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Rape: Too Hard to Report and Too Easy to Discredit Victims

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 16 Issue: 12 Dated: December 2010 Pages: 1335-1344
Joanne Belknap
Date Published
December 2010
10 pages
In critiquing the methodology and findings of a study in this journal issue that examined the prevalence of false allegations of sexual assault ("False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases," D. Lisak et al.), this article discusses racism, classism, and the construction of false rape allegations; the role of the legal system in classifying rape allegations as false; and psychological factors in reporting rape victimizations.
Although David Lisak and his colleagues provide much needed data on false rape allegations, their findings should be cautiously interpreted. Although the researchers coded the false allegations consistently with the law enforcement officials involved in the cases, this does not ensure an accurate assessment of the case, given the multiple, shifting factors involved in the dynamics of a given rape allegation. It is possible that some victims might have decided they could not face the pressure of pursuing the allegations, particularly in the face of the public's widely held rape myths regarding victims, the socioeconomic status of the alleged offender in the community, and racial issues that may emerge. It is also significant that the Lisak data are from one university, whose student-body racial composition is unknown. Also, the race/ethnicity of the complainants and defendants is not considered, nor the specifics of the victim-offender relationship. These are important factors in determining the dynamics and outcome of a given rape case. Two well-publicized rape cases are reviewed in order to illustrate the importance of these factors. 33 references