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Truth, orthodoxy and false rape allegations

Rumney, Philip


Philip Rumney


The phenomenon of false rape allegations is the subject of widespread controversy. It is an area littered with misunderstanding, myths and stereotypes. This paper will argue that two broad approaches have emerged in response to the subject. The first approach involves an insistence that women reporting rape must be believed by criminal justice professionals, that false allegations are rare and to believe otherwise is evidence of the existence of ‘rape culture’. The second approach involves a fear that an increasing willingness to believe will lead to an institutional failure to distinguish between true and false claims, that due process rights for the accused are under threat and that false allegations are common.

These respective approaches share common characteristics in terms of the way in which false allegations are discussed and analysed. This shared analytical orthodoxy is empirically flawed, inflexible, and resistant to counter-evidence or dissent. Those who promote this orthodoxy fail to take seriously the data on false allegations and neglect to carefully analyse the existing literature for weaknesses. There is also a failure to acknowledge the differing types of false allegation – from those that are malicious, through to the mistaken, wrongful and third party allegations. In addition, much of what is written on the subject involves the selective citation of evidence, use of confirmation bias to support claims, and failure to acknowledge that the ‘other side’ has legitimate concerns.

This has created at least three problems. First, both approaches to the question of false allegations promote the widespread dissemination of flawed data in which factual ambiguity is ignored in favour of ideological certainty. Second, this flawed data is used to underpin various legal policy proposals. Finally, a growing body of empirical research examining the impact of allegations on the falsely accused, comparative false allegation rates, motivational factors and social allegations is ignored because the false allegation orthodoxy is resistant to data that challenges preferred policy positions.

This paper concludes by arguing that there exists a damaging group polarisation amongst those researching, writing and campaigning about rape. This has resulted in a failure to recognise that rape complainants and those who are accused have interests that are damaged by false allegations and related myths and stereotypes. Further, sound policy making should be based on reliable data that is carefully interpreted and gaps in our understanding should be acknowledged. This paper suggests an approach that is evidence-based and which takes rape, false allegations and the welfare of accuser and the accused, seriously.


Rumney, P. (2015, April). Truth, orthodoxy and false rape allegations. Paper presented at Rape: Challenging the Orthodoxy, University of Nottingham School of Law, Nottingham, UK

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Rape: Challenging the Orthodoxy
Conference Location University of Nottingham School of Law, Nottingham, UK
Start Date Apr 23, 2015
End Date Apr 24, 2015
Publication Date Apr 24, 2015
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords rape, false allegation, criminal justice, evidence, group polarisation
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Publisher URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Rape: Challenging the Orthodoxy

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