Much mention has been made recently (mostly by men) of false rape accusations, and how frequently they occur. During Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony last week, several senators apologized for the damage supposedly inflicted by these claims (which, by affirming their belief in Kavanaugh’s denials, they implied were false) on Kavanaugh’s life and reputation. In an editorial for the New York Times, opinion columnist Bret Stephens, after misinterpreting a statistic regarding the prevalence of false rape allegations, wrote: “Falsely accusing a person of sexual assault is nearly as despicable as sexual assault itself. It inflicts psychic, familial, reputational and professional harms that can last a lifetime. This is nothing to sneer at.”
But how common are false rape allegations, really? What constitutes “false?” And what evidence is there of the “psychic, familial, reputational and professional harm” suffered by those people on the other end of those accusations? The Cut spoke to Joanne Belknap, a sociologist, criminologist, and professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and to Sandra Newman, a novelist with extensive research expertise in false rape allegations.