Police officers’ perceptions of false allegations of rape

Lesley McMillan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
5356 Downloads (Pure)


The idea that women lie about rape is a long standing rape myth with little or no supporting evidence. Previous research has demonstrated a belief in high levels of false allegations among police officers, despite no evidence to suggest rape is falsely reported more than other crimes. This has implications for complainants’ willingness to report sexual violations, for the treatment of complainants within the justice system, and wider societal understandings about what constitutes rape. The data that informs this paper comes from an Economic and Social Research Council-funded study that focussed on rape attrition and the institutional response to rape. Forty in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with serving police officers in a UK force who regularly deal with reported cases of rape, and explored perceptions, practices and processes around rape. The research found police officers’ estimate of false allegations varies widely from 5 to 90%. The paper will discuss how police officers make judgements about perceived veracity of complainants in rape cases. This will demonstrate that whilst significant progress has been made in how police officers and police forces respond to rape, gender stereotypes about women as deceitful, vengeful and ultimately regretful of sexual encounters, continue to pervade the thinking of some officers. It will show that police officers differentiate between ‘types’ of reports they consider to be false, and operate with a notional ‘hierarchy’ of presumed false allegations that ranges from vengeful/malicious to mistaken/confused, with a corresponding reducing level of culpability attributed to women for the supposedly false allegation. It concludes that this serves to reinforce a culture that both supports and reproduces gender inequality and its manifestation in the form of sexual violence, and that intervention, training and institutional and policy frameworks are not wholly successful in addressing sexual violence in this context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-21
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Issue number1
Early online date22 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2018


  • gender
  • police officers
  • false allegations


Dive into the research topics of 'Police officers’ perceptions of false allegations of rape'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this