Why Would a Woman Falsely Accuse Someone of Rape?

Reader’s Question

Your expert opinion is requested on this subject: why would a woman falsely accuse someone of rape? A discussion on this subject came up during a conversation at a Thanksgiving get-together. My response was that a woman may want to get revenge or to get attention. Since I am not an expert and would not like to say that statement again if it was not true, your reply would be helpful.

Thank you for your time.

Psychologist’s Reply

A Thanksgiving Day conversation? I thought people talked about food and football. Anyway, why would a woman falsely accuse someone of rape?

Let’s begin our discussion by recognizing that falsely accusing someone of rape is a serious if not extreme behavior. From a legal standpoint, it’s a criminal act — like falsely accusing someone of murder, robbery, child abuse, etc. It’s also an extreme act due to the significant consequences that follow such an accusation, which may include criminal investigation, incarceration, attorney fees, and even prosecution. Individuals who falsely accuse someone of rape have a variety of agendas/reasons, some of which may be related to their personality while others may be related to specific situations. Here are some of the general reasons we see a false accusation of rape:

For Revenge
The rape accusation is an extreme and criminal way of punishing someone. This situation can be found in romantic relationships and even marital situations.
To Break Up a Relationship
A false rape accusation against a step-father/boyfriend by the step-daughter may be an attempt to break up mother’s romance.
To Gain Legal Advantage
A false accusation of rape/sexual-abuse is often used in court to gain a legal advantage in child custody cases or divorce actions. The accusations are dropped when the accused individual agrees to legal terms demanded by the accuser.
For Attention
This is a severe/extreme attention-seeking strategy often seen in individuals with significant personality or mental health problems.
To Deflect Responsibility
A false accusation of rape is often used in an attempt to avoid responsibility for sexual activity, as when a pregnant teenager makes accusations of rape rather than admit that she’s sexually active to her parents.
For Blackmail
A false accusation of rape can be a criminal strategy to blackmail, extort, or threaten an individual. We have seen this frequently with celebrities with the accuser offering to settle out of court for money. In this situation, most file a civil suit or use a media accusation rather than file a criminal charge in an attempt to avoid their own criminal charges for filing a false felony report.
As a Dysfunctional Relationship Strategy
Emotionally unstable or Personality Disorder individuals (see my introduction to personality disorders) may use false accusations of rape to gain the attention of a partner. This is one of several extreme strategies they hope will actually improve a relationship by legally forcing the accused individual to interact/talk with them. In this dysfunctional relationship strategy, the accuser has a fantasy that the extreme act will somehow prompt a positive change in the relationship (it doesn’t!). Other examples of these strategies include faking pregnancy, theatrical suicide gestures, and faking a serious or terminal illness. False accusations of rape are almost always an extreme strategy of some kind with a reason that is specific to the individual or the situation.

I can’t wait to hear what your family and friends talk about over New Year!

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