We all know how damaging it is when someone lies about rape. It can ruin lives, not just those of the people directly involved, but those of all future rape victims, who are less likely to be believed as a result. So why do people do it? Why would someone who has not been raped do something that’s so harmful to those who have?

I don’t think there’s always a straightforward answer, although sometimes it’s obvious. For instance, if you’re an actual rapist you’d probably want to lie about rape if there’s a chance you’ll thereby avoid a prison sentence. Sure, it damages the credibility of the tiny minority of men who are falsely accused of actually raping someone, but what can you do? You’re a rapist! It’s not as though you give a shit.

But it’s not just rapists who lie about rape. For a long time we believed that those who made things up tended to be morally depraved individuals craving attention — George Galloway or A Voice for Men, for instance. The kind of people who either claim rape just isn’t rape, or that there’s evidence that a high proportion of women invent rape stories. Sadly, such lies are far more widespread than we’d like to believe. Plenty of “normal” people lie about rape and suffer no ill consequences whatsoever.

Sometimes it’s just ignorance. People simply don’t know what rape is, having somehow missed out on that part of human development that enables you to empathise with other human beings and recognise the boundaries of their bodies. For instance, a survey last week showed a third of women believe if a woman does not fight back she cannot have been raped. A 2010 survey had 46% of men saying it isn’t rape if a man continues to penetrate a woman after she’s said no, while the Wake Up To Rape study of the same year showed more than half of all men and women believe there are circumstances in which a victim bears some responsibility for being raped. In case you didn’t realise, none of these things are true. They are lies.

While it’s easy to dismiss the liars as selfish, callous individuals, perhaps we should try to understand. These people grow up imbibing rape culture. It’s not surprising some of them resort to making such heinous assertions. At other times it’s more difficult. Sometimes the lies are clearly calculated, such as when Peter Lloyd used a piece in the Daily Mail to falsely accuse Rape Crisis of claiming one in ten rape complaints is false. One hopes that Rape Crisis recovers from such a smear on its reputation but there will be many who think there is no smoke without fire. The likes of Lloyd know what they’re doing when they concoct these tales. Make no mistake, they’re out for revenge.

Worst of all, there are no serious consequences for people who lie about rape in this way. While women who are proven to have made false allegations of being attacked are told prison is “inevitable,” your average rape liar just goes about his or her business, ruining lives with impunity. I hope one day, through a mix of greater understanding of the liars but also harsher (or even some) consequences for persistent offenders, we get beyond this. Alas, I’m not holding my breath.