One of the hot-button issues related to rape is just how many reported rapes are in fact false allegations. It is difficult to get a handle on this in the United States, since the closest statistic that is recorded is unfounded reports of rape, but an unfounded crime can be a number of things aside from simply a false allegation. Ontario, Canada, is one of the few places, to my knowledge, that is actively tracking the incidence of false rape allegations.
The National Post‘s Christie Blatchford recently described how police forces in Canada use a computerized system called the Violent Criminal Linkage Analysis System (VICLAS). More than four years ago, Ontario passed a law mandating extensive recording of violent crime in the province (police forces in other provinces use the system, but only Ontario mandates it suse by law).
As such, Ontario tracks not just unfounded rape cases, but also tracks outright false sexual assault allegations. Province-wide, the system reports that about 5.7 percent of all such allegations are false. A very small percentage, but in the four years of using the system, that accounts for 2,235 sexual assault allegations that later turned out to be false.
In British Columbia, which has been keeping similar statistical track of violent crime, 6.7 percent of sexual assault allegations have turned out to be false. Again a small percentage, but still enough to generate 986 false reports.
Meanwhile, analyses of incidents involving a Toronto police squad that restricts itself to handling major rape cases where the assailant is unknown to the victim, a whopping 30 percent of cases — 69 out of 232 cases — turned out to be false.
The system has managed to capture a number of people who have made numerous false allegations of sexual assault. The National Post, for example, described the plight of 34-year-old chef Jamie Nelson. Nelson was accused of sexually assaulting a woman and spent almost 3 years in jail. His accuser’s name, however, was later retried and acquitted after the database revealed that his accuser had a habit of making false allegations of assault.
As Nelson’s lawyer, Todd Ducharme, said, “This is a cautionary tale for anyone who suggests that people who make allegations of sexual assault must be telling the truth because why else would they go through the process?”
It would be an interesting experiment to deploy a computerized system like this in several U.S. states and see if rates of false allegations are similar to those in Canada. At the very least, it would be good to have solid numbers rather than just speculation on the false sexual assault allegations in the United States.
Crying wolf. Christie Blatchford, The National Post, September 8, 2001.
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