Wash. Post Helps Perpetuate Myth That False Reports Of Rape Are Widespread

Campus sexual violence

A Washington Post article about sexual assault on college campuses failed to provide crucial context about how rare false reports of these incidents actually are.

After the White House formed a task force in January to address the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, a wave of bipartisan efforts to address the problem have pushed the issue into the national spotlight.

In the August 20 article, the Post discussed the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses by centering the issue around how those accused of the crime were “fighting back against what they call unfair disciplinary systems and publicity that threatens to shatter their reputations.” The Post also aired concerns from “some of the accused” that the nationwide push to curb campus sexual assault “has led to an unfair tipping of the scales” against alleged perpetrators.

But at no point did the Post report that the rate of false reports of sexual assaults is low. Most rigorous research puts the rate at between 2 percent and 8 percent, according to a recent report published by the National District Attorneys Association's National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women.

Studies like the recent national survey conducted for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have also found that colleges not only routinely fail to investigate sexual assault allegations, but when they do, some institutions actually “afford certain due process elements more frequently to alleged perpetrators than they do to survivors.”

The perpetuation of the myth of widespread false reports has serious consequences. According to the White House report on sexual assault, this myth in particular “may help account for” low rates of both the reporting of sexual assault and arrests of perpetrators:

Many factors may contribute to low arrest rates, and these cases can be challenging to investigate. However, research shows that some police officers still believe certain rape myths (e.g., that many women falsely claim rape to get attention), which may help account for the low rates. Similarly, if victims do not behave the way some police officers expect (e.g., crying) an officer may believe she is making a false report -- when, in reality, only 2-10% of reported rapes are false.