I spotted this gem on the Men’s Right reddit page. It is a year old post written by Cliff Pervocracy of Manboobz. Cliff decides to challenge the notion of false accusations, writing:
There’s a lot of talk out there about “false rape accusations,” which tends to come up in every discussion of a rape that did not involve a virgin in a prairie dress screaming “NOOOO” while being beaten on videotape in front of thirty-eight witnesses who were all members of the clergy and decorated war heroes. The statistics on how many rape accusations are false range from above 40% to under 2%, and (as is usually the case) which number someone chooses to use in their argument tells you more than the number itself.
In the middle of this mess, of hearing that Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn and whoever the fuck it is this week are victims of our Giant National Epidemic Of False Rape Accusations, I want to offer a point of clarification. When someone says “false rape accusation,” it can mean any of the following scenarios.
1. Alice goes to the police and falsely accuses Bob of raping her. Bob is arrested, tried, and convicted. This one’s the boogeyman. And for good cause; it is horrible. I’m sure it has happened. Unfortunately, by its nature we can almost never know when it’s happened–which should make you very suspicious of someone who claims it happens constantly.
If we follow Cliff’s logic, we should also be very suspicious of someone who claims rape happens constantly. After all, given the nature of rape, we cannot be certain (which is the proper way to say “almost never know”) when it has happened. We can only take a person’s word for it, particularly in cases reported years later.
I am sure Cliff would object to that idea (at least regarding female victims), yet technically that is the view his logic says we should have. If that strikes you as stupid, that is because it is. One should not just assume that a claim is suspicious because you do not know how often something occurs.
He goes on to write:
A handful of people have been cleared by new evidence, but only a handful–nowhere near a significant proportion of the people in prison for rape. Obviously there are people who are innocent and we don’t know it, but you can’t get statistics on a thing nobody knows.
Well, you can if you bother to look, but why do that? Why check to see how many people are innocent? Why look at cases with weak or no evidence supporting the claims? Why check the accuser’s history and see whether this person has a history of lying about serious situations? Why check to see if the accuser later told people that what she claimed happened never did? Why investigate when it is so much easier to assume that there are really no innocent people ever sent to prison for rape.
2. Alice goes to the police and falsely accuses Bob of raping her. Bob is arrested but the charges are dropped.
It is unclear what exactly this scenario is meant to prove. I suspect it is meant to show that false accusations do not always result in imprisonment, however, that is not really clear. Most people who are arrested are held in jail for a period of time. Assuming Bob can make bail, he might get out. Otherwise, he will send time in jail until the charges are dropped, and that does not always fast. He may spend months or even years in jail waiting for the investigators to determine whether anything happened.
3. Alice goes to the police and falsely accuses Bob of raping her. Bob is arrested, tried, and acquitted. In these cases, the justice system is working exactly as it should. An innocent person is found to be innocent, and the horrifying possibility of a man thrown away for a crime he didn’t commit is averted. If there’s an epidemic of these, then there’s also an epidemic of them being appropriately dealt with.
Not exactly. As I stated above, it is not as if Bob would be free. He may spend the weeks, months, or years it takes for the case to go to trial in jail. While in jail, his charges put him at high risk of physical and sexual assault from other inmates. His time in jail and the charges against him will also remain on his record, causing him a host of problems should he apply for certain jobs or attempt to live in certain places.
But if Cliff thinks these cases are appropriately dealt with, he should share that with some of the men who spent ten, twenty, and thirty years in prison for crimes they did not commit and then had to fight their states for financial restitution and to get their records expunged. I think they might disagree with him.
Cliff goes on to write:
Does Bob’s good name get besmirched anyway? Sometimes it does, and that sucks. But it’s no excuse for not taking rape accusations seriously–you don’t know they’re false until after they’re investigated.
Two things. One, it more than sucks. If Bob applies for a job and his potential employer does a Google search on his name, all that stuff gets dredged up. Whether or not Bob was acquitted might not matter, particularly since acquittal does not mean innocent. All it means is that the state could not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The suspicion of Bob being a rapist will stay with him.
Two, one cannot also know that rape accusations are true until after they are investigated. One can assume they are true, but that is a personal choice. More so, recognizing that some people lie about rape does mean that people should not take rape accusations seriously. It only means that people should investigate them to make sure that the person you are trying to lock up is guilty and that a rape actually happened.
4. Alice does not go to the police, but falsely tells all her friends that Bob raped her. This is the only one that’s happened to anyone I know. Again, it sucks and it really can fuck up Bob’s life. But since it doesn’t involve the legal system in the first place, changes to rape law would do nothing to prevent this. This is slander, but it’s not exactly an “accusation.”
- a charge of wrongdoing; imputation of guilt or blame.
- the specific offense charged: The accusation is murder.
- the act of accusing or state of being accused.
Claiming that someone raped you is an accusation, whether you tell the police or just your friends. Cliff is right that changing rape laws would not prevent this, but I do not know of anyone claiming that they would. The general complaint is that there is no consequence for spreading this kind of lie.
5. Alice falsely tells the police that someone raped her, but does not name names.
As harmless as this may look, it really is not. If Alice gives a description of the alleged rapist, police may arrest anyone who looks like that, leading to the scenarios I mentioned above. At the very least, she wastes the police’s time, and may in turn make them more skeptical of women making similar claims.
6. Alice falsely tells all her friends that someone raped her, but does not name names. It’s fucked up, but it’s a victimless fucked up. Believing Alice wastes police time and friend sympathy, but no one is seriously harmed. A lot of cases touted in the media as “false rape reports” are actually Type 5, and while that’s a wrong thing to do, it’s definitely not “innocent man thrown in prison as a rapist” wrong.
The same thing I wrote in response to #5 applies here, but it can be much worse. Alice’s friends can reach a host of conclusions about who did it, and may act on that, harassing the man or men they think raped their friend. The friends may involve the police or take matters into their own hands. The potential for this turning into a problem, or a crime, for some innocent man is pretty big.
7. Chuck rapes Alice. Alice tells the police that Bob raped her. This is usually an innocent mistake, and often one that has more to do with bad police work than with Alice being dishonest. And Alice really was raped, so any solution to this problem that comes down to “just ignore her” is inappropriate.
Sometimes it is the result of an “innocent” mistake, and sometimes it is a deliberate diversion. Some women accuse the wrong person to protect the real rapist. Yet in this situation, the problem is not just that Alice was raped, but also that the wrong guy pays for it, usually with a long prison sentence.
Cliff goes on to write:
Note that this is the case in almost every situation where someone was cleared by DNA evidence. If there was DNA to test, then it’s very likely that someone raped Alice, and calling her a “false rape accuser” is wrong.
Actually, it is not wrong. She accused the wrong person, ergo the accusation is false. Bob did not rape her. That is the trick with English, which Cliff is apparently unaware of it: words can have multiple meanings. Yes, most people will assume that “false accuser” means “no act happened”, but the term can also mean “accused the wrong person”.
8. Alice and Bob have sex that Bob thinks is consensual. Alice does not. Alice accuses Bob of rape. I think a surprising proportion of rapists are in such severe denial about what it means to have sex with a deeply drugged person, or a person who said “no” until they were cornered and held by their wrists and then they said “yes,” that they honestly believe they’re victims of false accusal. All they did was have sex with someone who didn’t want it, and here they are, being falsely accused of rape! The injustice!
That assume that the only way in which Bob could think the sex was consensual was by having sex with a drunk or drugged Alice. But what if Alice was drunk and flirted with Bob? What if she invited him to her home, to her bedroom, and inside of her and was too drunk to remember doing it? What if she remembers doing it, but regrets it? What if Alice is sober and the same thing happens? What if Alice never says ‘no’ or gives any hint to Bob that his advances are unwanted? There are a lot of ways in which Bob can think the sex was consensual without him being a rapist in denial.
9. Bob rapes Alice. Alice goes to the police and Bob is arrested, but the charges are dropped or he is acquitted. When you see the wildly huge statistics claiming 40% or more of rape accusations are false, this is almost always what they mean–40% or more of rape accusations are not proven true. However, if you think that means they were proven untrue… um, I don’t have a witty simile here but you’re wrong. Guilty people are released all the time and sometimes for terrible reasons.
It would be nice if Cliff had a study or research to back up that claim, but he does not. I assume he is referring to reports about unfounded rape cases, many of which include cases where the charges were dropped. It is possible that some legitimate rapes were counted as unfounded. However, there is no way to know that. So while the scenario Cliff presents is possible, we have no idea how often it happens. We certainly do not know enough about those cases to make the bold claim that the 40% rate refers specifically to cases of actual rapes that failed to go to trial or resulted in acquittals.
10. Bob rapes Alice. Alice goes to the police and Bob is arrested, proven guilty, and convicted. But some people still think Bob is innocent. And this is where all this talk of false rape accusations ends up. It ends in a place where rape can never be discussed, under any circumstances, even in the most clear-cut cases, without people crying “false rape accusations are everywhere!” It ends with “innocent until proven guilty”reinterpreted as “the accuser is guilty until proven innocent.” It ends with “a court of law should not convict on this evidence” being confused with “we should not show the victim any sympathy on this evidence.”
Again, it would be nice if Cliff had an example of this. To my knowledge, no one advocating for the falsely accused are saying that even in cases where there is clear evidence that a rape happened that the accused is still innocent. I am sure someone does it, but I have not seen it.
What Cliff is arguing about is really the way that the legal process works. It is a process that seems to bother a lot of feminists, perhaps because they do not understand that the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is meant to prevent innocent people from being punished for something they did not do or something that never happened. The flip-side of this process requires the state, and therefore the accuser, to prove their accusation is true beyond a reasonable doubt. That can be a very tortured and traumatic experience, but the idea that the court should sympathize with the accuser undermines the purpose of the legal system.
You are not supposed to side with the accusers, but the truth. At the end of the day, that is what justice is about, or should be. The moment the court worries more about showing the accuser sympathy because of some evidence than whether that evidence proves a crime occurred, the system fails. That may upset feminists, but it protects innocent people. However, it does not seem that Cliff is all that concerned about the innocent:
I’d rather live in a world where a hundred false accusers are told “I believe you, I care about you, and I’ll stand up for you,” than where one rape survivor is told “gosh, this story has two sides and I really need to consider him innocent until proven guilty.
Even if that means a hundred falsely accused people end up with their reputations and lives ruined, imprisoned for years, ironically raped in prison, and offered no restitution or justice if it is discovered that they were innocent?
I want survivors to be believe, yet I also want innocent people to be believed because I do not want them to suffer for something they did not do or something that never happened. That is what the legal system is for. I can make a personal judgment of whether I believe someone’s story, but the law is there to determine the truth, and the system should never favor accusers or the accused just because it would make some people feel better.