A false accusation is a claim or allegation of wrongdoing that is untrue and/or otherwise unsupported by facts.[1] False accusations are also known as groundless accusations or unfounded accusations or false allegations or false claims. They can occur in any of the following contexts:


When there is insufficient supporting evidence to determine whether it is true or false, an accusation is described as "unsubstantiated" or "unfounded". Accusations that are determined to be false based on corroborating evidence can be divided into three categories:[2]

A false allegation can occur as the result of intentional lying on the part of the accuser;[3][4] or unintentionally, due to a confabulation, either arising spontaneously due to mental illness[3] or resulting from deliberate or accidental suggestive questioning, or faulty interviewing techniques.[5] In 1997, researchers Poole and Lindsay suggested that separate labels should be applied to the two concepts, proposing that the term "false allegations" be used specifically when the accuser is aware that they are lying, and "false suspicions" for the wider range of false accusations in which suggestive questioning may have been involved.[6]

When a person is suspected of a wrongdoing for which they are in fact responsible, "false accusation may be used to divert attention from one's own guilt".[4] False accusation may also arise in part from the conduct of the accused, particularly where the accused engages in behaviors consistent with having committed the suspected wrongdoing, either unconsciously or for purposes of appearing guilty.[4]

Additionally, once a false accusation has been made – particularly an emotionally laden one – normal human emotional responses to being falsely accused (such as fear, anger, or denial of the accusation) may be misinterpreted as evidence of guilt.[citation needed]


Main article: False accusation of rape

A false accusation of rape is the intentional reporting of a rape where no rape has occurred. It is difficult to assess the prevalence of false accusations because they are often conflated with non-prosecuted cases under the designation "unfounded".[7][8] However, in the United States, the FBI Uniform Crime Report in 1996 and the United States Department of Justice in 1997 stated 8% of rape accusations in the United States were regarded as unfounded or false.[9][10][11] Studies in other countries have reported their own rates at anywhere from 1.5% (Denmark) to 10% (Canada).[11]: 140–142  Due to varying definitions of a "false accusation", the true percentage remains unknown.[10]

Child abuse

Main article: False accusations of child sexual abuse

A false allegation of child sexual abuse is an accusation that a person committed one or more acts of child sexual abuse when in reality there was no perpetration of abuse by the accused person as alleged. Such accusations can be brought by the victim, or by another person on the alleged victim's behalf. Studies of child abuse allegations suggest that the overall rate of false accusation is under 10%, as approximated based on multiple studies.[2][12][13][14] Of the allegations determined to be false, only a small portion originated with the child, the studies showed; most false allegations originated with an adult bringing the accusations on behalf of a child, and of those, a large majority occurred in the context of divorce and child-custody battles.[2][15]

Workplace bullying

Main article: Workplace bullying

According to a 2003 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, the most common bullying tactics included false attribution of "errors" to an employee, glaring or other hostile body language, dismissive comments, the "silent treatment", and/or making up arbitrary "rules" to ensure that a victim breaks them.[16]

Workplace mobbing

Main article: Workplace mobbing

Workplace mobbing can be considered as a "virus" or a "cancer" that spreads throughout the workplace via gossip, rumour and unfounded accusations.[17]

Münchausen syndrome by proxy

Main article: Münchausen syndrome by proxy

The case has been made that diagnoses of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, that is harming someone else in order to gain attention for oneself, are often false or highly questionable.[18]


Main article: False claims of stalking, gang stalking and delusions of persecution

In 1999, Pathe, Mullen, and Purcell wrote that popular interest in stalking was promoting false claims.[19] In 2004, Sheridan and Blaauw said that they estimated that 11.5% of claims in a sample of 357 reported claims of stalking were false.[20]

Psychological projection

Main article: Psychological projection

Psychological projection can be utilized as a means of obtaining or justifying certain actions that would normally be found atrocious or heinous. This often means projecting false accusations, information, etc., onto an individual for the sole purpose of maintaining a self-created illusion.[21]

See also


  1. ^ "Accusation Law and Legal Definition". uslegal.com. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Ney, T (1995). True and False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: Assessment and Case Management. Psychology Press. pp. 23–33. ISBN 0-87630-758-6.
  3. ^ a b Mikkelsen EJ, Gutheil TG, Emens M (October 1992). "False sexual-abuse allegations by children and adolescents: contextual factors and clinical subtypes". Am J Psychother. 46 (4): 556–70. doi:10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.1992.46.4.556. PMID 1443285.
  4. ^ a b c Bryant, Clifton D. (1990). Deviant Behavior: Readings in the Sociology of Norm Violation. New York: Hemisphere. p. 190. ISBN 0-89116-696-3.
  5. ^ Maggie Bruck; Ceci, Stephen J (1995). Jeopardy in the Courtroom. Amer Psychological Assn. ISBN 1-55798-282-1.
  6. ^ Irving B. Weiner; Donald K. Freedheim (2003). Handbook of Psychology. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 438. ISBN 0-471-17669-9.
  7. ^ Hazelwood, Robert R.; Burgess, Ann Wolbert, eds. (2008). Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation. CRC Press. ISBN 9781420065053.
  8. ^ Gross, Bruce (Spring 2009). "False Rape Allegations: An Assault On Justice". The Forensic Examiner. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |url= (help)
  9. ^ "Section II: Crime Index Offenses Reported" (PDF). Crime in the United States 1996: Uniform Crime Statistics. FBI. 1997.
  10. ^ a b Turvey, Brent E. (2013). Forensic Victimology: Examining Violent Crime Victims in Investigative and Legal Contexts. Academic Press. pp. 276–277. ISBN 978-0-12-408084-3.
  11. ^ a b Rumney, Philip N. S. (2006). "False Allegations of Rape". Cambridge Law Journal. 65 (1): 128–158. doi:10.1017/S0008197306007069. S2CID 29279653.
  12. ^ Hobbs, CJ; Hanks HGI; Wynne JM (1999). Child Abuse and Neglect: A Clinician's Handbook. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 197. ISBN 0-443-05896-2.
  13. ^ Schetky, DH; Green AH (1988). Child Sexual Abuse: A Handbook for Health Care and Legal Professionals. Psychology Press. pp. 105. ISBN 0-87630-495-1.
  14. ^ Bolen, RM (2001). Child Sexual Abuse: Its Scope and Our Failure. Springer. pp. 109. ISBN 0-306-46576-0.
  15. ^ Robin, M (1991). Assessing Child Maltreatment Reports: The Problem of False Allegations. Haworth Press. pp. 21–24. ISBN 0-86656-931-6.
  16. ^ "Top 25 workplace bullying tactics". Archived from the original on 2017-10-15. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  17. ^ Shallcross, Linda; Ramsay, Sheryl; Barker, Michelle (2008). "Workplace mobbing: Expulsion, exclusion, and transformation". In Wilson, M. (ed.). Managing in the Pacific Century. Proceedings of the 22nd Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Annual Conference. Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management, Australia. pp. 1–22.
  18. ^ "False Accusations of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. PHD and more presented by Dr. Helen Hayward-Brown". www.pnc.com.au. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  19. ^ Pathe, M.; Mullen, P. E.; Purcell, R. (1999). "Stalking: false claims of victimization". British Journal of Psychiatry. 174 (2): 170–172. doi:10.1192/bjp.174.2.170. PMID 10211173.
  20. ^ Sheridan, L. P.; Blaauw, E. (2004). "Characteristics of False Stalking Reports". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 31 (1): 55–72. doi:10.1177/0093854803259235. S2CID 11868229.
  21. ^ R. Appignanesi ed., Introducing Melanie Klein (Cambridge 2006) p. 115 and p. 126