Today, the number of false sexual assault claims is under intense debate: this is, in part, because the research into false sexual assault claims is few and far between, and the studies that exist often have limited sample sizes or flawed methodology. It makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact percentage of sexual assault claims that are false. Compounding the problem is that sexual assaults are known to be underreported. 

While there is much disagreement about the number of false sexual assault claims, it is safe to agree that false claims are an injustice—both for the person accused and the people who have actually suffered an assault.

For the person falsely accused of sexual assault, it is devastating. Being investigated for and charged of a crime can result in a ruined reputation, costly legal fees, and even the loss of employment. The stigma attached to a sexual offense can shatter a person’s life.

False claims also damage the credibility of actual victims, who may then not be believed by police officers and prosecutors and who may find it harder to get the help they need.

This is why the criminal defense lawyers at our firm were extremely disappointed to read about a false rape claim made against Conor Oberst. The singer of the band Bright Eyes was recently accused of raping a woman after a concert in 2003, when she was a teenager.

The Guardian reports that the woman posted her accusations online, where they were then widely circulated, with many calling for fans of Bright Eyes to stop supporting the band’s music.

Oberst denied the allegations and filed a libel suit last February “in order to set the record straight and clear his name.” Because the woman never responded to the lawsuit, the court issued a default judgment in favor of Oberst, according to CNN.

In July, the woman recanted her accusations, sending a notarized statement to Oberst’s lawyers that said she “made up those lies about him to get attention while [she] was going through a difficult period in [her] life.”

According to The Guardian, Oberst lost a $200,000 publishing contract because of his legal issues.

Even though the woman has taken back the claims, Oberst will unfortunately have to deal with a lasting black mark on his reputation that may negatively affect his career in the future.