The proof is in the words!: discriminating between false and substantiated allegations of sexual assault

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University of New Brunswick


Sexual assault refers to any form of sexual activity that is committed without consent. Although sexual victimization is a serious issue that has numerous consequences for the victim (e.g., depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping; Katz & Mazur, 1979), there are instances in which individuals have made false allegations of sexual assault. Estimates of false allegations range widely from 0 to 100% (Gibbon, 1998; Jordan, 2004; Kanin, 1994; Katz & Mazur, 1979), reflecting the importance of accurately assessing the credibility of these allegations. Although most individuals are generally poor at detecting deception (e.g., Bond & DePaulo, 2006), researchers have developed several linguistic/content analytic procedures to facilitate credibility assessments. These techniques include Reality Monitoring (RM; e.g., Johnson, 1988; Johnson & Raye, 1981; Sporer, 1997), Content Based Criteria Analysis (CBCA; e.g., Steller & Koehnken, 1989; Undeutsch, 1989; Wegener, 1989) and Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN; Sapir, 1987/2005; Vrij, 2008). To enhance our knowledge of the utility of these three statement analysis methods, the current dissertation compared them in terms of their ability to discriminate substantiated from likely false allegations of sexual assaults among adult complainants. A total of forty-two statements (24 likely false and 18 likely true) were obtained from four police agencies in New Brunswick. Each statement was coded by two coders trained in one of the three statement analysis methods. Overall, none of these techniques led to accurate discriminations between true and false allegations of sexual· assault, and almost all of their individual criteria failed to differentiate between these types of statements. However, due to significant limitations with sample size, ground truth, and low interrater reliability, it was not possible to fully assess the ability of these techniques to discriminate between true and false allegations of sexual assault. Overall, SCAN, RM and CBCA will require additional field testing to adequately assess their utility as investigative aids.