Many consider rape to be one of the most vile acts in modern society, and rightfully so. A victim’s life is permanently changed as a result, often times leaving deep emotional scars and posttraumatic stress.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of actual rape in any way, but many have looked at the American legal system and wondered: what should be the punishment for falsely accusing someone of rape?

People have argued for decades about how many rape accusations are actually false. The Department of Justice reported that in 1996, eight percent of all rape accusations were “unfounded,” meaning they were baseless or false.

The most viable argument for holding serious legal consequences is that every time someone lobs a false rape accusation, it takes away from the argument that we really do have a problem in this country with violent sexual assault. Many rape victims never even seek help or seek justice because they are worried no one will believe that the rape actually occurred.

A 2007 study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice which surveyed several thousand college students in the South and Midwest found that 21 percent of physically forced victims and 12 percent of incapacitated victims did not report the crime because they did not think the police would take them seriously.

As the laws stand right now in the U.S., 97 percent of all rapists don’t serve jail time and receive no punishment, according to the non-profit organization Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). But on top of that, RAINN also reports that 54 percent of rapes are never even reported to the police. Activist groups such as RAINN should be for the legal punishment of people who falsely report rape.

In theory, if there was a punishment, such as jail time for false accusations, then it would happen less. In turn, we would take accusations more seriously and more assaults would be reported.

But if such a law was put in place, would this chain reaction actually happen? Probably not.

The United Kingdom has aggressive laws against false rape accusations. Those who make false accusations can be charged with “perverting the course of justice and wasting police time.” A charge which can carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

An activist group known as Women Against Rape (WAR) claimed in 2014 that 109 women had been prosecuted for false rape accusations by the Crown Prosecution Service. Spokespeople from WAR told Time magazine that the U.K. is the most aggressive country when it comes to prosecuting women who make false rape accusations. WAR also affirmed that police do not put in the necessary work to catch rapists.

WAR has a legitimate point. If the 97 percent of rapists who don’t serve jail time is true, then we do have a serious problem that too many rapists are not brought to justice.

Just look at Brock Turner, a highly publicized case. He was found guilty of three felony charges, but was only sentenced to six months and served three.

Now this is no fault of the police in this case, but it shows the general problem with the criminal justice system. Yes, WAR is correct that our courts in that case, and likely many others, are too soft on rapists. But if we were to take rape as seriously as we should, shouldn’t we take false accusations seriously as well?

It does seem strange to prosecute someone for simply uttering a false statement, but when it carries the weight that a rape accusation does, it makes sense that some sort of consequence is necessary.

A life sentence is certainly over the top since most rapists don’t even face that, but could some sort of punishment be beneficial? Being the victim of rape can ruin someone’s life, but being sentenced, or prosecuted for a crime you didn’t commit can make life difficult as well.

Elliot Weld can be contacted at

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