CNN has reported the latest undeniably false rape accusation story, and it follows the standard template.
-Male(s) accused of sexual assault have reputation ruined forever.
-Police find glaring problems with accusers story.
-Accuser is unnamed by press, wrongfully accused are named and pictured
-Police or district attorney decline to charge false claim maker.
-Sympathetic line for accuser's emotional well-being.
-All justified by saying real victims might be discouraged from reporting.
To this I ask one question. What value do we place on those potential case reports?
We've all been told that real rapes are under reported. As terrible as that is, we have to compare that to how many false reports are made and what damages that does.
From Tawana Brawley to the more recent Duke lacrosse case, false accusers have walked free after creating some pretty big messes that could have put their victims in prison for decades. Once free, those found guilty will have to register as sex offenders and face further social costs for the rest of their lives.
What's unknown is how large a slice of the real reported rapes would go unreported if these criminal cases were pursued. It's just assumed that the damage to society would be more than the benefit of discouraging further false reports.
While the percentage of false reports is hard to measure, there are credible reports of 25 percent and higher. Whatever the exact number is, each one is a tragedy. Each represents the life of the victim - the falsely accused - that is marked with shame for all eternity. Even if found innocent, the accused are still distrusted in some circles.
Forgotten here is the damage from false accusations to real rape victims. They certainly haven't benefited from a watered down definition of rape, a view that rape is a normal, or a society that tolerates false accusers, which leads to legitimate accusers being treated with suspicion.