Against sexist male paranoia about false rape accusations (or: rape is a much bigger problem than false rape allegations, kthxbye)
Some guys sometimes seem to be deaf to the problem of sexual violence, but in a unique way. They do not (fortunately) deny the self-evident truths that sexual violence is extremely frequent, that many women live in fear of it and have their freedom seriously constrained by it, and that it poisons the relations between men and women (in the patriarchy-hurts-men-too department). Instead, they shift the focus to false rape allegations. They claim that because some women falsely accuse men of rape, there’s some kind of deep oppression of men going on.
I’m going to call Mike out for this, just because he has a recent post trotting out these ideas. But I don’t want to pick on Mike or single him out — he’s a good-natured guy and there are lots of good-natured guys who think like this.
So what’s wrong with this line of thinking? Well, first, let’s remove a couple of red herrings. The issue isn’t whether false rape accusations exist (sure they do) or even their prevalence (hotly disputed, with estimates ranging everywhere from 2% to 40%).
The issue is more “why is rape special?” That is, why are these guys more afraid of false accusations of rape than false accusations of any other crime?
Let’s eliminate another red herring. It’s not because the criminal process is so much more biased against the accused in rape cases than in any other case. This is a suggestion I often hear, but there’s little reason to believe it — rape victim advocates have just as persuasive a case for it being the other way around — for the criminal process for rape being heavily biased against victims — of victims being intimidated at the police station, shamed out of reporting the crime, etc. How many mugging victims do you think get told “you were flashing around that bling, you must have been asking for it?” Consistent with this perception, there was recently a scandal in the U.K. over the dramatically lower conviction rate for rape than for other crimes, which shouldn’t happen in a system that is biased against the accused unless (highly implausibly) the percentage of rape accusations that are false is insanely huge. Here’s a relevant section from the linked article:
One of the most serious problems has been the initial handling of rape complaints by the police. The 2007 report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, the independent inspectorates for the police and CPS, found that many officers dealing with rape victims had “very little training in responding to rape cases” and a “lack of awareness” of the need to follow the relevant guidance.
Victims were found to experience delays, “unpleasant environments”, inappropriate behaviour by professionals, insensitive questioning during interviews and “judgmental or disbelieving attitudes” when coming forward with complaints of rape.
As a result, between half and two-thirds of rape cases did not proceed beyond the investigation stage. The majority of victims decide to withdraw their complaints, while high levels of rape complaints are essentially ignored, with reports pointing to scepticism on the part of the police and “the view that the victim lacks credibility”.
Again, can you imagine that shit happening to mugging victims?
I’ve been reading a lot of ancient Athenian law recently, for research purposes, and it casts a very interesting light on contemporary law. There was a huge problem with all kinds of false accusations in Athens — they even had a special name for the professional litigant who drummed up false accusations — a sykophant. Some of this was probably oligarchic propaganda against the jury system, but some of it was real — in the infamous Mysteries/Herms case, for example, huge swathes of the population were imprisoned for a while on the testimony of a lying informer.
Modern society is also pervaded with false allegations of various kinds and politically motivated parties who trump up the risk of these false allegations. Things didn’t just stop with the Salem witch trials. In the 50’s, we had the communist blacklists, and today we have bogus tort litigation, racist criminal prosecution, trumped up political charges and framing, you name it. I was, for a while, the lowest-ranking of the many lawyers for Steven Hatfill, the guy whose life was utterly ruined by John Ashcroft’s and Nicolas Kristof’s falsely accusing him of being the anthrax mailer. Even people convicted of capital crimes are routinely exonerated, and there are plausible estimates of up to 9% for the number of innocent people on death row.
So what’s so special about rape? Why is Mike more afraid of some woman accusing him of raping her than he is of the same woman, or a man, accusing him of stealing her/his wallet?
I’d like to suggest several causes for this disparity:
1) Salience bias: there have been some high-profile cases of false rape accusations where the accused got railroaded recently, most prominently the Duke lacrosse players case. (Edit: you want a salient case on the other side? How about the teenage rape victim who was forced to wave around the g-string she was wearing on the day in court and killed herself thereafter?)
2) Threatened male privilege. The false rape accusation is a tool of injustice that, pretty much uniquely, is something that is primarily available to women against men. Men aren’t used to having to worry about the possibility that women might have some way to screw them over, so this possibility generates lots of extra shock and horror. By contrast, men have lots of ways to screw women over, so it’s not so shocking to hear about particular instantiations of this power.
In light of all of this, I’d like to call on my fellow men to just get off it. You don’t live in fear of false rape accusations and you know it. You are not oppressed by the existence of false rape accusations. By contrast, women are oppressed by the omnipresent threat of rape.
Also, if you’re genuinely worried about false rape accusations then you’re fucking the wrong women. I’ve never worried about a false rape accusation because I’ve never had sex with a woman quite that evil or insane. Hell, I don’t think I even know any women — or any people in general — quite that depraved. On the other hand, I have numerous close female friends — women who would never make a false accusation — who have been raped. Yeah, it’s an n of 1, but I would bet any amount of money that almost every reader of this blog could say something similar.