with outrage because they need to believe what they have claimed, and fear losing control. In all cases, investigators should work with families to provide emotional support

McDowell also notes that even those who are emotionally prone to make false allegations can, indeed, be true victims of rape. All the more reason to maintain professionalism, objectivity, and compassion when investigating sexual misconduct and rape. (pp. 71-73)

Rape by Accusation

Author Warren Farrell, a former board member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1970s, made an interesting personal transition from male feminist to an advocate of equality that does not discriminate against men. In his 1993 book The Myth of Male Power, Farrell examined the McDowell study and other available reports. "False accusations are not a rarity," he wrote, "they are themselves a form of rape, and a political hot potato. It will doubtless take a female politician of enormous integrity to confront the issue."

The armed forces need to find out why indicators of false accusations are so persistent. Extreme feelings of guilt because some military women have been abused are no excuse for denying reality. The first step in solving a problem is to first admit that the problem exists. 


1. Frank S. Zepezauer, "Believe Her! The Woman Never Lies Myth," IPT Journal, Volume 6 - 1994. Also "David Horowitz's Notepad: The Intellectual Terror in Our Universities,", December 10, 2001.

2. Cosmopolitan, "Why Some Women Lie About Rape," November 2003.

3. Kanin, Archive of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 23(1), 1994, pp. 81-91.

4. Kanin, p. 84. Recanted allegations in this 9-year study varied from year to year, from a low of 27% (3 out of 11 cases) to a high of 70% (7 out of 10).

5. Kanin, p. 90

6. Graham Reed, The Psychology of Anomalous Experience, Prometheus Books, NY 1988. In the Penguin Book of Lies, pp. 527-529, quoted by The Heretical Press,

7. Fairstein, quoting Tucker Carlson's book, Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites, 2003.

8. Forensic Science Digest, "False Allegations," Vol. 11, No. 4, December 1985, p. 56-76.

Half of all Rape Charges May Be False

Rape is a terrible crime. It should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But false rape charges are a troublesome reality. At least 10 percent and perhaps as many as 40 percent of all rape charges are lies. Research results In the Midwest:
41% of the total rape cases were recanted by the alleged victim during a 9-year study in a metropolitan Midwestern town.
45 of the 109 complainants admitted that no rape had occurred in period.
The incidence figure (from 1978 to 1987) of false rape varied from year to year and ranged from a low of 27% to a high of 70%

The alleged rape victims admitted that they had made the false rape charges for three reasons:
to create an alibi,
to get revenge,
to get attention or sympathy.
Educated women lie, too....
University women were as likely to file a false rape charge as a valid charge. Other reports from university police agencies support these findings (Jay, 1991). Source: Eugene J. Kanin, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Purdue University,

Why women make false rape charges

Common reasons given by women who falsely accused rape were "spite or revenge," and to compensate for feelings of guilt or shame. Source: (Forensic Science Digest, vol. 11. no. 4, December 1985).
False accusers were motivated by a need for an alibi or a desire for revenge in the study byEugene J. Kanin. Source: Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994). Kanin was once well known and lauded by the feminist movement for his groundbreaking research on male sexual aggression.
The need for attention: as in the case of the Detroit woman who gave police details about her rapist and his truck, then admitted she had lied: it never happened. Source: Detroit Free Press, April 21, 2004 D.A. Affirms False Rape Charges

A female defense attorney saw it happen

"Not too long ago, I represented an Ivy League honor student who'd spent a weekend at a beach party coupled with a woman to whom he was introduced by a mutual friend. According to the client - and about a dozen witnesses - the two seemed to really "hit it off." When the party ended on Sunday night, they said their good-byes, like everybody else, and maybe even promised half-heartedly to call each other. "Imagine my client's surprise when on Tuesday, he received an angry call from his paramour's estranged boyfriend - a boyfriend whose existence she failed to disclose when the pair were kissing beyond the crackle of a bonfire. "Of course, this was nothing compared to his total shock when, two weeks later, he received a warrant in the mail commanding his appearance in court on felony rape charges." --Defense Attorney Jonna Spilbor Source:


How False Rape Charges devastate men's lives

CNN's Tucker Carlson recently wrote a book, Politicians, Partisans and Parasites, which includes an account of Carlson being falsely accused of raping a woman. Carlson describes how a false rape accusation can potentially ruin a man's life. How the legal system allows women to physically abuse men
Woman gets 9 months in false rape charge