Last week, the Seattle Weekly published an article on the supposedly common phenomenon of false accusations of rape. Using as framing the very rare case of a man who was arrested for what seems to be an actual false allegation, the writer goes on to suggest that false accusations happen all the time, and are ruining the lives of poor men. Also, it’s because of these supposed false allegations that the really real rape victims are not believed — not because of things like misogyny, rape apologism, or the conviction that “he’s not like that.”
The most frequently cited major study of unsubstantiated rape charges was published in 1994, when Purdue University sociologist Eugene Kanin looked into sexual-assault reports at a Midwestern police department and determined that 41 percent were false. More recently, the Pentagon’s 2008 report on sexual assault in the military noted that of 2,700 reported sexual assaults, most from women, 39 percent were dropped as unfounded or lacking evidence.
Last January, the Virginia-based American Prosecutors Research Institute published a report arguing that such studies are based solely on whether or not the initial investigators drop the case, and ought to be independently evaluated. The Institute points to another, ongoing study by the nonprofit End Violence Against Women International, which has been collecting data from eight different U.S. law enforcement agencies since 2005. Of the more than 2,000 cases examined thus far, researchers have classified about 7 percent as false.
Whatever the frequency, false claims, like the one that put Bekele in jail, do happen—and often in an extremely public way. From the notorious Tawana Brawley case of 1987 to the Duke lacrosse-team fiasco two decades later, there have been a number of horrific and high-profile instances of false rape claims, often with extremely hard-to-discern motives. The cases not only have been destructive to the accused, but undermine longstanding efforts to get rape accusations taken more seriously.
That study by the American Prosecutors Research Institute (pdf) that is so swiftly glossed over actually does an excellent job of debunking the bullshit Kanin study. You should take the time to read it. It not only points out that that research which is actually methodically and rigorously done shows false reporting rates consistently in the 2% to 8% area. It also shows that actual false reports are usually not the “date rape” kind that are so regularly pointed to as acts of vengeance, but the kinds where the story mirrors that of a stranger jumping out of the bushes.
And still it goes further, to point out one of the biggest flaws done with most of the research that arrives at high numbers, and one that is made in the quote from the article above — the idea that cases which are dropped as a result of lacking evidence or being decided by authorities to be “unfounded” are necessarily false. This would, in fact, only be true if real rape always left DNA and bruising behind, and if authorities were always unbiased against rape victims — a view that is in reality quite widely held, despite the fact that it is patently false. You can get even higher numbers than these when you classify every rape case that goes to trial and comes back with a “not guilty” verdict as false as well — which, of course, many MRAs and other rape apologists do, despite the fact that a jury having “reasonable doubt” that a crime was committed is not even remotely the same as proving that it didn’t happen.
Throughout the rest of the article, we’ve got complete ignorance to the fact that a vast majority of actually false reports are vague enough to ensure that no one is actually arrested on account of them. There’s the profession that a woman who stops cooperating with law enforcement officials is automatically lying, rather than that she has become afraid or triggered, or feels that she is not being treated with respect. The same goes for a teenage girl who recants after accusing a coach of rape, ignoring the fact that while sure, she may have been lying, it’s probably a lot more likely that she was being bullied at school and called a liar anyway and just wanted it to end as quickly as possible.
Even better, there’s a seemingly serious argument that because women sometimes lie about things like money, they obviously lie about rape, too. Mix it all up with a good old dollop of “because the Duke case was dropped, the woman who filed the accusation was a lying whore, and everyone knows it!” and you’ve got yourself some classic rape apologism in the guise of a supposedly factual and balanced article.
You know, I’m genuinely sorry for what happened to Bekele. But it’s a huge shame that his story was used in this way. To pretend that what happened to him is somehow common — specifically, significantly more common than false accusations of other crimes — is only to further a rape apologist myth that women regularly lie about rape, and therefore rape accusations need to be taken with a bigger dose of skepticism than other allegations. There’s a reason why this article is not about false accusations in general. There’s a reason why they chose to not interview someone falsely accused of robbery.
Because it wouldn’t reinforce what most people think they already know. And it wouldn’t give people a reason to feel good about regularly treating genuine crime victims like absolute shit.
Big thanks to Trina for the link.