The fear of false accusations of sexual assault and violence seems bizarrely ever-present in the minds of men across Western civilisation. Most frustratingly, I’ve most often seen the topic brought up in response to concerns about sexual assault, and it tends to be used as a method to speak over those coming forward. Instead of showing empathy to those subjected to sexual assault, they ask, “What about the men who have their life and careers ruined by false accusations? Those women should face jail time!” You would think, with the amount of times it gets brought up in conversation, that we were facing an extreme surge in false allegations, but this fear is unfounded and irrational. Statistically, false allegations of sexual assault are extremely rare. In a study by the CPS, they estimated that 0.6% of all rape allegations were false, and this didn’t include all those which didn’t make it to court (and most false allegations assumedly wouldn’t make it to court).* However, we also need to remember the wider context of many complaints of sexual assault being withdrawn (sometimes mistaken for being false accusations) due to the trauma-inducing processes of the police, courts and criminal justice system, sexual trauma impacting on wellbeing/an individual’s ability to continue with a case and fear of the perpetrator/(s).
Now, of course, false accusations can happen, just as with any crime. This can be insensitive to and damages the integrity of all those who come forward about sexual assault - but this happens at the same rate for all types of crime. Why aren’t men terrified of being falsely accused of theft, or murder, or anything else? Why are they so determined to believe that women are out to ruin their lives and reputation?
There is such an obvious imbalance between the severity of the crimes of slander and sexual assault that it seems bizarre to equate them; to compare the hurt caused by a ‘false allegation’ and the hurt caused by real sexual assault, and to prioritise protecting men from false allegations over protecting those subjected to sexual abuse. In fact, men are more likely to be subjected to sexual abuse by a man, than be falsely accused of sexual assault.* Surely, this is a more important issue to be focused on, rather than narratives which seek to silence those subjected to sexual violence and abuse?
It seems that fears about false accusations have largely coincided with a greater social awareness of the sheer amount of sexual assault that occurs, as a result of social movements such as #MeToo. 57% of American adults have said that the rise of #MeToo has made them equally concerned about false allegations against men as they are about sexual assault itself.* 60% of men are reportedly scared to mentor women in the workplace for fear of false accusations.* These men seem to think that a culture which listens to women will result in their own societal mistreatment. The media does not help the frenzy of fear in this regard, often seeming to engorge the reality of false accusations by highlighting rare stories of false accusations, instead of the reality.
This narrative may also be due to a denial of what actually constitutes as sexual assault and violence on the part of many men, and a refusal to be held accountable for their own behaviour. These are the kind of men who themselves behave questionably towards women, and therefore question whether coercion, silence, threatening behaviour should be treated seriously by the law, as this would put themselves in trouble too. They reduce the accusations to being the result of ‘woke’ culture, say that men ‘can’t do anything right anymore’, and mourn the days when their behaviour wasn't checked nearly as much.
Ultimately, the idea of false sexual assault accusations would not logically be terrifying to anyone who respects and has a better understanding of women as people. We know all too well the courage and strength it takes for women to disclose about being subjected to sexual violence, and we know the backlash, suspicion and victim-blaming that she is all too often met with. There is a severe prevalence of victim-blaming and shaming in our society, that often leaves those reporting sexual abuse vulnerable and under scrutiny, at risk of feeling humiliated and responsible. It is already horrifically difficult to gain true justice in rape and sexual assault cases; during 2021-2022, only 2% of crimes resulted in a conviction.* It is a ridiculous notion to fear that women would put themselves in this position and lie about sexual abuse, just to ruin a man’s life, when the chances of him getting convicted are already very low.
In a world that already treats those subjected to sexual assault and violence unjustly, we do not need to be putting more scrutiny on individuals coming forward by worrying over the very rare few who are falsely accused. Instead, the solution is, as it always has been, to listen to women and their experiences.
- E. Brean