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One in Three Criminal Sexual Assault Allegations are Unfounded, Studies Suggest

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Approximately one-third of sexual assault allegations in the criminal setting are unfounded, according to recent studies and statistical analyses.

As reported by the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, the findings reveal alarming trends about how the criminal justice system handles sexual assault allegations and are prompting a renewed focus on fairness and due process. As the numbers show, rates of unfounded assault claims are exceedingly high, though the exact percentage of unfounded claims can vary by jurisdiction:

  • Police in an unidentified Midwestern city concluded 41% of 109 rape allegations were false.
  • Police in a southeastern state concluded 25% of 351 allegations were unfounded and 54% were uncertain.
  • Police and prosecutors in Denver estimate roughly 45% of rape allegations to be false.

The findings are supported by two national-scale analyses, including one from the Founders of the Innocence Project that estimates a 20%-40% range for unfounded allegations based on FBI data regarding inconclusive DNA testing and another from the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office which found 28% of sexual assault allegations in the military to be unfounded.

Some other compelling data:

  • The rate of unfounded sexual allegations is higher in college settings than in criminal settings (40%-50%).
  • Wrongful conviction risks are most pronounced in cases involving black defendants and white victims.

In an effort to reduce wrongful conviction risks in sex crime cases, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity is calling for end of “victim-centered” investigations that can bias the investigative process and strip defendants of their right to be presumed innocent.

Read more from the Center for Prosecutor Integrity.