Clarence, a thoughtful commenter who understands what he is writing about, responds to my contention that the high wrongful conviction rate in rape and sexual assault proves that false accusations are higher in rape than any other crime. While he doesn’t dispute this, he says that the study doesn’t necessarily demonstrate a link between wrongful conviction and false accusation.
It’s an interesting and important point, and I think it’s worth some extra attention.
I know what Clarence is getting at, and agree that it’s important to make a distinction between mistakes and willful fabrication, but along with raising the question of what we should call innocent defendants if not “falsely accused,” I maintain that there is no other reasonable explanation for the high rate of wrongful convictions besides false accusations.
Whilst this study does a good job of showing (what has been repeatedly stressed by organizations such as the innocence project) that the US has a problem with a very significant amount of false convictions, I fail to see how this shows the number of false accusations. You see, just like you can convict a murder defendant wrongly due to a lying witness – and yet there was still a murder victim, even though you got the wrong person – so with rape and things such as bad police lineup procedures etc, you can get a rape victim who helps convict the wrong person.
This study is useful in demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt, that “Houston, we have a problem with large amounts of bad convictions”, but it doesn’t necessarily say the same thing about the amount of false accusations, alas…
Let me be clear: I’ve always said myself that based on the average of the various studies of false accusations I think a minimum of 15 to a maximum of around 25 percent of all rape (sexual assault NOT included) accusations are false.
Problem is, this study doesn’t seem to prove what you think it does. There are studies that deal with false accusations (and they have various descriptions of what the various studies authors consider a false accusation, some won’t count it unless the police determine it to be false or the accuser recants) and they typically mention all types of other confounding variables such as police investigative procedures, bad forensics or late evidence collection, etc.
I don’t know how you’d legally or ethically get a guaranteed untainted population sample to check out the actual amount of false accusations. If you could put large amounts of people under secret surveillance (say at a college) for a year or so you might get an inkling of the rates, but I’m sure that many here including myself would have an ethical issue with such covert surveillance as well as the lack of what is called ‘informed consent’ for the students who would be the subjects.
But the point still stands: whether or not it was a “mistake,” when someone is wrongly convicted they were falsely accused by definition — the injustice is no less to the victim. I think we should avoid getting bogged down in semantics over what constitutes a false accusation in rape and sexual assault. Instead, we should use the same standard we would in other crimes: if the accused party is factually innocent, then he has been “falsely accused.”
Perhaps in some cases women feel that they were raped when they were not. Say they didn’t want to have sex, but never resisted, and perhaps never said anything, and then claimed to have been raped. They may “feel” it was rape, but it would be a false accusation because it wasn’t.
As far as identifying the wrong person, that’s been proven to be intentional in many wrongful convictions. Many of the men picked up and then identified were totally unknown to the accuser, but she had to point the finger at someone because she’d already made up a story about being raped for one reason or another. These are the most alarming stories of all; of men simply walking down the street minding their own business, and then suddenly thrown in an interrogation room with no idea at all of what was happening, and ultimately convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, then exonerated decades later by DNA evidence.
Finally, if false identification can happen in murder as well, why is the rate so much higher in rape? In rape prosecutions, the victim is still alive; if they weren’t it would become a murder case. This being the case, you’d expect that a surviving witness would contribute to accuracy rather than raising the rate of misidentification.
What is it about rape, as opposed to other crimes, that leads to such a high rate of wrongful conviction? There is only one reasonable conclusion: it is a crime that is uniquely susceptible to fabrication.