“False allegations!” is the typical outcry when men, especially powerful ones, are accused of sexually abusing or harassing women or girls. A virtual tidal wave of accusations has swept over our nation in the past few years, with a tremendous groundswell in just the last few weeks. Of course false allegations are sometimes made, but research tells us they are rare, accounting for only 2% to 10% of all reports.[i] The reality is that the vast majority of sexual assaults are not reported. Victims are embarrassed. They may be afraid of retaliation from the abuser, fear they will be accused of lying or perhaps even blamed for the abuse. They know that if they report what happened, it will mean sharing humiliating details with strangers, reliving the nightmare of the assault and perhaps testifying about it publicly.

Men who are accused of sexual misconduct, and their defenders and defense attorneys, nearly always raise the red herring of false allegations in an attempt to discredit their accusers. This tactic plants seeds of doubt in the public’s mind about the veracity of the accuser’s claims. Suggestions of ulterior motives are floated to plant the seeds. She was a willful participant in the sex but is now crying rape for some reason. She fabricated the assault to get attention or cause trouble for the accused. These contrived stories are often believed despite scholarly research establishing that sexual assault claims are rarely based on false allegations.[ii]

When victims are disbelieved or scapegoated, they are deprived of justice, shamed and humiliated. They may not be the only one who suffers when an offender is not held accountable. According to studies of men who commit sexual crimes, they are typically repeat offenders. Most rapists have multiple victims, and repeat rapists usually also commit other interpersonal crimes against women and children. [iii] Those who sexually abuse children have an average of 117 victims.[iv] Persons who choose to ignore the facts and promote the myth that false allegations are commonplace actually help rapists, sexual abusers and pedophiles escape justice and move freely on to pursue other victims.

Reliable research tells us when accusers make false rape claims, their fabricated stories nearly always involve extreme violence, multiple assailants and/or the use of deadly weapons.[v] These are not the types of stories being reported in the media. Those of us who have worked as victim advocates for decades have learned to recognize the ring of truth when we hear it, and we are convinced that many of the accounts being shared are legitimate.

Powerful men who sexually harm women and girls have nearly always gotten away with their crimes because of their authority, celebrity or wealth. Their callous treatment of females is a direct reflection of an entitlement-based belief in their right to take from women or girls whatever they want. This attitude was clearly evident in the recorded words of one accused celebrity who was nevertheless elected President of the United States. Donald Trump boldly stated, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ..Grab them by the pussy!”

The list of other powerful men who have recently been accused of sexual harassment or abuse is shockingly long. Many are accused by multiple women. Among them are actors, entertainment executives, celebrities and politicians, including Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, Ben Affleck, director James Toback, chef John Besh, Amazon’s Roy Price, NBC’s Mark Halperin, Nickelodeon’s Chris Savino, comedian Louis C.K., editor Eddie Berganza, actor Ed Westwick, producer Andrew Kreisberg, actor Andy Dick, NPR’s Michael Oreskes, director Brett Ratner, the New Republic’s Hamilton Fish, Screen Junkies creator Andy Signore, former President George H.W. Bush, hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, Senator Al Franken and news anchor Charlie Rose. The list goes on and on. We don’t know who did what, or if any of these men are falsely accused, but we do know that in all probability, no more than 2%-10% are innocent.

In the U.S. every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.[vi] Every 8 minutes, that victim is a child.[vii] Only 6 out of every 1,000 sexual abusers will end up in prison.[viii] Promoting the myth of widespread false allegations of sexual harassment and sexual abuse is irresponsible in light of these established facts. Doing so demonstrates ignorance and extreme callousness. Those who make such claims should educate themselves and turn their energies instead to the real epidemic – the ubiquitous sexual victimization of women and children.

There will always be those who want to argue, deny or deflect attention from the grim realities of sexual abuse and harassment, but if we allow them to drive the dialog or dim the focus, the abusers win. As Judith Herman, M.D. wrote in her classic book, Trauma and Recovery, “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens. . . It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”[ix] Believing accusers and holding sexual perpetrators accountable takes courage and commitment. It means we must give up the comfort of our denial, acknowledge that our heroes are imperfect (and can even be criminals), listen to the painful stories of victims and stand with them to demand justice. No wonder so many people choose to believe the accused instead of the accusers. It’s just so much easier to do nothing.

[1] False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases

David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, Ashley M. Cote; Violence Against Women, vol. 16, 12: pp. 1318-1334. First Published December 16, 2010.

[1] Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett, Linda Regan; 02/2005; https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=232617

[1] Lisak, David; Miller, Paul M. (February 2002). “Repeat rape and multiple offending among undetected rapists”. Violence & Victims.

[1] Abel, G.G. 1985. The Evaluation of Child Molesters: Final Report to the Center on Antisocial and Violent Behavior. Rockville, MD; National Institute of Mental Health

[1] Policing and Prosecuting Sexual Assault in Los Angeles City and County: A Collaborative Study in Partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Author; Cassia Spohn, Ph.D., Katharine Tellis, M.S.W., Ph.D; February 2012; https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/237582.pdf

[1] Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics; National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014(2015)

[1] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Child Maltreatment Survey, 2013 (2014).

[1] RAINN. Scope of the Problem: Statistics. 2016. 13 February 2017.