The Washington Times
When the rape rap is phony
August 10, 1994
Byline: By Alan Dershowitz
In Detroit recently, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber and Jalen Rose were all accused of sexual assault. The accusations made major headlines since all three are basketball stars. Smaller stories have now disclosed that all charges have been dropped against the ballplayers. In the Coleman case, the prosecutor announced that no charges would be brought because DNA testing of semen taken from the woman and her clothing "showed conclusively that Coleman was not the source." The exotic dancer who filed that sexual assault complaint against Webber and Rose recanted the charges and admitted she made up the whole thing.
These cases are but the tip of a large iceberg of false accusations of rape made by women for personal gain. A scholarly article, recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior by a Purdue University sociologist, reported on a nine-year study conducted in a small metropolitan area and additional studies conducted in two large universities. The data show that more than 40 percent of the forcible rape complaints turn out to be "false." The definition of false as used in the study is, "t he intentional reporting of a forcible rape by an alleged victim when no rape has occurred." Indeed, it includes only cases in which the complainant herself "admitted they are false."
In about half of the false charges, the complainant was using the rape charge as an "alibi" - to avoid the consequences of a consensual sex act. A typical example is a young unmarried woman who had consensual sex with her boyfriend and was afraid she had become pregnant. She then claimed that she had been raped by a stranger. In another quarter of the false cases, "revenge" was the purpose. For example, a 16-year-old fabricated a charge of rape against her boyfriend when she discovered he had been going out with someone else. In 18 percent of the cases, the false charge was an attempt to get attention or sympathy. For example, a 40-year-old woman cried rape in an effort to seek attention and sympathy from her post-divorce counselor because she "liked him."
The university studies showed similar results, both in terms of numbers of false reports and reasons. Indeed the author of the report concludes that the methodology "leaves us with a certain confidence that cases declared false by this police agency are indeed a reasonable, if not a minimal, reflection of false rape allegations made to this agency." The report also expresses confidence in the university data since the taking of the complaint and the follow-up investigation was the exclusive responsibility of a ranking female officer and no complaint was declared false "without a recantation of the charge."
Although it is dangerous to generalize from a small number of studies, these results have been corroborated by others. For example, back in 1987, New York sex prosecutor Linda Fairstein told an interviewer that "there are about 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan. Of these, about half simply did not happen." In her 1993 book, "Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape," Ms. Fairstein dramatically lowered this figure to 5 percent without explanation. The FBI reports that approximately 8 percent of rape cases are "unfounded." According to the Purdue report, "Some feminists virtually deny the existence of false rape accusation and believe that concept itself constitutes discriminatory harassment towards women."
But objective data show that the problem of false rape reports is a serious one, and that the percentage of false reports in rape cases is considerably higher than the percentage of false reports for other violent felonies. One reason for this disparity is that the police rarely prosecute women who deliberately file false rape reports. Indeed, even the identity of such false accusers is often kept secret.
Richard Padzieski, the head of operations for the Detroit prosecutor's office, told my assistant that although there is a statute punishing the false reporting of felonies, his office has no current intention of prosecuting the two women who falsely accused the basketball players. Indeed Mr. Padzieski, who has been with the office for 29 years, does not remember a single case in which the district attorney brought charges for a false rape accusation.
No wonder Derrick Coleman is angry. I hope he and the other ballplayers - as well as all victims of the serious crime of being falsely accused of rape - take whatever legal recourse is available to them, including pressing criminal charges and bringing civil suits where the facts warrant such action. The time has come to stop patronizing calculating women who use rape accusations to serve their own selfish interests. Women who deliberately bear false witness hurt not only the men they falsel y accuse, but the many women who are true victims of the unspeakable crime of rape.
Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, is a nationally syndicated columnist.