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False rape allegations aren't so rare

By Bettina Arndt - posted Friday, 20 October 2023


Remember how the Brittany Higgins case blew up when a juror brought into the jury room an academic paper discussing the frequency of false allegations of sexual assault? That broke the rules prohibiting jury members from accessing outside material relevant to the case.

Yet the significance of this extraordinary event, which led to the mistrial of one of Australia's most sensational rape cases, has passed largely unnoticed.


The myth that women hardly ever lie is a central plank of the feminist mythology about sexual assault which now underpins our justice system. That makes it absolutely vital for feminists to maintain the fallacy that false allegations are statistically extremely rare.

Boy, have they done a great job in promoting that mistruth. The mantra that false allegations hardly ever happen lurks as a dangerous subtext in every sexual assault case hitting the courts in Australia. Bruce Lehrmann's lawyers are currently preparing for next month's defamation battle against Network 10, Lisa Wilkinson and the ABC over their coverage of the criminal case last year. But still The Guardian is determined to push the feminist line, recently running a headline claiming that Network 10 lawyers "seek to use evidence of rarity of false rape complaints".

(Just to bring you up to date re that defamation action, set for Nov 22, there's good news for Lehrmann as Higgins appears to have gone missing, along with a promised sworn version of her account of events, and Wilkinson continues to fight Network 10 over whether they will indemnify her. It's not looking good for the media group, facing a lengthy 4-week trial, missing their star witness and the ABC on the nose with the public after it was revealed they'd paid out $1.94 million of taxpayer funds on legal costs over the last four years.)

But what about that evidence on rarity of false complaints? Well, it's not hard to guess what Network 10 experts would trot out. A piddling 5% of rape allegations are found to be false, they would claim. That's the party line and you'll find it promoted everywhere.

Look at this extract from a fact sheet (pdf) giving Victorian Police's advice on misconceptions about sexual offending:



"Guys, you can stop worrying about false rape allegations. They're extremely rare," trumpeted the ABC's Hack program, pitched at young people. Only 5% of reports are false, they explained.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently pronounced that we do not have a major problem with men being falsely accused of sexual assault, claiming:

"statistics show false complaints of sexual assault are incredibly rare – a 2016 meta-analysis of seven studies of rape allegations in four Western countries put confirmed false police reports at 5 per cent."

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About the Author

Bettina Arndt is a social commentator.

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