A false rape claim is the reporting of a rape when no rape has taken place. In a majority of false rape allegation cases, a person intentionally lies about being the victim of rape or sexual assault. Some people may even file a false police report claiming rape or sexual assault. This creates a risk of criminal prosecution of an innocent person. Filing a false report of sexual assault can be a crime in itself, depending on the intent of the person making the report.
The law in most states defines rape as an unlawful sexual act carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a someone’s will. In some states it is also known as sexual assault. Rape can also include sexual contact with a person who is beneath a certain age. Or the crime of rape can cover sexual contact with a person who is incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.
Rape/sexual assault is one of the most serious felonies and can carry a penalty of years in prision and sex offender registration.
What Are Some False Rape Claim Definitions and Statistics?
Understanding the numbers behind false rape accusations starts with the legal definition of a false claim. Of course, it varies from state to state, but the two most common terms that most states use to categorize false rape claims are false reports and baseless reports.
A false report is when a purported victim goes to law enforcement claiming that another person assaulted them, but a subsequent investigation proves that in fact it never occurred. This is in contrast to a baseless report, where investigators do not doubt the truth of the story but cannot find enough evidence to pursue a case against the accused.
Both of these claims are usually lumped together under the umbrella of “unfounded reports” for statistical purposes. The few academic studies there are estimate that between 2% and 10% of sexual assault allegations are made falsely.
In another approach to the problem, some criminal justice authorities classify false rape allegation cases into two categories:
- False accusations arising from false memories; and
- False allegation cases stemming from a person intentionally making inaccurate accusations.
In cases of false memories, a person may honestly believe that they were the victim of sexual assault based on a memory that is false. Psychologists report that false memory cases are most common among children who are manipulated by an adult into believing that they were the victim of sexual assault.
But in the majority of cases, a person simply falsely claims to have been the victim of rape or sexual assault. Intentionally accusing an innocent person of rape or sexual assault can result in both civil lawsuits for damages and criminal charges.
A person who actually files a police report containing an intentionally false accusation of rape or sexual assault can be charged with a crime, possibly a felony. Law enforcement and prosecutors do not look favorably on false criminal complaints
The elements of the crime of filing a false police report are as follows:
- The defendant filed a report with the police (may include district attorneys, attorneys general, etc.); and
- The defendant knew (or had reason to believe)that the report was false.
The statement can be made either in the police station or outside a police station to an on-duty law enforcement officer. This is a crime under both the state and federal law. In some states and in some situations, the prosecutor may be required to prove that the defendant made the false statement with the specific intent to interfere with the criminal justice system.
What Are Some Specifics to Consider When Filing A False Claim?
First of all, if another person has filed a false report of rape and a person has been charged with a crime as a result, then the person cannot file a civil suit for damages until the criminal charge has been resolved.. If no criminal charges have been filed, but the police are investigating a false claim of rape against a person, again, the person should wait until the results of the investigation are known.
Once any possible criminal case has been resolved, a person falsely charged with rape can consider a suit for the false rape accusation. There are a number of different approaches the person can take, depending on the facts of the situation.
One option is to sue for libel or slander. A person falsely accused of rape would sue for libel if the false rape accusation was made in writing. Libel is the written communication of a false assertion of fact, which subsequently causes harm to the person’s reputation.
If the false rape accusation was made in speech only, then the person would sue for slander. Slander is the oral communication of a false assertion of fact, which subsequently causes harm to the person’s reputation.
It is possible that a person falsely accused of rape could sue for defamation of character. In some states damage to the person falsely accused of a serious criminal offense, such as rape, is assumed. The person accused who is suing does not have to prove actual damages, such as loss of a job or false imprisonment in order to recover a money award of damages.
Of course, they can recover money damages for actual economic damage done. If the false accusation has a major negative economic effect on a person’s life in the form of a lost job or promotion, lost business opportunities, and the like, a person should seek the services of an experienced personal injury attorney to consider the possibility of a defamation lawsuit. Other possible claims include
- Negligent or Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
- Malicious prosecution; or
- False imprisonment.
The exact claim that a victim of a false allegation pursues will depend on state law, which can vary, and the specific facts of the victim’s case.
What Are the Possible Consequences of a Rape Claim?
Sexual assault is a very serious crime in every state and the possible consequences could be significant. If convicted, a person can face from a few months to many years in prison, depending on the severity of the charge. In addition, a person with a sexual assault conviction can end up in a state or federal database as a registered sex offender. The registered status lasts for years, and in some cases even a lifetime.
If designated as a registered sex offender, a person faces a number of limitations and restrictions even after they have served their time. The state might be able to control certain aspects of a registered sex offender’s life, including where they live, what jobs they can have, their ability to travel, and other rights that most people take for granted. The negative effects of being a convicted sex offender can last a lifetime.
The person who makes a false report of rape/sexual assault to the police can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the law in the state where the person lives. In California, for example, it is charged as a misdemeanor. The punishment can be up to six months in a county jail, plus fines and possibly probation, counseling and/or community service.
However, in other states the crime is considered a serious felony. In MIchigan, for example, the crime of filing a false report of a serious crime, such as rape, is charged with a felony. Punishment is up to 20 years in prison. Anyone considering filing a false claim of rape should most definitely pass on the impulse. In addition to risking criminal charges and possibly a prison sentence, a person can do great harm to another innocent person.
What Should I Do If I Am Falsely Accused of Sexual Assault?
Remember that a person charged with a crime has the right to an attorney. If a person is arrested for a charge of a sexual assault they did not commit, the person should not say anything until they can speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
A person does not have to give information to the police; a person has a right to remain silent and should make use of it. This will help avoid being tricked into an “incriminating” statement. A person who has been falsely accused should be sure to protect their rights, stay calm and stay silent. Even if the person knows they are innocent, they should remain silent and get an attorney to do the talking.
If the police ultimately determine that the claim was made falsely, they will then decide whether to charge the accuser with filing a false report.
Do I Need an Attorney to Fight a False Rape Claim?
If you have been falsely accused of rape, you most definitely want to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Rape is a serious criminal offense with signficant consequences. You will get a better outcome with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you.
Then, if you have been falsely accused of rape and want to file a civil lawsuit against your accuser, you want to consult with an experienced defamation lawyer. A defamation lawyer can analyze the facts of your case and advise you how best to proceed. If you file a civil lawsuit against your accuser in court, you definitely need the expertise that an experienced defamation lawyer can provide.