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How often do false child sex abuse claims occur?

Detractors looking to cast doubt on allegations of child sex abuse often claim the survivor made up the incident. This argument can be especially prevalent when it involves abuse that happened decades earlier, when the survivor was a young child.

But do false accusations of child sex abuse actually happen? And if they do, how often?

Research suggests it is quite rare

A number of researchers have considered the question of false child sex abuse allegations. One 2018 research paper attempted to gain a firm understanding of the issue by reviewing different studies on the matter. While the differing methodologies made it difficult to offer a "precise statement," the authors of this 2018 work were confident in two main takeaways.

First, that most allegations of child sexual abuse are simply true. Not a single study they reviewed reported "even a sizeable minority" of claims that turned out to be false, the authors wrote.

Second, while false allegations do occur, they are rare. Most studies estimated the rate of false claims to be anywhere from 2-5%. Inappropriate touching was generally the most prevalent false claim. In addition, the authors found custody disputes seem to lead to higher rates of false reporting.

They also noted underreporting of child sexual abuse likely occurs "at a substantial rate."

These findings fall in line with other works, some of which are highlighted here by The Leadership Council. One study the council cited found children are far more likely to understate or outright deny abuse than exaggerate it. Another determined children that later recanted their stories were commonly "vulnerable to familial adult influences."

The ongoing impact of child sex abuse

The trauma of child sex abuse does not stop when the incident is over. Survivors may deal with serious health issues such as PTSD and depression even decades later. They also face significant financial hurdles, and may even have trouble trusting others as a result of the abuse.

Survivors face countless emotional, legal and physical obstacles. They should not also have to deal with people calling them liars.

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