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False Allegation Motives

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

3 minute read

Many people find it hard to believe that any complainant would make a wrongful accusation of a sexual crime. They ask rhetorically, “What possible reason would she (or he) have to lie?” Lie implies deceit or malice, and it may not always be a fitting word to apply. Let's just say there is a whole list of reasons an accuser may not be telling the truth. I mentioned some of these in my piece A Lesser Tragedy. However, Twitter regular Bob Mellors, from Canada, has compiled the following far more comprehensive list (updated 2021), and I am grateful to him for allowing me to publish it on this site:

Introductory Notes:

Gain (financial and/or social) is a major factor.

There are often multiple reasons for making false allegations.

The reasons may not be obvious.

There is often a mix of reasons which may be related or unrelated.

Many complainants genuinely cannot explain why they have filed a false report.

The list below is valid but incomplete and insufficient to explain all motives.

A Personal/Character Traits, Issues, Problems of the Accuser

1 Opportunity. People lie because they can and do. Some people are habitual or compulsive liars.

2 Emotional instability. The accuser has a history of emotional instability (Important: personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder)

3 Impulsiveness. The accuser acts immediately without considering or thinking through outcomes or consequences.

B Gains/Losses for the Accuser

4 Material gain. The accuser is motivated by money (e.g. compensation).

5 Social gain: victimhood/sainthood. The accuser is motivated to make an accusation as a means to enhance social status.

6 Attention and/or sympathy. The accuser seeks sympathy or attention from others.

7 No negative consequences. There are almost never any punishments for being revealed as a false accuser.

C False/Distorted Memories

8 Passage of time. Memories are lost, changed, distorted, confused, created etc over time. Every time a memory is recollected or re-stored it is altered somewhat.

9 Substances. Extensive alcohol or drug use can significantly affect memory.

10 False memory. The popular image of false or pseudo memory is of a hypnotherapist implanting an idea into the mind of a patient who is then fixated with a false belief. While this can and does happen, the process is usually more subtle and more insidious.

11 Confabulation. People may come to believe in things that never happened. Oral testimony narratives may appear to be detailed and convincing, retold by emotional complainants, but are actually a product not of fact, but of imagination reinforced by the belief of others.

D External Influences

12 Persuasion by others. The accuser is cajoled/persuaded/convinced/influenced by others into making the accusation.

13 Blame, avoidance and scapegoating. The accuser may wish to hold someone (or just anyone) responsible for what has gone wrong in his or her life. This includes a variety of accuser 'strategies' and methods of responsibility avoidance. Deflection is one of these strategies.

14 Revenge. Hostilities, anger and resentment may fester over years. The accuser may seek to hurt the person who they believe has hurt them in some way.

15 Crusade/noble cause corruption or noble cause distortion. Lying/making false allegations is justified by the complainant on the basis that the accused must be brought to justice for some wrongdoings, not necessarily the allegations made. This terminology is usually used to describe a type of police misconduct.

E Concealment

16 Alibi, smokescreen or concealment. The accuser aims to conceal their own actions, misconduct or aspects of their life from others (e.g., from a partner, family, friend, spouse, community etc.)

17 Relabeling. The accuser has engaged in consensual but unwanted sex with the accused, and afterwards re-labels or redefines this as forced or coerced sex.

F Legal Advantage

18 Legal/marital/divorce/custody disputes. The accuser wants to manipulate the court or authorities for financial gain, and/or regarding custody/access matters.

A few of the sources used:


b Motives for Filing a False Allegation of Rape, Arch Sex Behav DOI 10.1007/s10508-017-0951-3, Andre´ W. E. A. De Zutter, Robert Horselenberg, Peter J. van Koppen1

c Peter Joyce, this website.

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