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Within hours, 4 Riverdale stars were accused of sexual assault. Then an accuser backflipped.

The following deals with allegations of sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Australian time, an otherwise empty Twitter account posted a four-tweet thread detailing sexual assault allegations against Riverdale actor Cole Sprouse.

The user, identified only as Victoria, claimed the incident occurred at party in 2013, when the now 27-year-old was attending NYU.

"I never told anyone because who would believe me over a rich Disney star," the thread concluded.

Roughly five hours later, another empty account under the name Tasha, tweeted allegations of sexual harassment against Sprouse's co-star, Lili Reinhart.

Others accusing Riverdale's KJ Apa and Vanessa Morgan also appeared.

In at least three of these instances, the account had no profile picture, no prior tweets or likes, and the handle was a woman's first name followed by eight digits.

A little over an hour after the allegations against Reinhart were tweeted, another message was posted to the thread: 

"Do you see how easy it is to lie and you guys will believe it? Vanessa Morgan and KJ Apa didn't do jack s**t. You will believe anything."

"It's incredibly destructive to falsely accuse people of sexual assault."

Sprouse, Reinhart and Morgan have defended themselves against the allegations, which they have declared to be entirely baseless. Apa is yet to comment.

In a Twitter statement, Sprouse said he'd been "falsely accused" and would work to "get to the root" of the claims.

At least one of the accounts used to make the allegations has been suspended by Twitter and another no longer exists.

"False accusations do tremendous damage to victims of actual assault," Sprouse wrote. "Furthermore, I would never seek to silence anybody. I encourage that people look into the accusations themselves, as the events detailed were factually untrue. This seems to be the latest claim in a series of incidents seeking to baselessly cancel my cast mates and me."

Re-tweeting Sprouse's message, Reinhart added, "I have always taken sexual assault allegations seriously. But it was proven that this account was specifically to create false stories about me and my cast.

"I can't think of something more twisted than lying about sexual assault. It invalidates the men and women who are...brave enough to come forward with the truth."

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Vanessa Morgan retweeted Cole's denial, and a statement from their Riverdale co-star Madelaine Petsch.

False sexual assault claims: how common are they, and what's the impact? 

False sexual assault allegations are incredibly harmful, and potentially criminal.

It's impossible to determine how often they occur, and data on the topic is often considered incomplete and unreliable due to varying definitions about what constitutes a 'false allegation'. 'Unfounded' allegations, for example, can be dragged into the discussion, even though these include cases in which there wasn't sufficient evidence to prosecute, rather than an admission the allegation was false.

What is clear, though, is that sexual assault is grossly underreported and fear of not being believed is identified by researchers as one of the primary reasons survivors don't come forward.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey that found that one in five Australian women and one in 20 Australian men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

Yet only 39 per cent of people aged 18 years and over who experienced sexual assault had their most recent incident reported to police.

A report published by the Federal Government's Australian Institute of Family Studies noted that false allegations contribute to that underreporting:

"The perception that false allegations of sexual assault are common has negative consequences for victims of sexual assault and society more generally by perpetuating victims’ fear of being disbelieved or being blamed for the assault. This reduces the likelihood of reporting."

Feature image: Getty.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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