In the aftermath of Rolling Stone's flawed story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, there has been a rush of concern in certain quarters over the supposed male victims. People have been claiming that Jackie, the UVa student at the center of the story, is part of a trend in false rape reports.
The idea that women are deceptively "crying rape" is not something new. But besides misrepresenting what we know about Jackie's case -- no one with knowledge of the alleged incident has stated that an assault did not happen and the Charlottesville, Virginia, police told HuffPost that they're still investigating -- it misses two key truths.
False rape reports are rare. And the men and boys who are victims in sexual assault cases are far more likely to have been the targets of abuse themselves than to have been falsely accused of sexual violence.
According to a 2010 paper from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 percent of gay men, 47 percent of bisexual men and 21 percent of heterosexual men in the U.S. "have experienced sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives."
A compilation of research at 1in6.org, an advocacy group for male survivors, suggests that at least 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse before age 18. The key caveat: The numbers are likely higher in reality because male victims are less likely to disclose their abuse than female victims.
False accusations that men committed rape look to be far less common.
David Lisak, a leading sexual assault researcher and consultant to colleges and the military, has found false rape reports to be about 8 percent of the total. An analysis of research on false rape claims by Lisak, San Diego Ret. police Sgt. Joanne Archambault and End Violence Against Women International's Kimberly Lonsway put the figure somewhere between 2 and 8 percent. Yet another study from the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom concluded that false reports constituted about 6 percent of rape allegations. Twenty-year-old data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics put the number of unfounded rape reports at 8 percent, thought not all unfounded reports are necessarily false.
How that percentage might change if women felt more comfortable reporting sexual assault is unclear. But many never report what happened to them. A Department of Justice study from 2000 found that fewer than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of collegiate women are reported to police, and that figure drops for other forms of sexual violence.
"This is where we need to be careful that we don't just let the squeaky wheel get the grease," said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women.
The fact that sexual assault against males is more common than false accusations of males committing sexual assault is "ironic," Maatz said, but she noted this is why Title IX, the federal law that requires colleges to deal with sexual violence and harassment, is gender-neutral.
"Title IX is supposed to improve the climate and ensure anyone who goes to college has the same opportunity at an education," Maatz said. "That to me is what colleges are all about. I wish colleges could understand this is a tool that they should be embracing."