Consent, alleged allegations, sexual assault: news stations across the country talk about these issues at length nearly every single day. It’s so pervasive that it seems like every week there is a new scandal, a new victim, and a new abuser. However, every so often we will hear stories of people who were accused of crimes they never committed: in other words, a victim of false accusation. Today, we will explore the psychological reasons as to why someone would make false accusations against another person.
The Psychology of a False Accusation
We can break down false accusers into two separate categories: intentional and unintentional. An intentional false accuser is someone who knowingly accuses an innocent person of sexual assault.
Intentional False Accuser
In some circumstances, the accuser creates a sexual assault story because he or she did have consensual sexual relations with the accused but doesn’t want to deal with the ramifications of cheating on a significant other or getting into trouble with family. Therefore, this accuser is motivated by self-preservation hinged on fear.
In other circumstances, the accuser is merely narcissistic, willing to destroy someone else’s life for the sake of attention. Typically, this accuser is a compulsive liar, and their narcissism stems from a mental disorder.
Unintentional False Accuser
A scenario involving an unintentional false accuser is psychologically complex. In some scenarios, an unintentional false accuser is assaulted, but can’t remember who assaulted them. Later, a person’s smile or voice can trigger a flashback, causing the wounded to erroneously accuse the person who triggered the flashback leading to a false accusation.
In some scenarios, authorities unintentionally lead a sexual abuse victim to accuse a top suspect. The police evidence mixed with their suspicions will cause the victim’s brain to formulate memories that never existed. Therefore, the accuser will identify the suspect as the one who committed the crime based on faulty memories. When someone “remembers” a memory that never occurred, it’s called confabulation.
Unfortunately, this can be the hardest false accusation to revert, as police typically have reason to believe that the suspect committed the crime. When this “evidence” is mixed with the confabulation of the victim, usually nothing but concrete evidence proving the accused’s innocence can revert the charge.
As you can see, false accusations are incredibly complicated. Some accusers do it out of fear or love of attention; others do it because they’re confused and don’t know better. Fortunately, some falsely accused of sexual assault can get help.