Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


One-Third of Sexual Assault Allegations in the Criminal Setting Are Unfounded. Call for Renewed Focus on Fairness and Due Process.

WASHINGTON / May 10, 2021 – Analyses of sexual assault allegations in the criminal setting reveal approximately one-in-three are unfounded. Black men are at especially high risk of unfounded allegations. Reports reveal the exact percentage of such claims vary by jurisdiction:

  1. Using data from an unidentified Midwestern city, Purdue University professor Eugene Kanin reported that the police department concluded that 41% of 109 rape allegations were false (1).
  2. A 2016 study conducted at a police department in a southeastern state concluded that 25% of the 351 allegations were “unfounded,” with another 54% classified as uncertain. Only 21% of the cases were “Cleared by Arrest,” meaning the police forwarded the case for possible prosecution (2).
  3. Colorado prosecutor Craig Silverman revealed, “Any honest veteran sex assault investigator will tell you that rape is one of the most falsely reported crimes that there is. A command officer in the Denver Police sex assaults unit recently told me he placed the false rape numbers at approximately 45 percent.” (3)

Two analyses have been conducted at the national level:

  1. Innocence Project founders Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck revealed: “FBI officials report that out of roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases since 1989, about 2,000 tests have been inconclusive (usually insufficient high molecular weight DNA to do testing), about 2,000 tests have excluded the primary suspect, and about 6,000 have ‘matched’ or included the primary suspect.” Depending on how “inconclusive” DNA results are classified, 20-40% of all sexual assault cases were determined to be unfounded. (4)
  2. The DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office analyzed sexual assault allegations in the military and found a steady increase in the percentage of cases deemed to be “unfounded” or with “insufficient evidence of any offense to prosecute.” In 2018, the percentage of such cases was 28% out of 2,854 reported cases (5).

Black men are high risk, especially when the complainant is a White female. The National Registry of Exonerations found that “a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white sexual assault convict.” (6) Professor Matthew Johnson furthermore reveals, “This increased risk of wrongful conviction is most pronounced in Black defendant/White victim cases, where the prevailing sense of moral violation is commonly heightened among the largely White public.” (7) The 1990 wrongful convictions of five Black men, known as the Central Park Five, is a well-known example of this troubling problem (8).

In the college setting, the percentage of unfounded sexual assault allegations is higher than in the criminal setting, in the range of 40-50%. (9)

In the past, sexual assault activists insisted that unfounded accusations are rare. In her book, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, Susan Brownmiller asserted that only 2% of sexual assault cases are false (10). This claim was refuted when it was revealed that her statistic was based on a casual comment made by a judge at a bar association meeting (11). Legal scholar Michelle Anderson likewise reported, “no study has ever been published which sets forth an evidentiary basis for the two percent false rape complaint thesis.” (12)

To reduce the risk of wrongful convictions of sexual assault, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity is calling for an end to the use of so-called “victim-centered” investigations. Also known as “trauma-informed” or “Start By Believing,” such investigative philosophies vitiate the presumption of innocence (13) and bias the investigative process (14).