The Truth Behind the Lies: The Complex Motivations for False Allegations of Sexual Assault

Eryn Nicole O'Neal, Cassia Spohn, Katharine Tellis, Clair White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The issue of false allegations is arguably the most controversial topic in the area of sexual violence. Portrayals of women who make false allegations are largely negative and leave little room for a comprehensive understanding of the complex motivations behind false complaints of sexual assault. The current study uses detailed qualitative data on 55 sexual assault cases that were reported to the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008 and that were subsequently unfounded. Our study focuses on identifying the factors that motivated complainants to file false allegations. Results reveal that motivations for false allegations fall into five overlapping categories: avoiding trouble/providing an alibi, anger or revenge, attention seeking, mental illness, and guilt/remorse. In addition, our findings more obviously suggest that motivations for filing false reports are varied and complex, often resulting from a need to alleviate social and personal distress. Given that we centered our study on motivations, this research is more comprehensive than prior examinations of motivations that have tackled numerous facets of false sexual assault reports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-340
Number of pages17
JournalWomen and Criminal Justice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • false allegations
  • motivations
  • qualitative
  • rape
  • sexual assault
  • typology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The Truth Behind the Lies: The Complex Motivations for False Allegations of Sexual Assault'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this