True or false? The contested terrain of false allegations

True or false? The contested terrain of false allegations

Liz Wall and Cindy Tarczon

ACSSA Research Summary No. 4 — November 2013
True or false? The contested terrain of false allegations

Key messages

There is ongoing speculation about the prevalence of false allegations of sexual assault, however, without consistency in definition and classification of what actually is a false allegation, accurate measurement of prevalence is difficult.

Assumptions are made about the truth of allegations of sexual assault at various decision-making points in the justice response. These assumptions are based on individual and societal beliefs about gender roles and sexual assault that may not accord with the actual experiences of sexual assault.

The perception that false allegations of sexual assault are common has negative consequences for victims of sexual assault and society more generally by perpetuating victims’ fear of being disbelieved or being blamed for the assault. This reduces the likelihood of reporting.

A more useful approach to considering false allegations of sexual assault is to undertake more contextual analysis of the factors that play into a label of false allegations.

A focus on trying to establish the prevalence rate of false claims of sexual assault is detracting from a deeper analysis of what the term false allegations actually means and what the implications of this are for criminal justice and social policy.

Without a consistent definition and classification of what a false allegation is and without a broader consideration of the social drivers that lead to someone making an untrue allegation or someone labelling an allegation as false, there will be little chance of progress towards a true picture of false allegations.

Instead, an analysis of cultural contexts, gender roles and incorrect beliefs about sexual assault, may contribute to a more useful societal response to allegations of sexual assault.

Authors and Acknowledgements

At the time of writing Liz Wall was a Research Officer with ACSSA and Cindy Tarczon was a Research Officer with ACSSA at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Thanks to Rachel Carson for her helpful advice on earlier drafts of this publication.

Publication details

ACSSA Research Summary
No. 4
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2013.
12 pp.
ISSN: 
2200-2308
ISBN: 
978-1-922038-36-4
Suggested citation:

Wall, L., & Tarczon, C. (2013). True or false? The contested terrain of false allegations (ACSSA Research Summary). Melbourne: Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

AIFS news

Get the latest news about our publications, research and upcoming events.

Subscribe