False rape allegations: centuries of disbelief embedded in institutional cultures and practices

The (in)credible words of women: false allegations in European rape research

From Violence Against Women

This research considers the issue of false allegations in rape cases and argues it is important to recognize the ways in which rape law and its interpretation has historically problematized “the words of a woman”. This voice was considered inherently unreliable, hence the need for unique evidentiary rules. Although the explicit discriminatory rules have been removed from the letter of the law in many jurisdictions, the legacies of centuries of disbelief have become embedded into the cultures of Criminal Justice System’s. Institutional cultures and practices, have created a risk of over-identification of false allegations by police and prosecutors. Findings from research in Europe, which showed that the scale of false reporting in rape cases is not higher than for other crimes, were resisted by police and prosecutors demonstrating the contentiousness of not only false allegations but also all allegations of sexual crime. This study concludes by raising the possibility of internationally agreed standards for designating a rape report “false”.

Abstract

The issue of false allegations in rape cases cannot be understood without reference to the ways in which rape law and its interpretation has historically problematized “the words of a woman” when what they were speaking about was sexual violation. Whilst the letter of the law has been reformed in many countries, legacies remain sedimented into institutional cultures and practices, creating a risk of over-identification of false allegations by police and prosecutors. Findings from two European studies on attrition in reported rape cases are drawn on to highlight both the mechanisms and processes which create the category of false allegations, especially the opaque “no crime/unfounded” designation and that CJS personnel believe the rates to be considerably higher than their own data. The article concludes by raising the possibility of internationally agreed standards fordesignating a rape report “false.”

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 Article details

Liz Kelly1 (2010). The (in)credible words of women: false allegations in european rape research
Violence Against Women , 16 (12) DOI: 10.1177/1077801210387748

     
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