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Being Victim Centered By Challenging the Misperceptions of False Reports

Within SARTs and their communities, there can be a wide variety of viewpoints held regarding issues of sexual violence. Often, misperceptions and prejudiced thinking clouds systems responders’ process of working with victim/survivors and lead us away from being victim centered. One key misperception that appears regularly is the “false report,” or the idea that a person intentionally reports a sexual assault when none has occurred.

So, what can you do about it? This is where the work of the SART comes in! Start challenging damaging assumptions by defining the terms, providing accurate information, and educating your partners about options.

  • Define and Clarify Report Types. A false report is when evidence from an investigation proves there was no crime. Other types of reports, from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report distinguishes between “unfounded” and “baseless” reports. Unfounded means after an investigation has been conducted, there is a determination that no crime occurred. Baseless is when an investigation finds that a crime occurred but (1) doesn’t meet the legal definition or (2) there is insufficient information. “Unsubstantiated” is sometimes used when an investigation fails to prove a sexual assault occurred.
  • Give a Reality Check. National research shows only 2-10% of sexual assault reports are false; this rate is similar to all other crimes. Many things influence the bias of the “false allegation” against sexual assault victims, including being “uncooperative” with law enforcement, intoxication at the time of assault, or inconsistency of statements—all of which correlate with trauma. Provide these reality checks for folks.
  • Focus on the Real More importantly, ask folks to focus on the inverse of that 2-10% statistic: 90-98% of reports are from victim/survivors who need help, resources, and justice. Through focusing on the 90-98% statistic, you start by believing which can change the current under-reporting and under-investigation.
  • Educate and Evaluate. Bias against sexual assault victims can lead to inadequate investigations, especially when it comes to non-stranger assault. Lack of education, personal opinions, or acceptance of myths all contribute to bias. Help your systems personnel understand bias, review their classification process, and create standards of accountability for the investigation and classification processes. Encourage the use of techniques like the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview or examine the thoroughness of investigations and classifications of sexual assault cases through case review.

 Do you have other tips and strategies for challenging the misperceptions about false reports on your team? Questions for your fellow SART leaders?  Leave ‘em in the comments!