In 2007, there were 255,630 incidents of rape and sexual assault in the United States (BJS, 2008a). Of those, 90,427 were forcible rapes (FBI, 2008c). This represents one forcible rape occurring somewhere in the United States every 5.8 minutes (FBI, 2008a). Persons in the age group of 12 to 19 were raped and sexually assaulted at a significantly higher rate than any other age group (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000; BJS, 2008b).
Of the 90,427 forcible rapes reported in 2007, 40% were cleared by arrest or "exceptional means" (FBI, 2008d) with 23,307 of those being arrests (FBI, 2008b). Clearance of a report by exceptional means occurs when the known suspect dies before an arrest is made, when the victim refuses to provide the information or assistance necessary to follow an investigation through to an arrest, or when the known suspect is being held in another jurisdiction for a different crime and extradition is denied. In order to clear a case by exceptional means, the officers must have an identified suspect, know where he can be found, and have enough evidence for a legal arrest.
Degrees of "Not True"
A certain percentage of rape complaints are classified as "unfounded" by the police and excluded from the FBI's statistics. For example, in 1995, 8% of all forcible rape cases were closed as unfounded, as were 15% in 1996 (Greenfeld, 1997). According to the FBI, a report should only be considered unfounded when investigation revealed that the elements of the crime were not met or the report was "false" (which is not defined) (FBI, 2007).
This statistic is almost meaningless, as many of the jurisdictions from which the FBI collects data on crime use different definitions of, or criteria for, "unfounded." That is, a report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship. Similarly, a report might be deemed unfounded if there is no physical evidence or too many inconsistencies between the accuser's statement and what evidence does exist. As such, although some unfounded cases of rape may be false or fabricated, not all unfounded cases are false.
The term "unfounded" is not a homogeneous classification and, to date, there is not a formalized, accepted definition of "false rape allegations." Certainly, the designation of false accusation should not include those situations in which the accuser was raped but unintentionally identified the wrong person as the alleged perpetrator. The definition of false allegation of rape cannot be limited to the situation in which the victim recants the accusation. There are women who were truly raped but for any number of reasons choose to recant. On the other hand, there are women who were not raped but do not recant their accusation....