[Pictured: “Rape” by Fran Peppers.]

Apart from Kanin’s study (discussed here), there is a study by Charles P McDowell, which is very frequently cited in support of claims that the rate of false rape accusations is high.

I have been unable to find his actual report to read and link to – please drop me a line if you know where I can get it! The best summary I have found is in an article by Frank Zepezauer entitled (not very encouragingly) “Believe Her! The Woman Never Lies Myth“:

“The McDowell team studied 556 rape allegations. Of that total, 256 could not be conclusively verified as rape. That left 300 authenticated cases of which 220 were judged to be truthful and 80, or 27%, were judged as false. In his report Charles McDowell stated that extra rigor was applied to the investigation of potentially false allegations. To be considered false one or more of the following criteria had to be met: the victim unequivocally admitted to false allegation, indicated deception in a polygraph test, and provided a plausible recantation. Even by these strict standards, slightly more than one out of four rape charges were judged to be false.”

First things first. Even from this one paragraph I can see that claims like “Dr. Charles P. McDowell found that out of 556 cases of alleged rape 27% of the women admitted that they had lied” are false. No. Out of the 300 cases where a definite “verdict” could be reached about truth or falsity, 27% of allegations were found to be false. That’s in fact 14% if you are going to measure the number of false allegations against the total number of allegations. So we’ve already halved the rate…

Secondly, I don’t have McDowell’s report so I don’t have his more detailed methodology for determining that an allegation was false. Essentially, it seems that the accuser must have admitted that the rape did not happen and provided a plausible explanation for what “really” happened. This is, it is said, a “strict” standard.

Sorry, but no. An important point to note is that these women were claiming that they had been raped in a military context. From what I gather, they were female soldiers reporting a rape by male soldiers. Given everything we know about how horrendously (re)traumatising the initial rape report and subsequent investigation can be for the victim, even in the most supportive of environments – if you add in the military context which I strongly suspect is far more male-centred than even the average police station, what do you get? A supportive environment for traumatised women to recount harrowing experiences with honesty and frankness? Or a challenging, hostile, suspicious one in which women are “crying rape” until proved truthful, where you can barely string two sentences together because you are so outraged and distressed?

I can easily believe that for a female soldier, coming to realise that she is not going to get justice, coming to realise that the easiest course of action is to recant and try to get on with her life, it would be a simple matter just to say – I made it up, I was wrong, it’s all a big mistake. I consented really, I was just upset afterwards. Whatever. Just leave me be now please. Can’t you see it now?

So where does that leave us? With a likely figure for truthfully admitted false allegations somewhere under 14%. We can only speculate as to the true figure.

But what about the unproven cases? Many ask. This is where the 60% figure comes in. A common claim is that: “McDowell’s study found that 60% of rape allegations are false.” Did it? Zepezauer says:

“If, out of 556 rape allegations, 256 could not be conclusively verified as rape, then a large number, 46%, entered a gray area within which more than a few, if not all, of the accusations could have been authentic. If so, the 27% false allegation figure obtained from the remaining 300 cases could be badly skewed… The McDowell team did in fact address these questions in follow-up studies. They recruited independent reviewers who were given 25 criteria derived from the profiles of the women who openly admitted making a false allegation. If all three reviewers agreed that the rape allegation was false, it was then listed by that description. The result: 60% of the accusations were identified as false…

Unfortunately, there is just not enough information here about the methodology to really understand how much credit this assessment should be given.

Who were the “independent” reviewers? How were they recruited? What were the criteria? How were they derived? How were they applied? How did the reviewers use these criteria to reach their conclusions? We do not know.

(I do wonder whether the fact that this article was the most comprehensive description of the study I could find gives you a bit of an idea how much those who cite it care about its validity. Surely, I also wonder, if the study was as bombproof as the MRA-types make it out to be it would be available somewhere in full? I digress.)

One thing I can tell you is that a blogger nameds Jack Yoest thinks the following “seven clues” are derived at least in part from McDowell’s work.

“1) Revenge — Is the girl out to get even with a man or boyfriend?”
Well, maybe she wants justice. Because he raped her? Is that the same thing as revenge? How do you know whether she wants revenge? Because he says so?
Translation: if your rapist is your boyfriend / husband / someone you once looked at funny, then you will not be believed.

“2) Alibi — Does the girl need an explanation for having sex?”
Translation: if the sex had been consensual, would it have been the kind of sex for which she would have needed an alibi? i.e. adulterous, kinky, underage, drunken, unprotected…
Translation: if your rapist is not your boyfriend / husband then you will not be believed.

“3) Emotional Instability — Does the girl have problems or a desire for attention?”
Does “the girl” have problems? You mean like the problem of having just been raped? Or do you mean that girls with pre-existing “problems” or unmet attention needs should not be believed and therefore can be raped with impunity?

“4) Timeliness — How long did she wait to report the crime? — Some women take a year to file a police report.”
And? That’s how some women deal with the trauma of rape. Doesn’t mean they are lying.

“5) Physical Evidence — There may not be any.”
And? Not all rapists beat their victims to a pulp. Some rapists even use condoms. Doesn’t mean it isn’t really rape.

“6) Self Inflicted Wounds — But never sensitive areas: no lips, eyes.”
Yeah, because if a woman comes to you claiming that she has been raped, the first thing we should do – after checking that she’s got wounds of course, for physical evidence – is make sure they aren’t self-inflicted. Because that could mean that she has “problems”. See above. Or is “attention seeking”. See above. Or is out and out fabricating evidence upon her own battered body. (Aside: Yo – laydees – we should be punching our eyes and knocking out our teeth! That is where we have been going wrong with all these false reports! Thanks, Jack, for your pointers on how to escape accusations of fabrication!)

“7) Incapacitated — Drunk or drugged remembering few details.”
So therefore likely to have consented. Because drunk or drugged womn can’t be raped, right? We all learned that off the news.


Seriously, if these were the sort of criteria that McDonnell was using to assess the “unproven” allegations for truth or falsity then it’s small wonder that he came up with a 60% figure for false accusations.

Ultimately, it seems to me that what McDonnell’s study of unproven allegations boils down to is – a bunch of men sitting around with a list of rape myths, ticking boxes. She was drunk and there was no evidence of resistance. False allegation. She had flirted with him in the bar the night before, and he ignored her. False allegation.

What amazes me is that, even armed with a list of rape myths, this bunch of men still managed to believe 40% of allegations that had not been prosecuted or otherwise considered wiorth pursuing by the authorities.

Another thing that is striking is that both Kanin’s and McDowell’s studies are based on such small samples. They each examine only about 500 allegations in total, with Kanin finding 45 cases of false allegations and McDowell finding 80 cases.

By contrast, I just want to finish with the Home Office study Gap or Chasm? That study used case-tracking analysis to investigate 2,643 rape reports. Of these, the police recorded 216 reports as false allegations, that is – about 8%.

It is worth remarking that of these 216 cases recorded as false allegations, there were 39 cases involving a named suspect and six arrests. Two men were charged. This puts somewhat into perspective the grand plaint – WHAT ABOUT THE POOR INNOCENT ACCUSED MEN! – that we hear so often when it comes to false allegations. Only 2 men were falsely charged (0.08% of all rape complaints), only 6 men were arrested (0.23%) and only 39 men were even placed briefly under private suspicion (1.48%). This stacks up with other studies, too – even Kanin records that almost all of the false allegations were weeded out at an early stage in proceedings, usually at the time of or very shortly after the initial complaint. It also shows that in most cases – contrary to what many MRA-types believe – the false allegation is not made for the purpose of revenge, because most women who falsely claim to have been raped do not name an attacker.

Back to those 216 cases recorded as “false allegation”. Further analysis shows some dubious designations by the police. In some, the admission of a false allegation was considered to be suspect. In others, the police had recorded an allegation as false merely because the complainant was drunk, drugged, mentally ill or had previously alleged rape in another complaint. In some cases, the police recorded an allegation as false because of an alibi provided by the suspect’s friend(s), or because the victim’s report contained inconsistencies or untruths. I don’t think I need to say that in my view none of these factors should be taken as determinative – all of these factors are consistent with the complainant having in fact been raped. The authors of this study were able to re-examine 144 of the cases where the allegation had been recorded as false. They found 44 cases where the allegation “probably” was false, 33 where it was “possibly” false and 77 (more than half!) where it was “uncertain”.

Based on this analysis, the total number of false allegations was recalculated at a more realistic figure of 3% of total allegations.

The Home Office report had a large sample, its clear methodolody is fully explained and you have all the information you need to know to understand how the figures were arrived at. All the factors are considered, the experiences of the raped women are taken into account, and the powerful rape myths influencing everyone concerned are understood.

In contrast, both Kanin and McDowell (in fairness to McDowell I have not read his original study so may be doing him some injustice) used small samples, failed adequately to explain their methodology, which appears at least superficially to be suspect, and failed to take into account the experiences of the raped women or the rape myths. Indeed, it seems that Kanin and McDowell may well have been influenced themselves by rape myths, as well as working to perpetuate them.

I know who I believe. Do you?