The Reality (and Rarity) of False Sexual Assault Allegations: Background information when reading The Liar

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The Liar

by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen X
The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 288 pages

    Aug 2020, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

The Reality (and Rarity) of False Sexual Assault Allegations

This article relates to The Liar

Print Review

The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen features a character, 17-year-old Nofar, who makes a false claim of attempted rape as payback against a man who verbally abuses her in an ice cream parlor. Though it's a compelling premise that leads down a horrifying road for all involved, this isn't the kind of book that should be read as an allegory for the #MeToo movement—on the contrary, it should be evaluated solely within its fictional context. Though false accusations of sexual assault do occur, Nofar's story is a far cry from the norm.

Assault statistics graphic demonstrating paucity of sexual assault convictions from RAINNIt's a commonly cited fact that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported; a study by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002 claims that approximately 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, while studies from 2010-2016, collected by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) suggest that number could be as high as 77 percent. Furthermore, RAINN breaks down the consequences of those that are reported: If 1,000 sexual assaults occur and 230 are reported to the police, 46 of those lead to arrest, nine get referred to prosecutors, five lead to a felony conviction, and only 4.6 perpetrators will be incarcerated. In comparative studies, it was revealed that rapists are less likely to go to prison than perpetrators of any other crime.

There's a common misconception that women often lie about being raped, and it's a myth that stems from a number of fallacies: that women accuse celebrities of rape for fame and money; that it's easiest to cry rape when you regret having sex; that a lack of proof means the accused is automatically innocent. According to Stanford University's MAAN (Men Against Abuse Now) initiative, only two percent of all rape accusations are false; the exact same percentage as for all other major felonies. "Put another way, we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she says she was robbed, but for no good reason," explains a representative from MAAN. A study done over a 10-year period at Northeastern University suggests the percentage of false accusations could be higher, but places the figure at only 5.9 percent. Because of the imprecise nature of studies like this, the range of 2-10 percent is generally accepted.

However, that 2-10 percent is probably inflated, says the NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Some of the studies that have been done through the years did not have a clear definition of "false allegation," and certain circumstances ended up erroneously falling into this category, including instances where there wasn't sufficient evidence, there was a delay in reporting, a victim did not cooperate with the investigation or there were inconsistencies in the victim's statement, none of which are conclusive proof that an assault did not occur.

The lack of willingness to believe women who claim to have been raped goes hand in hand with their reluctance to report rape to the police; women who do report this crime are often met with scrutiny and suspicion. NSVRC also reports that sexual assault victims are hesitant to come forward for a multitude of reasons that range from psychological to neurological: they may be unable to remember exactly what happened, they could worry about the impact on their family and friends, the process of undergoing a rape kit examination could be too invasive. The fact that the physical response to trauma is often to repress it is inconvenient in a crime where reports are met with demands for proof and accusations about not coming forward soon enough. NSVRC calls for a more nuanced education of sexual assault for all law enforcement involved in these reports; a better understanding of typical behavior in a victim is essential in cultivating a society where women can feel comfortable coming forward about assault.

Sexual assault statistics graphic, courtesy of RAINN

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Rachel Hullett

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Liar. It originally ran in October 2019 and has been updated for the August 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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