However infrequent they may be, the prospect of false rape accusations terrifies many American men. A major leader of the straight men’s movement, Men Going Their Own Way, once told me that these fabricated allegations were a focal point of their reasoning to swear off women forever. Its members argue that reports of rape should be treated with more skepticism, since men’s lives are too often ruined by women’s malicious lies.

"There's definitely an awareness among young men of the possibility of being falsely accused of rape,” Solaris, one of Men Going Their Own Way’s earliest adopters, tells Rooster Magazine. “Discussed in quietly serious tones amongst close male friends after a few drinks, the general consensus seems to be that while very few girls would stoop to a false accusation, your life is basically over if it happens. It's nowhere near every girl, but it could be any girl."

Yet a number of academic studies and exonerated cases indicate that this fearful narrative is fundamentally flawed. False rape accusations have undoubtedly occurred, for primary reasons later illustrated as mental illness, revenge, or the need for an alibi. But before attempting to dissect the logic of the false accusers, it’s imperative clarify that these occurrences are remarkably rare.

The few cases of rape accusations that proved false loom large in the media and public memory. There were the 2006 accusations against innocent members of the Duke University lacrosse team. There was also the widely-circulated 2014 Rolling Stone article recounting the story of a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia, which became the subject of numerous defamation lawsuits after the incident was found to be untrue.

These overemphasized examples distort the reality that innocent men rarely suffer rape charges. Consider that only between 2% and 10% of all rape reports are estimated to be false. In the vast majority of these instances, the charges are dropped before the accused even learns of the allegations.

In a decade-long study of sexual assaults reported to police, out of the 216 accusations that were classified as false, only 126 women filed a formal complaint, only 39 named a suspect, only six of those cases led to an arrest, and only two led to legal charges before the allegations were ultimately deemed untrue.

The fear of the worst-case scenario, that false rape allegations could result in prison time, are also largely unfounded. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, in the nearly 30 years since its records began, there have been only 52 cases in which men convicted of sexual assault were later exonerated for findings of false accusations. In comparison, during the same period, there were 790 cases in which people were exonerated for murder.

Yet the paranoia persists. The apprehension comes in the form of questions such as: What if a woman has consensual sex, and then regrets it the next day? What if a woman gets dumped and accuses her ex of rape in order to retaliate? False accusers have historically had various motives, but love-scorned revenge and morning remorse are seldom the rationale. Generally, the logic involves vindictiveness, mental illness, or the need for an alibi.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, when vengeance is the motivation, it’s often not to retaliate against old lovers. Revenge cases vary extensively, and have most memorably included a woman who traded sex for drugs, but later became disappointed with the amount of the narcotics; a man who beat his handicapped girlfriend until she greed to accuse a man he was jealous of; and an 18-year-old boy who made an agreement with an older man to trade sex for a car, but grew angry when the partner wouldn’t hold up his end of the deal.

When mental illness is the impetus, severe psychosis can lead accusers to believe they’ve genuinely been assaulted. More often, personality disorders compel the affected to falsely portray themselves as "victims." The validity of these accusations is quickly called into question, however, because these accusers frequently possess little to no evidence of the crime and will compulsively change their stories.

Lastly, the need for an alibi can also provide a catalyst, most commonly when teenage girls tell their parents they were raped in order to avoid getting in trouble for “premature” sexual activity, unwanted pregnancies, or even missed curfews. In these cases, and in about half of fake rape claims in total, the false accusations are filed by  someone other than the alleged victim, usually a parent.

But in a number of instances, accusers who need an alibi have also been adults attempting to cover up infidelity. In these cases as well, a third party is frequently the driving force behind pressing charges. Assuming the deceived partners believe the lie, they’ll naturally want to see the perpetrator punished.

It’s important to note that among the several reasons these dishonest allegations occur, none are the result of miscommunications in a culture of heavy drinking and casual hook-ups. These cases are not the consequence of intoxicated partners rescinding consent once they sober up. In practically every rape accusation that reaches the police, the issue of consent is never ambiguous.

Simply because false rape accusations have sporadically occurred in the past, does not mean that future allegations should be approached with suspicion. More damaging than infrequent false allegations is the mass misinterpretation that they threaten ordinary, innocent men. Exaggerating the prospect of these scarce instances creates a dangerous conception, casting a shadow of doubt on the stories of authentic victims and allowing real rapists to escape justice.

And that, above any unfounded accusation, is what women and men should fear the most.