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Statistics on rape are common in western countries and are becoming more common throughout the world. They are, however, highly politicized and they have been accused of being unreliable because they are so diverse and are used by different groups for different reasons. This is partly because of inconsistent definitions of rape in both legislative and academic studies. However, it is also because of underreporting and false reporting of the crime, which may in fact cancel eachother out. In the United States rape is defined differently by separate states. In many legistatures in the world some non-consensual sexual acts are not defined as rape at all. They may be considered legal, or as an illegal form of sexual assault.

These factors lead to accusations that all rape statistics are unreliable. For example, male-female rape in particular is a highly politicized issue, leading to the polemical use of questionable statistics.[1] According to USA Today reporter Kevin Johnson "no other major category of crime - not murder, assault or robbery - has generated a more serious challenge of the credibility of national crime statistics" than has rape.[2]

A United Nations statistical report compiled from government sources showed that more than 250,000 cases of rape or attempted rape were recorded by police annually. The reported data covered 65 countries.[3]


According to the 1999 United States National Crime Victimization Survey, only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement officials. For male rape, less than 10% are believed to be reported. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 government report in England says "Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 per cent of rape crimes are never reported to the police."[4]

Rape-related advocacy groups have suggested several tactics to encourage the reporting of sexual assaults, most of which aim at lessening the psychological trauma, often suffered by rape victims following their assault. Many police departments now assign female police officers to deal with rape cases. Advocacy groups also argue for the preservation of the victim's privacy during the legal process; it is standard practice among mainstream American news media not to divulge the names of alleged rape victims in news reports.

Psychologists who research female-male, and female-female rape suggest that significant under-reporting of these crimes is occurring. They suggest that the double standards in perception that exist between male and female rape, the taboo nature (see incest) of some female rapes, and the lack of rapist-gender reporting in many jurisdictions contribute to this alleged under reporting in the United States. Canadian researcher Linda Halliday-Sumner suggests from the slowly emerging information about female sex crimes that women commit less than one third of all sexual offenses. She notes that, in Canada, just 19 of 4545 (or just 0.4%) federal prisoners convicted of sex offenses were women in 1997.[5]

False reportingEdit

A contemporary American textbook on rape investigation observes that "little is published which addresses the issue and concept of false allegation." There is no standard definition and cases where the victim recants the accusation may be classified as false allegations, along with cases where investigation shows an accusation to be false. [6]

A 1997 article in the Columbia Journalism Review dealing with the debate surrounding false reporting, noted that wildly different figures, from 2% to 50% of all rape reports, have been presented:[7]

"... one explanation for such a wide range in the statistics might simply be that they come from different studies of different populations... But there's also a strong political tilt to the debate. A low number would undercut a belief about rape as being as old as the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife: that some women, out of shame or vengeance ... claim that their consensual encounters or rebuffed advances were rapes. If the number is high, on the other hand, advocates for women who have been raped worry it may also taint the credibility of the genuine victims of sexual assault." [7]

In her work, "The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault", Michelle J. Anderson of the Villanova University School of Law states: "As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown."[8] The FBI's 1996 Uniform Crime Report states that 8% of reports of forcible rape were determined to be unfounded upon investigation,[9] but that percentage does not include cases where an accuser fails or refuses to cooperate in an investigation or drops the charges. A British study using a similar methodology that does not include the accusers who drop out of the justice process found a false reporting rate of 8% as well.[10]

In 1994, Dr. Eugene J. Kanin of Purdue University investigated the incidences, in one small urban community, of false rape allegations made to the police between 1978 and 1987. Unlike those in many larger jurisdictions, this police department had the resources to "seriously record and pursue to closure all rape complaints, regardless of their merits". The falseness of the allegations was not decided by the police, or by Dr. Kanin; they were "... declared false only because the complainant admitted they are false." The number of false rape allegations in the studied period was 45; this was 41% of the 109 total complaints filed in this period. The figure of 41% forms a lower estimate of the total number of false rape accusations given to the police during this period. It is unlikely that a significant number of valid rape complaints were recanted. All accusers were told that false accusations were a crime and that they faced prosecution upon recantation. An accuser could have simply dropped the case, without formally recanting, and would not have faced the possibility of prosecution. It is possible, however, that some false accusations were never recanted and even resulted in a conviction. In Dr. Kanin's research, the complainants who made false allegations did so (by their own statements during recantation) for one or some combination of three major reasons:

  • providing an alibi. Dr. Kanin's report describes a woman who got into a bar fight and, fearing that this might prevent her from regaining custody of her children, filed a rape complaint to account for her injuries.
  • a means of gaining revenge. Dr. Kanin's report describes an 18 year old woman who engages in consexual sex with a boarder staying at her house. After he refuses to continue their relationship she accuses him of rape.
  • a platform for seeking attention/sympathy. Dr. Kanin's report describes a woman who becomes attracted to her therapist and in an attempt to elicit sympathy from him fabricates a story of rape and is subsequently pressured by him to report it to the police.

Dr. Kanin also looked at the police records of two large midwestern state universities and found that, of the 64 rape accusations, 32 (50%) were eventually recanted. Unlike the city police in the other study, the university police did not use polygraph examinations and the investigations were all performed by female officers. This figure also forms a lower estimate of the total number of false accusations reported to the police during this period and it is similarly possible that there were false accusations that were never recanted and resulted in convictions. However Kanin warns against reading too much into his results: "Certainly our intent is not to suggest that the 41 percent incidence found here be extrapolated to other populations, particularly in light of our ignorance regarding the structural variables."[11]

It is possible that a woman could use a claim of rape to try to escape consequences for her own sexual choices. In a 2007 case, for example, a woman named Tracy Denise Roberson is accused of falsely claiming rape in order to avoid being discovered as an adulterer.[12][13]

Rape statistics are like all statistics, they are based upon human reporting or other data sets. Like all statistical data there are therefore critiques of them, but they are one way of measuring sexual violence.


  1. The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability, Laura Kipnis, 2006; False rape accusations may be more Common Than Thought, May 2, 2006, Wendy McElroy
  2. Rape statistics not crystal clear November 19, 1998
  3. The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2001 - 2002) - Table 02.08 Total recorded rapes
  4. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Without consent: A report on the joint review of the investigation and prosecution of rape offences, January 2007 accessed at [1] April 5, 2007 - p.8
  5. Female Sex Offenders, by Linda Halliday-Sumner
  6. Hazelwood, R. R., & Burgess, A. W. (2001). Practical aspects of rape investigation: a multidisciplinary approach. CRC series in practical aspects of criminal and forensic investigations. CRC Press. ISBN 0849300762 - p.178
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Elusive Numbers on False Rape November/December 1997
  8. The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault Forthcoming
  9. Crime Index Offenses Reported 1996
  10. A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases Home Office Research - February 2005
  11. Kanin's Study
  12. includeonly>"In bizarre twist, wife indicted after husband shot her lover", Associated Press, March 30 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-02.
  13. includeonly>"Wife charged after husband shoots her lover", Dallas Morning News, March 30 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-02.


  • Macdonalds, J. (2007). Rape. In The World Book Encyclopedia. United States of America: World Book Inc.
  • Rape (2007). In The New Encyclopædia Britannica (Vol. 9). Chicago, Il.: Britannica.
  • Howard, Angela & Kavenik Francis. (2000). Handbook of American Women's History. CA: Sage Publications Inc.

External links Edit

Statistics on sexual violence and reportingEdit

How to report rapeEdit

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