What Can You Do if Someone Falsely Accuses You of Rape?

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It is an ugly reality, but it is known to happen: petty people misusing the very serious charge of rape as a way to gain an upper hand, get revenge, or otherwise harm another person. The results of such a false accusation can be devastating, even if the person wrongfully accused is ultimately acquitted. So, what can the innocent person do in such a case? What are the consequences to the false accuser?

Unfortunately, the topic of rape is so touchy that many are unwilling to do anything about a false claim. Some prosecutors side with the false-accuser even after the evidence clearly reveals that the claim is false, believing it could be an honest mistake, a difference of opinion regarding consent, or a cry for help from someone suffering in other ways at the hands of the one they wrongfully accused. Moreover, prosecutors and law enforcement do not want actual rape victims to fear possible criminal sanctions for reporting legitimate rapes if it later becomes impossible to prove the case. As a result, very few false claims are ever prosecuted criminally.

Still, the consequences of a false report of rape can be devastating to the life of the one accused. Often, the mere suggestion that a person has done something is enough to convict them in the court of public opinion. With websites that feature arrest mug shots and identify charges, there is no way for a wrongfully accused person to protect their reputation. This can have life changing effects, lead to loss of employment opportunities, public ridicule, and emotional harm.

As a result, it is usually possible for one wrongfully accused of rape to fight back. Typically, one will have to wait until they are exonerated, but once proved innocent of the false accusation, some jurisdictions allow them to bring a civil suit against the accuser. Notably, this action cannot relate directly to anything that was said or done in the criminal prosecution, as that is generally protected by the litigation privilege. But, false statements to police, to the media, or to family and friends may give rise to civil liability. Additionally, in jurisdictions that recognize a civil cause of action for perjury, if the accuser provided false testimony, either in person or via affidavit (such as a police report) this may also form the basis for additional relief.

In 2011 in Maryland, a man was awarded $852,000 and full custody of his children after he was able to prove that his ex-wife had falsely accused him of sexually assaulting their daughters. The ex-wife had accused the man of sexually assaulting the children in order to gain an advantage in a custody dispute. This led him to lose his job and find it almost impossible to obtain another for 5 years while he fought the legal battle to clear his name. While much of the damage done by the false accusation can never be undone for the wrongfully accused man, the verdict does send a clear message that such conduct cannot be tolerated in the American legal system.

If you have been wrongfully accused of rape or another sexually based crime, you should immediately contact an attorney. Not only will you need assistance in clearing your name in the criminal matter, you may need help pursuing remedies against the wrongful accuser. However, given the nature of laws protecting victims of rape, it will be a very difficult and highly technical legal battle to show that the accuser did not simply lack sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually engaged in malicious conduct designed to harm the reputation of the accused and subject him to possible criminal sanctions.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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