The fear of getting falsely accused of rape just doesn’t compare to the fear of an actual rapist getting away with his or her crime.  Statistics from Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010 and FBI reports.  NOTE (2/6/13):  As so many people continue to visit this site and share this convo-graphic, we’ve updated this post to include the context from this post.


As a wife, mom, survivor, and regular person until Monday morning, I am overwhelmed and astounded by the reaction and response to the “Truth About False Accusation” infographic, and encouraged by the dialogue that has emerged as a result of it.  Thank you to each and every person who shared it, debated it, loved it, and hated it.

We accept and encourage debate on this and any future infographics released by The Enliven Project.  Given the massive amount of media coverage and online discussion about it, I wanted to provide some additional – and more well-thought out – context to the purpose of the graphic and The Enliven Project, as well as to address a bit of criticism about the data we used.

The purpose of this graphic is to compare (primarily men’s) fear of being falsely accused of being a rapist to the many challenges around reporting, prosecuting, and punishing rapists.

Two key figures drive that point home:

  • A reporting rate of 10%
  • A false reporting rate of 2%

The other decision we made was to present data that fell within documented ranges, rather than reflect the findings of a particular report, because of the inherent challenge in collecting data on this issue.  Said another way: at the moment, an argument could be made that every source is flawed in some way.  The reason we pursued a composite approach instead of relying on one study was exactly to spark discussion about the underlying data and definitions, and – perhaps most importantly - the current challenges in data collection.

For example – here are a handful of challenges that we encountered while putting together the infographic and, as a result, some limitations of the infographic itself:

  • The federal data provides arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates on forcible rape only, NOT other forms of sexual violence.
  • Until 2012, the federal definition of rape was limited to penetration of a vagina by a penis.  Therefore, 100% of rapists would have to be men.
  • The difference between a false report (how data is counted and being falsely accused (the fear at the individual level).  Lonesway, Archembault, and Lisak, the authors of the article from The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, use the following definition: A false report is a report of a sexual assault that did not happen (i.e., it was not completed or attempted).”  The report goes on to discuss the challenges of defining whether the assault in fact didn’t happen or whether investigators or prosecutors decide that it did not happen based “simply on their own views of the victim, the suspect, and their credibility.” Individuals who are falsely accused of rape outside of the justice system would not be counted in this figure.

Despite these admitted flaws, here’s what’s not disputable:

  • Rape and sexual violence continue to impact men, women, and children across the country and around the world.
  • Fewer than 100% of rapes are reported to the police because social, emotional, and legal barriers still exist.
  • Sexual violence has an enormous emotional and financial cost to our society, and many bystanders don’t even know they are being affected by it when in reality, they are.
  • Individuals, foundations, employers, and the government do not invest deeply enough in awareness, prevention, intervention and recovery.
  • Our justice system isn’t perfect.  Sometimes innocent people are charged.  And sometime guilty people go free.  That doesn’t mean that men and women aren’t being raped and sexually assaulted.  It means there are improvements that can be made all around.

Finally, there is something that this graphic does NOT represent.  And that is the impact of false accusation on an individual’s life.  The purpose of the graphic was to put the FEAR of false accusation in perspective, not to discount the very real impact that a false report or false accusation has on someone’s life.

We certainly plan future infographics and have learned from this overwhelming and humbling response that visualizing these issues can be quite powerful, and careful sourcing and stating assumptions up front is also important.  Our primary goal – and that of The Enliven Project as a whole – was to start a conversation that desperately needs to be had in our country.  We’ll let others decide whether or not we were successful on this front.  However, in the future, the kind of analysis and background information provided here and below will be made available at the time the infographic is released so that there are no misconceptions about our intent and message.

Breakdown of Graphic and Statistics

1,000 Rapists (technically 1,000 rapes as pointed out by Slate, a distinction we missed in an effort to bring some reality to the numbers.)

Of those 1,000 rapes, we applied a 10% reporting rate (100)

Of those 100 reported rapes, we show 30 faced trial (this includes those that were jailed). This is 30%.  Faced trial, for the purpose of this graphic, uses composite data reflecting the terms prosecution, arrested, and faced trial.

Of the 100 rapes brought to trial, 10 are jailed. This is 10%.  Or, of the 30 rapes prosecuted, 10 are jailed. This is 33.3%.

Of the 100 rapes reported, 2 are false accusations.  The 2% false accusation rate was applied only to the number of reported rapes.