Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


Survey: Over 20 Million Have Been Falsely Accused of Abuse

WASHINGTON / December 17, 2020 – A recent national survey conducted by YouGov reveals 8% of Americans report being falsely accused of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or other forms of abuse. The 2,407 survey respondents were representative of the U.S. adult population. The 8% figure represents 20.4 million adults.

In 62% of cases, the false accusers were reported to be females. Often, the false allegation was made in the context of a child custody dispute — 27% of cases.

Similar percentages of falsely accused persons were seen among the various age groups, racial/ethnic categories, and geographical areas. In other demographic categories, however, substantial differences were unearthed.

The survey found a sharp gender divide – 11% of men, compared to 6% of women — reported being falsely accused.

Declining percentages of false accusations were observed according to the level of educational attainment. Persons with no college reported higher numbers (8%) than persons with college degrees (7%) or post-graduate degrees (3%).

The exception to this declining trend was noted among persons with “some” college education, with 11% reporting that they had been falsely accused. This higher percentage may reflect the fact that many accused students are expelled, or chose to leave, before they are able to graduate.

Further analyses of the data reveal:

  • Higher numbers were seen among persons with incomes under $40K (12%), compared to adults with incomes of $40K-80K (7%) or over $80K (8%).
  • Substantially higher percentages of false accusations were noted among persons in a civil partnership (15%), compared to persons who were single (9%), divorced (9%), or married (7%).

False allegations were fairly evenly distributed across the four abuse categories. Asked, “Has anyone you know ever been falsely accused of ______?”, respondents answered as follows:

  • Domestic violence: 17%
  • Child abuse: 17%
  • Sexual assault: 16%
  • Other form of abuse: 11%

False allegations represent a serious threat to justice. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, false allegations and perjury are the most common contributing factor to wrongful convictions, constituting 59% of such cases (1).

False allegations harm the social standing, career prospects, and mental health of the accused; diminish the credibility of future victims; and undermine the integrity of our legal system. Lawmakers are beginning to enact legislation designed to deter false accusations, such as New York State’s “anti-Karen” law (2).

At universities in the California State system, Student Conduct Procedures delineate that, “a Complainant who knowingly and intentionally files a false Formal Complaint or any individual who is determined to have provided false statements or information during the investigation/appeal review shall be subject to discipline in accordance with the Student Conduct Code.” (3)

This survey is believed to be the first on this topic ever undertaken. The respondents consisted of a nationally representative sample of American adults aged 18+. Fieldwork was undertaken September 23-25, 2020.  The survey was carried out online. This survey was conducted using an online interview administered to members of the YouGov panel of persons who have agreed to participate.

According to the U.S. Census, the American population estimate as of July 1, 2019 was 328,239,000 persons, of whom 22.3% were under 18 years of age, leaving 255,041,700 persons 18+ years (4). Eight percent of that number is 20.4 million persons.

The full survey results can be viewed online (5). The Center for Prosecutor Integrity urges prosecutors, lawmakers, college administrators, and others to work to end the current epidemic of false allegations.