To the Editor,
The Ithaca Voice ran a story with the headline “2 Teens in Ithaca Charged after False Rape Report.” I want to take this opportunity to briefly address the issue of false rape reports.
My reasons are twofold: first, research tells us that such headlines can become deterrents to victims of sexual assault who might consider reporting; and second, the public dramatically overestimates the percentage of sexual assault reports that are false.
The most rigorous research in the field reveals that false reports of rape are statistically uncommon. These multi-site studies estimate that between 2-8% of sexual assault reports can be classified as false.
What is more common is for news and media sources to over report incidents of false reports, and under report actual incidents, skewing public perspective. Such overestimates encourage a culture in which we assign less credibility to victims and more sympathy to offenders.
What exactly constitutes a false report of rape? The answer to this question must be part of the conversation. A false report of rape is the report of a sexual assault that did not happen. It should not to be equated with reports during which the victim omits details she may feel embarrassed sharing, minimizes the incident to protect the offender, or provides an inconsistent or incomplete account.
As experts in the field will attest, omissions, minimizations, and inconsistencies are understandable in the context of trauma and to be expected as part of a credible sexual assault disclosure process.
Ido not debate the rare but tragic reality of false rape reports. However, it is critically important that these occurrences not be overestimated – the consequences are too great. Inaccurate rape stereotypes are fueled and the credibility of countless victims of sexual assault is undermined.
Education Director Advocacy Center of Tompkins County Domestic & Sexual Violence Services