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False Rape Reports

After my Rape and the Police post, I said I’d do a follow-up on false reports of rape.  I do this for two reasons.

  1. False reports do happen, albeit rarely.  Rare or not, they’re worth discussing.
  2. By posting this discussion here, the next time I talk about rape and someone starts to derail the conversation by talking about false accusations, I can redirect the commenter to this post.

The issue of false accusations used to come up every time I spoke to men about rape.  It’s come up in almost every rape-related blog post I’ve written.

I worked with one rape counselor who told me flat-out she didn’t believe anyone would ever falsely accuse someone of rape.  However, I find there’s nothing so heinous that someone, somewhere, hasn’t done it.  (After all, look at the number of people who commit rape.)

I’ve been told only 2% of reported rapes turn out to be false, but I’ve never found a reliable source for that statistic.  A 1996 FBI report found that “Eight percent of forcible rape complaints in 1996 were ‘unfounded’ …”  This includes complaints found to be “false or baseless” … and therein lies a problem.

What qualifies as an unfounded report?  Many reported rapes aren’t prosecuted because those in the legal system don’t feel there’s sufficient evidence.  That doesn’t mean the accuser lied.  Likewise, is “baseless” the same as “false”?  How do we categorize or even identify cases where victims are bullied or intimidated into retracting their statements?

Playing fast and loose with definitions is how you get “Men’s Rights” groups reporting highly inflated numbers of false reports in order to show that rape is exaggerated and used as a weapon against men.

I believe false reports of rape are rare, but they do happen.  I wrote about one case in Michigan, back in 2004.  A student falsely accused a teacher of rape.  The teacher’s name was published in multiple newspaper articles.  The accused teacher’s fiancee was quoted as saying the false charges “took their toll on him,” and he later died of a heart attack.

I can’t imagine the fear and the anger and the stress he must have experienced.  The fact that he was exonerated and his accuser was arrested and sentenced for filing false charges doesn’t undo the pain he went through.

Here’s another example from Maine, which was reported only yesterday.  A woman allegedly made up a story of being raped by five men after a fight with her partner.  I can’t help noticing this line…

“[Police Chief] Craig said he plans to have the woman charged with filing a false report and plans to push for the maximum penalty.”

… and thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if police departments took real rape cases this seriously?

Lying about rape is a horrible thing.  It hurts the one accused, and it hurts victims of rape by giving fuel to those who would use false accusations to deny the reality of rape.  I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who deliberately and maliciously makes up an accusation of rape, for whatever reason.

I wonder though, how many anecdotal stories of false accusations are truly false.  When someone comments how a friend’s cousin’s buddy was falsely accused of rape, what does that mean?  Were charges filed and dropped?  Did the accuser retract her (or his) accusation?  Did the accused say “She’s lying!” and everyone simply chose to believe him?

False accusations are in many ways the reverse of rape cases.  Rape as a crime tends to be underreported and disbelieved.  Stories of false accusations, on the other hand, seem to be both widely believed and incredibly common … which makes sense, in a way.  After all, the first thing someone’s going to say when accused of rape is, “Oh, she’s lying.”

Discussion welcome, as always.  But as with other rape-related discussions here, I’ll be watching the comments and will moderate as needed, so please keep things respectful.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
"I don't know how common false accusations really are, but I do know that men need to live with constant fear. I've seen it up close and personal."

I don't live in fear of being accused of rape, and I see zero reason that I should.

I'm not trying to minimize what your friend went through. But generalizing from one individual to say that all men must live in fear doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I'm also curious whether the girl deliberately accused your friend, or if she simply mistook the identity of her attacker. These are two very different things. It sounds like you're saying she really was raped, but the wrong person was arrested. Which is still tragic and unfair, but isn't necessarily the same thing as using rape as a weapon.

"...the girls on campus used the threat of rape as a constant weapon against the guys."

I'm not even sure what this means.
(Deleted comment)
serialbabbler
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
The 1980's had some pretty extreme trends on the issues of rape and child molestation. (That was the decade of the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare among other things) I suspect a lot of people who were around college age then worry more about false accusations than the general population does.
malsperanza
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
I'm curious. Why did the women on campus feel the need to warn men to "be careful"--so much so that they had to develop a defensive tool to protect themselves? Threatening blackmail isn't something people do unless a) they're corrupt and criminal (which surely can't be said of a whole campusful of women), or b) under duress and in need of the weapons of the weak confronting the powerful.

I don't discount the idea that some women used the threat casually, or thought it was funny. But I also really wonder if men have any idea of what campus life is like for women--how constantly they are under pressure to provide sex to horny guys; how aggressive that pressure is. When I hear a man say, plaintively, that he "lived in fear," my first--not very helpful--thought is: welcome to the normal life of a woman at school.
starcat_jewel
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
It's hard for me to imagine a circumstance of male/female interaction where an accusation couldn't take place anymore.

So now you have an immediate and personal understanding of what it's like to be female. Just substitute "assault" for "accusation".

What does this suggest to you that might need to change about our society?
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Wiping out humanity seems like an extreme solution.

get assaulted by someone for not agreeing with them. I get told that it's perfectly okay to ruin a man's life with a false accusation because the reality is worse for a woman, or I get told "she had it coming." I get called a pussy or a defeatist because the world has so demonstrated to me that it is intractible that I just want to stay home and play with my dogs and not have to spend all my time stressed by life. I have hate heaped upon me because I'm male and have defended men. I have hate heaped upon me because I'm male and have defended women. I'm tired of being told "You are disposable because everything your gender does is dispicable".

Have any of those things happened here? That's a serious question. I haven't seen any of it, but it's very possible I've missed something.

I get the sense that you've got a lot going on, well beyond the scope of this particular conversation. It sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and like you're struggling to keep it all together? I apologize if I'm reading too much into this, but I read this comment and it mostly made me feel sad. Particularly the part about not even being able to trust your wife.

Assuming I'm not completely off base, have you tried talking to someone? I know our culture has a pretty strong resistance to counselors and therapists (i.e., a "real man" should be able to solve his problems alone), but I know it can be really helpful to be able to just talk and get both the support and the help with problem solving.

If this comment is unwelcome, I apologize.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 21st, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Jul. 21st, 2010 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 21st, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Jul. 21st, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ginmar - Jul. 21st, 2010 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)
I got mugged in 1994. Black man. He inflicted enough damage that I coudn't ID him.

Am I entitled to hate and fear black men now, the way you hate and fear women?
akiko
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
Is the fear men live in of being accused of rape more important than the fear women live in of *being raped*?
the_jackalope
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
This.
acrimonyastraea
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
I'll believe this supposed fear when men start telling each other to stop going to parties, stop being alone with women, stop drinking, stop being around women wh ohave been drinking, or otherwise seriously restrict their lives because they're so afraid of being falsely accused.
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
From talking to groups of men, I do think that fear is real. It's not a fear I understand, nor is it one I believe is justified, but it's definitely there. I haven't, however, seen evidence of men changing their behaviors as a result of that fear.
tsubaki_ny
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
Whereas I see women modifying their behavior all the time. (I sincerely hope I'm not doing that obnoxious "comparative suffering" thing, but seriously, women modify their behavior on a bloody daily basis.)
ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
It's funny. I have a lot of good friends. They're not afraid of being falsely accused of rape, and they're all feminist, and sometimes they're more idealistic than me.

I'm reminded of how slave owners before the civil war in America feared slave revolts, and punished them savagely. Despite all the shit they said about how great slavery was, their fears of slaves rising up amounted to acknowledging that they in fact were enslaving human beings without justification. They feared retribution.

Men are still more powerful than women, reailstically, these days. It needs to be pointed out, too: the fears of the powerful and the fears of the powerless are not the same. Men who fear false rape accusations I think are afriad of getting accurately accused.
sylvanstargazer
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
Considering the precautions women are required to take in order to not be deemed "responsible" for their own rape, I would actually encourage a culture where men are required to take precautions that prevent them from having sex with less-than-fully-consenting women. It would, at least, be sharing a responsibility (which I believe lies fully with the rapists.)
(Deleted comment)
akiko
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
Are you aware that women are taught practically from the time we're old enough to go outside on our own the ways we must act to prevent rape? Park under a street light. Carry your keys in your hand with a sharp one between your fingers. Never walk alone at night. Never accept a drink from a stranger. Don't wear short skirts or revealing clothes, or otherwise look sexually available. Don't drink too much.

I fail to see how this fear that a small fraction of the male population supposedly lives in (a percent? two?) is even comparable to the fear that the majority of women have.
sixteenbynine
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
I think what people are saying is that the prevalent threat of rape is orders of magnitude greater for women than is the prevalent threat of men being falsely accused of rape.

What happened to your friend was terrible, and again this is not meant to minimize that. It's just that we need to look at what's prevalent and predominant, and the vast majority of the time it appears to be men taking advantage of women.
shadrad
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I'd have to agree with comments above, considering that just as women generally attempt to act in ways that will prevent them from being raped (sticking together, not letting other people handle their drinks, staying in well-populated, well-lit areas, not being alone with men, etc), men who are afraid have every option to adjust their behavior to reduce the chance they will be accused of rape-- yet don't.

I am certainly not saying that if they don't adjust that behavior 'they were asking for it' (because nobody asks to be wronged in any level of severity), but it does seem strange to me that a woman should have to take so many extraneous steps to prevent herself from being harmed and as a whole, men don't seem to have to.
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
How so, if you don't mind me asking?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tsubaki_ny - Jul. 21st, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - akiko - Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
janni
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
No, but is it less important?

Okay, I'm going to say it: Yes. It is less important.

False accusations are not a good thing, no. Living in fear of them is not good, either.

But seriously. All forms of harm are not equivalent. And especially, being raped, and being accused of raping someone, are not equivalent things, and the fact that they both fall under the general category of "bad" doesn't change this.

The damage done by having someone lie about you and damage one's reputation, and the damage done by having someone physically overpower, attack, and hurt you are not the same thing. They're not even the same order of magnitude of thing.

And living with the fear of having someone lie about you, and living with the fear of having someone physically attack you? Also. Not the same.
ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, does being afraid of being falsely accused of rape involve forcible penetration, injuries, shame, ostracism, slut-shaming, and so forth? All of which take place in a sexist culture where women are being beaten, raped, abused, and not seeing justice for any of that?
ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
Jim, I have to say...."The girls on campus used the threat of rape..."

This sounds like pure, MRA, woman-hating bullshit.

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