False Sexual Assault Claims: The Impact on the Accused

A report by Statistics Canada reveals the rate of unfounded sexual assault reports is decreasing nationally in the #MeToo era. Incidents are considered unfounded when police investigation determines no violation has occurred. This comes as a relief for some who have been caught up in such allegations.

“The fact that it’s decreasing is amazing,” says Jackie, a University of Ottawa student, who asked us not to reveal her last name due to repercutions. 

In 2016, her brother was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate when he was 15 years old. She says he proclaimed his innocence and charges against him were dropped in 2017, when police found the accusation unfounded.

Charlene Clarke, manager of the Records of Information Management department with the Ottawa Police, said the reason charges for sexual assault may be dropped against an individual if there is suspicion the act didn't occur. 

“She had no evidence because there was none,” Jackie says about the teenager who accused her brother.

She says he was taken into police custody, checked for DNA and questioned for six hours before being released. 

“It’s very much traumatizing and very much dehumanizing,” Jackie says. 

Jackie adds the #MeToo movement has the potential to be harmful because of its emphasis on believing those who report, which puts those falsely accused in danger. 

According to study conducted by Statistics Canada, when the #MeToo movement was popularized in October 2017, Canadian police received nearly 2,500 sexual assault reports in November, higher than any other month in 2016 or 2017, according to a Statistics Canada study. There were 20,856 reported sexual assaults in 2016, and 23,834 in 2017.

This particular Statistics Canada study was also launched following the media attention given to sexual assaults in 2017. Police around the country discovered 19 per cent of sexual assault cases were unfounded in 2016, but in 2017 unfounded sexual assault reports fell to 14 per cent.

The #MeToo movement, meant to empower women to share their stories of sexual assault and to illustrate the magnitude of the problem, garnered negative attention when U.S. President Donald Trump alleged some men were “guilty until proven innocent.”

Trump made this comment after his nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of sexually assaulting research psychologist, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, when they were in high school.

At the time, Trump had said it was "a very scary time for young men in America."

However, criminal harassment, indecent communications and threats are the crimes most likely to be unfounded, but sexual assault claims are more commonly misrepresented than physical assaults, according to Statistics Canada.

“I say err on the side of doubt first, and see where it takes you,” Jackie says. 

A report to be published this summer will cover 2018 data for unfounded incidents, but Statistics Canada anticipates unfounded incidents will continue to decrease.