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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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ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
I used to do that, too. Then I got tired of it because people never learned, and it didn't accomplish anything except give legitimacy to that agenda, so now flatly shut it down. If it happens in a discussion of rape, it's derailment and amounts to 'but what about the men?!'

I'm kind of tired out---as you can see by the horrifying typing in ye old comment above this---so I don't know how to be tactful, but did you google the phrase 'false rape accusations' and see the reams of websites that devote all their time to promoting this myth? Because with that many people promoting the lie, I just started viewing people who try to put forth this crap as acting in monstrous bad faith. There's plenty of places to discuss it, where liars are discussing it and acting like Eugene Kagin are heroes and bringers of some long-suppressed truth, oppressed by those sooper sekkrit feminazis who rule the world. (And where's my paycheck, dammit?) Seriously, google that phrase, then look for a forum called "Stand Your Ground."
jimhines
Jul. 22nd, 2010 01:26 am (UTC)
I think people do change their minds occasionally. Maybe not as often as I'd like, or as much as I'd want, but sometimes. (Side note -- this could be a part of the whole phenomenon where a man and a woman can say the exact same thing, and everybody goes "Oh yes, he makes a valid point.")

There's also the fact that as a guy, I feel like it's more my job to be talking to and trying to educate men about rape. You know as well as anyone how that responsibility is usually assigned to women, which is utter bullshit. We're the ones committing 98% of the rapes; it's men's job to educate and confront each other and work to end this crap.

I didn't Google it today, but I've been to the different men's rights sites and read some of the flat-out hate out there. I believe in free speech, but damn they make me wish people would exercise their freedom to get their heads out of their asses.

I don't know. It's possible this was a misstep. It certainly wouldn't be my first. But I also find myself thinking about both that very small number who have been falsely accused, and the larger number who just buy into it. You're right there are endless sites where they can discuss it, but if those places are only the hateful, women-are-evil camp, then it seems like that's only going to reinforce those beliefs.

I'm not planning to spend a lot of time on this beyond today and this one post, but I do think it's worth it to provide an alternative that might hopefully get a few people thinking about things in a way they wouldn't have, otherwise.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
I did a comment up there about someone and something else but...it's like people who buy into the idea that black people are naturally criminal. That kind of thing. I'm less and less inclined to tolerate it, especially the older a guy is. He's thirty, forty years old and he thinks women are evil temptresses out to nail him? An eighteen-year-old kid, beset by hormones and bullshit who's decent...Yeah, him you can reach. Somebody who's not willing to confront his own biases?

I read a story in Salon about a guy who took some nude pictures of his kids while on a camping trip and got turned in by a third party at the photo lab. He linked it to false rape reports...and in turn linked to a guy named Dean Tong, a self-proclaimed 'expert' in false accusations who's got a criminal record in beating women and no training beyond that of a paramedic. He gets featured on Dr. Phil and other places to this day, as far as I know. He's made excuses for, amongst others, Darren Mack.
jimhines
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:48 am (UTC)
Even when I was working with eighteen-year-olds in college, it was often pretty hard to get through to them. I think it would be a hell of a lot more effective to be doing this kind of work in K-12. If it were up to me, I'd say 5th grade at the absolute latest.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:09 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's a good point.. By the time they're thirty and arguing about false rape accusations, I don't know...if they're good hearted, shouldn't they be able to find it on their own? Shouldn't they have doubts?

Eighteen-year-olds are pretty difficult under any circumstances, but the American education system isn't going to help things. So much is too much for the Puritans that over run this country.
sylvanstargazer
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
Well, this got long.
I tend to think that people have reasons why they believe these things, and the only way change comes about is by confronting the fears, power complexes, attachment problems, lack of empathy, narcissism, pain and whatever else is informing those views.

Since one of those views is "what women say doesn't matter", and it's not women's job to fix men, men need to talk about these things, figure out the reasons and then figure out how to address the underlying issues. But I'm a humanist and an optimist, despite my moment-to-moment cynicism.

(Personally, I'm trying to work on geeky men who objectify women because they are so afraid of or tired of loneliness and believe that a woman-sized object would magically fill the holes in their life. It's almost exactly the same dynamic some women have with children, and I've found that when I explain it in those terms, some guys get it, whereas if I discuss it in terms of alienating women or being sexist or applying stereotypes or whatever they don't.)

When we just try to make opinions unacceptable, we get the Tea Party 40 years later, still convinced that people with different colored skin Aren't Like Them, and a media more worried about people being accused of racism than that others actually are virulently racist. It is a strange place where it's worse to accuse someone of racism than it is to be racist, and it's worse to accuse someone of rape than it is to rape someone. As much as I hate racism analogies, in this case the two are similar social dyamics: reporting disrupts the status quo, whereas the action reinforces it.

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