I'm Being Charged with Rape: What Should I Do?

Rape or sexual assault is a very serious charge, and the quicker you take steps to defend against it, the better for your case.

By , Contributing Author | Updated by Kelly Martin, Attorney

I'm Being Charged with Rape: What Should I Do?

Rape is a serious felony charge. It typically involves an accusation that the defendant forced someone to engage in sexual intercourse, anal sex, or other sexual activity involving even the slightest form of penetration, without that person's consent. This criminal act is known as rape in many states but can also go by:

  • "sexual assault"
  • "sexual battery"
  • "criminal sexual conduct," and
  • "criminal sexual penetration."

Other sexual offenses include:

Some of these other crimes may be less serious offenses than rape or sexual assault and may even be charged as misdemeanors. If you've been charged with any kind of sexual offense, you should get legal help immediately.

Do's and Don'ts When You Face Rape Charges

If you've been charged with rape—or you haven't yet been charged but someone is saying you raped them—you should retain an attorney as soon as possible and do what they tell you to. (See "How a Lawyer Can Help" below for more information on getting an attorney.)

Depending on the facts of your case, your attorney might tell you to take some actions, and to avoid others.

Your attorney might tell you to:

  • preserve any physical evidence that might relate to the incident
  • preserve any documents or records that could relate to the case, such as photos, texts, chats, social media posts, emails, phone and GPS records, computer records, and any items that might show where you (or the victim) were at the time of the alleged incident
  • make a list of possible witnesses—anyone who might have information about the incident, the accusations, or the alleged victim.

Just as important as following your lawyer's guidance on what to do when facing rape (or other criminal charges) is listening to them about what not to do. Attorneys often tell their clients not to:

  • try to talk to the alleged victim about the case or have any contact with that person
  • talk to law enforcement or other investigators without an attorney present, or
  • agree to voluntary testing or give any evidence to law enforcement without consulting a lawyer, even if the accused person thinks the evidence will show they're innocent.

Why Do False Rape Allegations Happen?

Often when someone is wrongly accused of rape it's because the victim mistakenly identified the wrong person. But a small percentage of rape allegations turn out to be deliberately false(estimates range from 2% to 10%). False rape accusations do a great disservice to actual rape victims, who already fear that they won't be believed. So, what motivates people who make false rape allegations?

According to researchers, false accusations happen for many reasons, including:

  • Shame or regret. In some false-allegation cases, people (usually women) feel shame or regret for engaging in consensual sexual activity, and will "relabel" the sex as rape. They might regret cheating on a spouse or participating in sexual acts they feel ashamed about for religious or cultural reasons. And sometimes, people consent to "unwanted" sexual acts (meaning they don't desire them) to please the other person. If they later discuss their negative feelings about it with friends or family, those people might say it's rape (because it was unwanted) and tell them to report it to the police.
  • Cover-up. Some false accusers allege rape to cover up or avoid the consequences of their sexual behavior. In one case, for example, a teenager said she was raped by a stranger— whose mug shot she identified as the invented rapist—because she was afraid she was pregnant from consensual sex with her boyfriend.
  • Sympathy or attention seeking. In some cases, people have alleged rape to get attention or sympathy from others.
  • Mental health issues. Sometimes people falsely accuse others of rape because they have significant mental health problems.
  • Revenge. Occasionally, false rape allegations are motivated by revenge. In this sort of situation, the accuser wants to punish the other person for some reason, so they say the person sexually assaulted them, knowing that it's not true.

Again, false rape and sexual assault allegations are uncommon, but they do sometimes happen. Even if you know the allegations against you are false, you need to take them seriously and get an attorney.

What Are the Penalties for Rape?

A rape conviction has serious consequences beyond the stigma it brings. A defendant could be:

In addition to criminal consequences, a person convicted of rape could:

  • lose employment
  • lose professional licenses such as a license to practice law, medicine, social work, or psychology
  • lose custody of children and be limited to only supervised contact with them, and
  • face a civil lawsuit for damages the victim has suffered.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Because of the possible consequences, no one should face a rape charge without being represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you in many ways, including:

Investigating and Preparing a Defense

Although the police and the prosecutor's office conduct criminal investigations before charging someone with a crime, both the prosecution and the defense continue the investigation after the person is charged. A good defense attorney will normally investigate the rape charge to prepare a defense. Some possible defenses include:

  • the victim is lying or mistaken about what happened
  • the victim has identified the wrong person as the offender
  • the defendant has an alibi, and
  • evidence (such as DNA, phone records, or location data) establishes that the incident didn't occur or that the defendant isn't the person who committed it.

Protecting Your Rights and Representing You in Court

An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can also:

A local, experienced lawyer will probably know the prosecutors and judges in the court your case is in, and can advise you how the case will move through the system. The quicker you get an attorney, the sooner your rights will be protected.

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