The recent hysteria over sexual assault has resulted in some delicious comeuppance for some of the most self-righteous among us. The best example of this is Lena Dunham.
In August, Dunham tweeted: “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.” When someone responded, pointing out that “10 percent of all rape allegations are false,” Dunham modified her claim, writing: “The actual number, while hard to track, is much closer to 3%.”
Dunham’s claim is dangerously misleading, as the number of “false accusations” refer only to reports that have been filed with police and proven to be false. Seeing as it’s nearly impossible to prove a negative, this number is likely lower than it should be.
This percentage (whether you believe it’s 2 percent, 3 percent, or 10 percent) doesn’t apply to accusations that can’t be proven one way or the other. The same studies that found 2 percent (or 7 percent in the example I’m using for the following numbers) or so to be proven false also find that another 8 percent are “unfounded/baseless,” meaning they don’t meet the criminal level of offense or were improperly coded as sexual assault.
Another 18 percent are considered “informational” and don’t meet the definition of a crime. Another 29 percent are labeled “suspended” because there wasn’t enough evidence to say a crime occurred. Another 18 percent involve identifying a perpetrator but something “beyond the control of law enforcement” keeps them from making an arrest, such as a lack of victim cooperation.
A chart linked to the study I cited above breaks down what happens after an arrest is made. One-third of those cases are rejected by the prosecution, another 21 percent are dismissed with all charges dropped, and another 2 percent are dismissed without dropping the charges. Two percent went to trial and were found “not guilty,” a third resulted in a guilty plea, 6 percent went to trial and were found “guilty,” and another 3 percent were classified as “other.”
So using the same logic as Dunham and others who flaunt this statistic, one would only be able to say that a smaller or equal number of accusations turn out to be “true” (as in, someone pled guilty or was found guilty at trial). But Dunham and others imply that the statistics mean 98 percent of accusations are definitely true, thus we should never doubt one.
Those of us who follow the explosion of accusations on college campuses against young men have wondered what would happen if Dunham herself, or someone close to her, were accused of sexual assault. It turns out she’d abandon that “women don’t lie” claim real quick. When her “Girls” writing partner Murray Miller was accused of sexual assault last week, Dunham defended him. She and “Girls” executive producer Jenni Konner wrote that Miller was the victim of a “misreported” accusation.”
After intense backlash (and a reminder of what she once said), Dunham apologized for the timing of her statement. It’s still likely she believes Miller was falsely accused. It’s very easy to take sides when something happens to other people, but when it happens to you or someone close to you, that can change. Dunham learned this the hard way.