I feel like “lying about getting raped” is about as popular of a TV drama catalyst as “accidental pregnancy leading to quirky romance in universe where abortion does not exist” – a la Juno, Knocked Up. Both seem to be go-to ways to move characters around like interesting chess pieces, rather than actually constructive or realistic plot lines. In fact, I’d argue that the former is incredibly destructive. And I don’t think it’s even an argument really, just something someone should point out.
So here’s how it goes down on shows like 90210. The conniving yet tragically lonely girl is bored/wants to enact revenge on someone who has pissed her off, so she tells people that he raped her. The man’s reputation is destroyed and he loses his job and his wife/kids, if he has them. The girl is wracked with guilt and learns a lesson about lying that teaches her not to do it anymore. Bad girl officially put in her place.
But the thing is, a lot more women are afraid to report rape than there are women going around lying about it. 54% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. One of the largest issues in the community supporting victims of rape is to get them to admit it happened in the first place.
Why don’t they? Well, probably because what happens when they do is exactly the opposite of what happens on shows like 90210.
In the real life story, the rapist usually gets defended by the community, maybe cuz he’s a teacher everyone likes or an athlete or just someone who it’s awkward to believe is a rapist, and the girl gets called a liar and a slut until she sinks into a deep depression and switches schools. After we found out that Manti Te’o's dead girlfriend wasn’t real, many people pointed out the irony in the fact that she received more media coverage/ share of attention span than Lizzy Seeberg, a girl who committed suicide after Notre Dame failed to act sufficiently when she reported a sexual assault by one of their football players.
All too rarely do the rapists solemnly resign from life as they know it while the girl gets to look like a winsome, tragic victim who immediately receives community sympathy and support, sorry 90210 writers.
That’s why women typically have zero incentive to lie about getting raped.
So why do shows continue to use these plot lines? Simply cuz they’re good TV?
In reality, all they do is make viewers think, “Hm, I guess there is a certain type of person who would lie about getting raped. Maybe lots of women are lying about this …” All while ignoring the much darker reality.