Graph of the day: why do we keep hearing about the threat of false rape accusations?

This graph, put together by the Enliven Project using Department of Justice  and FBI data, is super depressing. But it puts in stark visuals something a lot of us know: it’s way more likely for a rapist to walk free than for the rape to be reported or for someone to be falsely accused of rape. So can we stop with media and MRA obsessions over the drummed up threat of fake rape accusations? Can folks please stop assuming everyone who actually speaks up  is lying when real rapists are getting away with it all the time?

Infographic showing number of rapists, reported rapists, those who face trial, those jailed, and those falsely accused

Via the Washington Post.

Update: Amanda Marcotte fact checks the graph, which has some issues with how it interprets the data.

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Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Josh

    Soooo… in every case where the accused was acquitted, we are to assume the judge/jury got it wrong and someone should have actually gone to jail? Is that what we’re saying? Because otherwise I am confused as to how it is that “faced trial” and “falsely accused” are groups that necessarily exclude one another. Sometimes even people who go to jail are falsely accused and convicted (but I know Feministing’s faith in the justice system is so rock-solid that you all would never buy that, right?). Even people who have been reported but didn’t face trial may have been falsely accused for all we know from this image.

    Pretty lousy infographic really.

    • Syndl

      This infographic would be better served if it had some sources for its data, or even numbers correlating to the percentages. However, I’d just like to comment that there are a number of reasons reported rapes might not ever go to trial and why trials might not convict that don’t have any bearing on guilt. The victim could decide not to pursue a trial, there may not be enough evidence to arrest, the perpetrator could be evading arrest. Trials can be stopped on an acquittal (which does not indicate innocence or guilt), voluntary dismissal or involuntary dismissal. Perhaps some of those were falsely accused. We’ll never know. However, anyone who has ever been assaulted or knows someone who has, could probably tell you about the mountain that has to be climbed not only to report the assault, but to have the strength to face an attacker in court while being villified by the media/public. We need to make the reporting process less stigmatic for the victims with better support.

    • McGrath

      Josh: Your Straw Man is a sad and predictable choice. The data in the graphic is layered, not linear. The need to have this perfectly drawn out speaks loudly of your ability to grasp the intended message as well as reality. Please come back to us when your mind is able to work with more information than a graphic of 1000 stick figures can produce.


    • Jessika

      The infograph, like most infographs, is used to create an open and informed discussion. If you want more information, I suggest you follow the links that are provided. It goes deeper into the topic, and answers your questions.

      If you follow the links, you will end up at:

    • ellestar

      An accused rapist not spending time in jail does not mean that he or she was falsely accused. It doesn’t even mean that he or she was found not guilty. Many “first-time” sexual offenders are sentenced to probation or other correctional measures that do not include jail time.

      Also, by the time a case gets to trial, this means that there was enough evidence/proof for police to believe the victim and investigate AND enough evidence for a prosecutor to try the case. Many prosecutors, even when they believe a victim about sexual assault, do not pursue trials because they feel there might be a reason for a jury not to believe a victim (married to/dating the offender, drinking, the victim being a prostitute, for some examples). The fact that a case gets to the trial stage even in our society so permissive of rape culture often is a testament to the validity of the accusations. Furthermore, juries may completely believe that a victim was raped, but believe that the prosecution is trying the wrong person.

      Do some cases of sexual assault where the victim is falsely accusing someone occur? Probably. No one is saying that we should convict every single person accused of rape or sexual assault without a trial. However, according to these data, the number of those falsely accused in relation to the amount of women who experience rape shows that a great deal of the problem of rape is not that women falsely accuse men of rape, but that so few women get justice for the crime committed against them.

    • Joe

      Just because you were found Not Guilty, does not mean you are innocent. Lots of criminal cases (not just rape) are thrown out due to technicalities…no reliable witness’s, ineffective prosecution, unreliable evidence. All of those are reasons for a miss-trial or loss of a trial. None of them have to do with the fact that the person who is on trial is guilty or not. Just because a rapist is acquitted does not mean that they were falsely accused. Were they guilty or not….we will never know…all we know is that there was not enough evidence to convict.

      Its only a false accusation IF the person being accused can prove that the accuser is lying.

      • Lamech

        “Its only a false accusation IF the person being accused can prove that the accuser is lying.”

        Erm… no. That’s completely inane. You do not need to be able to prove something for it to be true. Its fully possible for someone to falsely accuse someone, but no one is able to prove it due to “no reliable witness’s, ineffective prosecution, unreliable evidence” or other reasons.

        Unless you meant that false accusations were only counted if it was proved false. In which case I ask: source? Also that would reflect badly on the infographic.

  • Brüno

    Women whom falsely accuse men of rape not only harm the men they accuse, but also the women whom are reape survivors. I guess thats why we keep hearing of it?

    • boudledidge

      EY BRUNO: The point is that women aren’t falsely accused at the rate YOU think they are. These mythical life-rending happenings in which women have wrecked the lives of men (oh, and other women – how deep of you to think of that!) don’t actually happen at the rate that rape-deniers say they do.

      The reason we keep hearing of it is because idiots like you keep perpetuating this myth. And I better not read something in reply about your friend’s brother’s boss’s cousin’s neighbor.

      • Dan

        Duke university lacrosse team.

        It’s easy enough to be sure that one isn’t a rapist; it’s much harder to be sure that one isn’t going to be falsely accused. That’s why the .2% or so in the bottom corner bothers me personally about as much as the mere 1% or so in the top right.

      • Brüno

        Only a small minority of women suffers rape in her lifetime. Or are shot to death. Is the urgency of something now tied to its frequency?

        • redsky

          One in five is not that small a minority. It equates to millions of people. Incidentally women are not the only people who get raped.
          If you really can’t see the urgency of this issue I wonder what exactly you’re doing here.
          Are you the same Bruno who defended Daniel Tosh after that rape joke incident?

  • Joshua

    Josh. It doesn’t take much just to click the link and read the sources. However, I’ll save you the effort and forward what they say on the data:

    * Some reports suggest that only 5-25% of rapes are reported to authorities. Other suggest that close to half are reported. We assumed 10%, which is dramatic, but possible.

    * Of the rapes that are reported, approximately 9 are prosecuted.

    * Of the prosecuted, 5 result in felony convictions. This is across the board for all felony prosecutions, not just rape.

    *Assuming that 2% of reported rapes are false and a 10% reporting rate, the graphic assumes that 2 of 1000 rapes are falsely reported (assuming a rape can’t be falsely reported unless it’s reported in the first place)

    Not all criminal trials end in a conviction with time or acquittal. Some are plead down. Some are dismissed due to not enough evidence (as is the case with many rape cases). In some cases, the survivor can’t continue through the abusive and ugly process till the end.

    The math is an extrapolation. There’s no quantitative study here, and it’s the best one can do given the circumstances. Feel free to create your own model which, no matter how you cut it, will still equate to a startling number of people getting away with rape.

    • Joshua

      And, just to follow up, here’s another swing at the numbers that takes into apparently more accurate account false accusation numbers, and distinguishes the fact that rapes are often perpetrated by repeat offenders.

      • Emily Millay Haddad

        To clarify, my revision of that infographic actually depicts false reports, not false accusations, and I chose to conservatively depict that information at the top of the range (2-8% or reports, or .09-3% of all estimated rapes) in order to avoid derailing conversations about exaggerating the findings. I could not find meaningful, specific data about false accusations (when a person is named as the rapist in the report, as opposed to the majority of false reports which name no one and often vaguely describe a stranger), so I chose to depict false reports instead in order to try to align with the data without making (even reasonable) logical leaps.

        If you’d like to read my full post about my thinking about this graphic and my revision of it, I invite you to visit my site here.

  • ELot

    The comments section on this page and especially the Washington Post’s is so disturbing, yet completely unsurprising. (Don’t read the WP’s if you’re already triggered like I was.)

  • Kalen T

    While I understand that infographics are meant to make their points in very direct, visual, and memorable manners, I do think these sorts of infographics could benefit from a break down and interpretation of the data they’re representing, as well as further discussion on researching rape/crime stats itself. According to their website, ” The purpose of the illustration – and of The Enliven Project – is to provoke new kinds of conversations about sexual violence.”

    I’d say they’ve definitely achieved their purpose, yes; however, I don’t find it a solid argument in and of itself. If this is a conversation we need to be having, we need more than a sobering shock to the system.

    Often I find myself distrusting infographics on the basis of how the data is compiled/methodology, from what sources, if these sources are reliable/current, what/where/when is the context, and what questions/definitions/parameters are they using? The details may not be as important as the overall impact of their implications, but they still matter. I’m definitely the type of person who has to see *all* the math in order to ‘get it’.

    Tracking back to the particularities on the infographic by the Enliven Project, this line sticks out: “One of the key challenges about sexual assault statistics is that it’s nearly impossible to gather accurate and consistent data about incidence and prevalence.”

    I could ask ‘Why?’, but in reality, I know it’s due in part to mainstream rape culture — rape is still shameful/tied to the Puritanical mores, it’s still a woman’s fault for not doing XYZ.

    Knowing this, is there any way in which we could design or find a way to solidify these numbers, get accurate, concrete data that isn’t tied up in rough estimations/additional assumptions and hypothesizing? How do we begin to achieve accurate data/bolster our evidence while remaining sensitive to survivors and their experiences? I understand there will always be critics, but that doesn’t mean that feminists can’t make our case that much stronger and demanding that much more attention from everyone, even the critics.

  • Jemma Howitzer

    SIGH. It pisses me off that over such a NON-CONTROVSERIAL image,
    1) all of the comments thus far are from men
    2) Who are outraged on behalf of the rapists.

    bugger off back to mens rights, seriously.

  • Name Required

    Anyone see the irony in labelling the unreported as “Rapists”? That’s rape accusation right there. (Especially in the sense that no conviction, no trial and no report occurred. )

    There may be members in that group that that are being falsely accused.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Way to miss the point, Y-affiliated name handles. Nice “whut about teh menz” there, especially given the graphic does not specify the gender of rapists in it’s breakdown.

    Right now I’m listening on the radio how they want to FLOG a 19 year old rape victim in Maldives, (I think they said someone from Feministing is one of the people talking about rape culture in this discussion?) among all the other recent cases in New Delhi, California, Steubenville Ohio. This graphic makes an important point that fucking needs to be said no matter how many detractors get all whiny and defensive.


    • Lamech

      “Nice “whut about teh menz” there, especially given the graphic does not specify the gender of rapists in it’s breakdown.”

      Which comment did you think was a “whut about teh menz”?

    • allan kanadi

      The source actually does specify that this chart is referring to men only; it was based on findings from when the law defined rape in such a way that only men could be charged with that crime, while female rapists would get the lesser charge of sexual assault.

  • Dman

    I find it very interesting how you all seem to be applying the “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” to the “Victims” but not equally so to the accused. It appears that the purported “Victims” in this graph are automatically given the benefit of the doubt that they could not falsely accuse someone of such a heinous crime, which is as it should be. However it seems that none of the accused are given the same “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” assumption. Rather it seems that by this graph and the comments here none of the people accused in your eyes have any shred of innocents.

    If I remember my law classes correctly (what few I took in college before I changed my major) the responsibility to provide proof/evidence of accusations false entirely on the accuser and not on the accused as all accused are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. This would work both ways. The person (or defense team) making the accusation of rape is responsible for producing the evidence to support said accusation. On the flip side when the accused is attempting to show that the accuser falsified their claim of rape it them false on the one make the accusation of falsification to prove that the claim was falsified.

    Also this graph is very deceptive. I would like to know where the statistic on the unreported rapists is coming from. Also how would they know that the accused unreported rapist is actually guilty of rape and therefor deserving of the title of rapist.

  • Laurie

    In the past couple months, the word rape has been hijacked and WHY… because the “women belong in the kitchen campaigners” feel so emboldened as to outright state that those who report rape are often faking and that pregnancy never occurs as a result of rape. It’s hard for me to stand up publicly and say that I am a survivor of sexual violence but maybe if more and more of us did… these rape minimizers wouldn’t have the gusto to make these kind of remarks on the world stage let alone in their own homes. I’m sure that sexual violence has touched someone they know and that having know that, those comments would’ve been a lot harder to make.

  • Benjamin Chevalier

    If someone claims they were raped, and the accused goes on trial but is found innocent, how is it that that is not considered falsely accused? 22 men are found not guilty when accused of rape, but 2 are considered to be falsely accused. Explain to me the logic.

    • redsky

      It’s quite simple. Went to trial and found “not guilty” because rape could not be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. It does not mean that no rape occurred. The legal term is “not guilty” rather than “innocent”. It means “We can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that this person committed this crime.”
      In the case of rape this generally means that sex could be proven to have occurred but that the element of non-consent could not be proven. That is, the perpetrator’s defence is that “S/he wanted it” or “S/he did not say no” and so on.
      A rape prosecution is a difficult, lengthy and unpleasant process. False claims of rape will generally be discovered long before the trial stage.

  • Benjamin Chevalier

    According to this graph, there is a 99% (10 people of every 1000 were jailed according to this graph) chance I could rape someone right now and get away with it. Fact: 2-8% of all reported rapes are false accusations. This graph says only 0.2% were false accusations.