July 26, 2015

False Allegations in Criminal Cases – The Rape Case

Executive Summary:

False allegations are seen in several types of cases and are very problematic for police since extensive investigation must be conducted to corroborate the victim’s allegations. A great deal of resources can be wasted in these investigations since the alleged crime never took place. One study indicated that false rape allegations constituted 41% of all forcible rape cases in one police department. There are indicators of false allegations that may help police and experts determine whether a crime took place.

Frequency of False Rape Allegations – The Kanin Study

A study of rape allegations over a 9 year period at the police department of a small metropolitan community by Sociologist Eugene Kanin indicated that 41% of a total of 109 forcible rape cases were false. The cases were determined to be false when the women admitted that no rape occurred.[1]

Mr. Kanin identified three motives for these cases:  1.] Alibi – need a plausible reason for a sexual encounter;  2.] Revenge – seek to retaliate against a male who has rejected them;  3.] Attention/Sympathy – feelings of inadequacy.[2]

False Allegation Indicators:

The following are indicators that an individual might be making false allegations. This is usually observed when a female claims to have been raped or assaulted, but has also been observed in police officers, and others with stressful jobs or personal situations: 1.] Recent problems with self image/self esteem;  2.] Recent bouts of depression and/or feelings of worthlessness;  3.] Increased stress due to marital, personal, financial and/or employment problems;  4.] Recent feelings of guilt for perceived or real failures in life;  5.] Bizarre scenarios in which there may be self inflicted injuries, usually not serious;  6.] Past treatment for psychiatric or other mental problems;  7.] Alleged victim or person gives very general description of individual making threats or extremely detailed description;  8.] Previous record of being attacked or receiving threats, either written or telephonic;  9.] Attempts by alleged victim to steer interviewers into safe topics or those that tend to gain sympathy;  10.] Alleged victim or person receiving threats does not want to take a polygraph.

Case Example:

A young female who has just been engaged goes to a bar with friends and meets a male acquaintance who is listed as a “friend” on her social network page. They spend some time together at the bar. She and her friends decide to continue the party at the apartment of a friend. The male acquaintance is invited to go to the friend’s apartment. The alleged victim continues to drink alcohol and falls asleep on a couch in the apartment. The next morning, she awakes next to the male “friend”. She leaves the apartment and returns home. About ten hours later, she contacts police and files a rape complaint against the male “friend”. She does not remember much about the alleged assault since she claims she was under the influence of alcohol.  A rape kit is prepared at a local hospital and an arrest warrant is issued for the male acquaintance who is arrested for First Degree Rape. He claims sex was consensual. He is unable to bond out of jail so is incarcerated for over one year.

An expert is requested to review the case to determine whether this might be a false allegation case. The expert’s opinion was that a rape never took place and that sex was consensual.

This opinion was based on the following:  1.] Victim delayed reporting the alleged crime to police for 10 hours;  2.] Victim could recall very few details of the assault;  3.] The alleged perpetrator continued to be listed as a “friend” on victim’s social network page months after the alleged rape;  4.] Victim’s recent engagement could have been in jeopardy if this alleged crime had not been reported to police as a rape;  5.] There were no injuries to victim consistent with being raped.

This case was settled before trial. The defendant served approximately 16 months in jail, pled guilty to assault, and was sentenced to time served.


Police and expert witnesses should be aware of the potential for false allegation in criminal cases since these cases take a lot of time and resources to resolve. There are several indicators of false allegation cases and these may be used by police and experts to determine whether or not the allegations are true, a fantasy of the alleged victim, or motivated by some other reason.

About the Author:

Dan L. Vogel is Forensic Consultant Expert Witness based in Oklahoma City. He has 27 years of Federal law enforcement experience and has testified as an expert in Federal and state court. Pro Bono work is performed on a case by case basis. He is currently a member of the Consulting Committee, The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. 405-615-6877


[1]              Hazelwood, Robert R and Burgess, Ann Wolbert, Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation, Third Edition, CRC Press, 2001, pages 187-188.

[2]              Ibid. page 187.