Originally posted on August 27, 2013
My policy when it comes to rape allegations is to listen first and question second. I do this with every case, regardless of my gut reaction. The reason I do this is because there are plenty of accusations that sound believable yet later turn out to be false and vice versa.
This is the standard law enforcement supposedly uses. The authorities accept the person’s claim of rape, and investigate the claim’s veracity. They do not just look for proof of the crime, but look at all the evidence to determine what actually happened.
Jason Thibeault appears to disagree with that position. He wrote about his experience being falsely accused several years ago. That topic came up again when he wrote about a rape accusation against Michael Shermer, founder of he Skeptics Society. Rohn, a commenter, posted a response, which Thibeault wrote about. Thibeault’s comments reveal the inherent problem many feminists have in dealing with false accusations.
Rohn askes, “Is it fair for us to believe that your ex-girlfriend who accused you years ago of rape, is a bat-shit crazy liar without hearing her side of the story? Isn’t this ‘the bitch be lyin’?’Have I missed something?”
Quite a few things, actually. Aside from the fact that lying about things causes an erosion of trust overall, and aside from the fact that trust is necessary for believing a case without corroborating evidence, I’m going to say this as absolutely plainly as I can: Even people who lie frequently should be able to report rape and it should be taken as seriously. There should not be a “you cried dickwolf” defense. This is morally reprehensible, and intellectually lazy, and it allows real rapists who target known liars to get away with their crimes.
If a person has a history of lying, it is reasonable to assume that they will lie about rape as well. One would need to show that the liar only lies about certain topics in order to side-step that problem. This does not mean the liar could not be telling the truth or that we should not treat the accusation seriously, only that the person’s trustworthiness should come into question.
It is also unlikely that rapists will specifically target known liars just to get away with their crimes. There is no evidence supporting such a theory, although its hyperbolic nature does fit well into feminist theories about rape.
Thibeault goes on:
Another thing that you missed is that I don’t mean “throw men in jail because a woman claims rape”. Nobody means that, to my knowledge.
Nothing in Thibeault’s comments on this issue suggest that he is opposed to throwing men in jail because a woman claimed rape. Contrary to what he claims, many feminists do want men, and only men, accused of raping a woman thrown in jail immediately. There is little feminist concern for the judicial process beyond getting more rape convictions. Feminists will even push for a change in state laws and various secular policies to ensure males, and only males, accused of raping women are punished with as little due process as possible.
Thibeault explains his concept for how people should approach women’s accusations of rape:
What “taken seriously” means is, trust but verify.
Those are two separate concepts. I can take the claim of terrorism seriously while distrusting any claim about American terrorism against Muslims coming from al Qaeda given the group’s past actions. Likewise, I can take rape accusations seriously while distrusting such a claim when made by a known liar.
The correct meaning of “taken seriously” is simply that the accusation is worthy of direct attention. Anything more requires one to assume the accusation is true without any evidence. Trying to verify the accusation is little more than trying to prove it, and that is not how an investigation works. One does not try to prove the crime happened. Instead, one is supposed to determine if anything happened, and if something did, what happened.
In Thibeault’s case, his accuser’s friends believed her without evidence and came to assault him. In Shermer’s case, there is the assumption that the women are inherently telling the truth, as if there were no reason for them to lie.
Yet we do not know this. The women accusing Shermer could be like Thibeault’s ex-girlfriend. They could simply not like Shermer. They may regret flirting him with. This does not mean that they are lying, only that without further information we have nothing with which to determine their veracity. What reason do we have to take their word over Shermer’s? What makes them inherently more trustworthy?
That is the core issue with any rape accusation, and as a survivor of sexual violence I accept this will apply to my experiences as well. Rape is a serious crime in our society. It is one of the few crimes a person can commit that could result in the death penalty. It is one of the few crimes that a person can commit that requires them to be separated from other inmates when imprisoned. The latter is important: rape is so repugnant in our society that even inmates who committed horrific acts hate and will kill rapists.
When one accuses a person of rape, that accusation stands for a long time. Even Thibeault is forced to admit this about his own experiences:
I never saw a court of law over this. Most claims of rape never do. I did see some repercussions though, psychologically — since then I have had a great deal of difficulty with being overly cautious even with enthusiastic partners, to their consternation when I move too slowly in bed for their tastes. As a result of the deeply in-grained fear that perhaps the rape allegation against me was predicated on my misreading signals, I have historically chosen to be as cautious as humanly possible in such matters. I know, intellectually, that I didn’t rape her, and I know, intellectually, why she made the accusations that she did, but the psychological damage is still there, and I’m still overly cautious decades later. This is something I need to work out between myself and my partners, though — and I’ve managed to some reasonable degree, given that my dance card is presently full. But she was not taken as seriously as she should have been, except for the small group that took her way too seriously without verifying.
It is ironic in that Thibeault behaves like many rape victims do: he makes excuses for his abuser. Perhaps this is why:
I resent the hell out of the fact that my ex-girlfriend’s lying is being used as an example of why you shouldn’t trust-but-verify when people claim they’ve been raped. It’s an example of exactly why you should be measured and careful in treating such a situation without doing undue damage to the alleged victim, at the same time as not doing undue damage to the accused in case they turn out to be one of the rare cases of false accusation.
No, this is exactly why one should investigate a person’s claim before assuming they are telling the truth. This is not the first time something like this happened. The Duke lacrosse case is a fine example of what happens when people “trust but verify.” Many black people and feminists trusted the accuser’s claims and demanded that prosecutor Mike Nifong find the evidence, i.e. verify, the rape happened. The opposite happened. The evidence exonerated the three accused, yet none of the people applying “trust but verify” accepted that. Some of them, like Amanda Marcotte, continue to belief the accuser.
A similar situation happened at Hofstra University. People applied “trust but verify,” believing the woman’s claim of gang rape. One of the accused recorded the act, which later exonerated all of young men. That only happened because the police actually investigated the crime instead of trying to prove it happened. Even then, people still accused the young men of doing something wrong by having consensual group sex with the young woman.
Here is where Thibeault’s logic falls apart. He states:
In my case, a single person claimed rape, and made statements of fact that were demonstrably false. This is decidedly not sufficient evidence to send anyone to jail. However, I have absolutely zero problem with people taking her story into account when determining whether or not I am trustworthy to be around. If people misjudge me based on that story, it might hurt my feelings, but not enough to overcome my empathy for the position that that person is actually in when deciding whether or not they need to defend themselves.
This is the Schrodinger’s Rapist argument all over again. And my stance has not changed. I, as a male imbued with all the privileges of not having to worry about any social encounter ending with rape because rape of men is exceedingly comparatively rare outside of prison, empathize fully with someone who feels they need to cross the street or wait for the next elevator or walk faster to get away from me even though I have no intention of mistreating them. My feelings are not hurt by this — not really. In fact, it makes me angry at a society where such rapes happen and the rapists are almost never brought to justice.
Let me address the latter first. As a male survivor, I would appreciate if feminists like Thibeault did not present misinformation. One in six males face sexual violence by the age of 16. That is hardly “exceedingly comparatively rare.” While we have no conclusive data on how frequently adult males are raped, we do know that the vast majority of sexual violence against males occurs outside of prison at the hands of people the male victims know, and usually at the hands of women. While I understand that as a feminist Thibeault may feel the need to play to his audience, it is dismissive and harmful for him to downplay what hundreds of thousands of men and boys experience every year. That kind of comment does not help men like me, although it does ensure that many of them will remain silent since they are apparently too “privileged” to experience rape.
Back to the former comment, the logic makes no sense. If someone accuses you of something you did not do and then bases their trust of you around that lie, there is a problem. This goes beyond empathy. The person’s judgment is wrong.
That violates one of the basic tenants of our society: to be judged by our actions. To judge someone based on a lie is fundamentally unfair. Thibeault may not have a problem with it, but on a broader level this logic essentially defends prejudice and bigotry against groups of people.
Thibeault goes on to try to explain the rate of false accusations:
The most commonly accepted number is about 6% being reported but being totally untrue. That means 94% of rape allegations are probably true.
No, it does not. The 6% number includes cases that were unfounded, i.e. unable to be proved or disproved, as well as cases of proven false accusations. However, that number does not include all false accusations. Cases like this one would never fall into that rate because the case has not been overturned. There are potentially thousands of innocent people, mostly male, in imprison for rapes that never happened, and they can never prove their innocence because of the nature of the allegations.
Likewise, many of the remaining 94% could be false. We have no reason to assume they are “probably true” just because there was a conviction. After all, many innocent people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit or crimes that never happened. As mentioned above, we may have no means of proving that.
The unfortunate truth is that we do not know how many cases are false, and that should scare the hell out of people given how many cases that sound believable turned out to be untrue.
Thibeault also proves his total ignorance about our court system:
And this with under-reporting being a huge problem. If all instances of rape were reported, despite monumental societal pressure against reporting since the person reporting rape is often the only person whose life gets turned upside-down, then I suspect the number of false rape cases would decrease precipitously.
I would imagine that Dotty Sandusky’s life has been turned upside-down despite not being raped by her husband Jerry. I would also suspect that their children’s lives have been turned upside-down. I suspect that anyone associated with the case who knew Sandusky or his victims or were called as witnesses have had their entire lives dismantled. The idea that only the accusing woman is negatively affected is easily disproved.
Thibeault seems inclined after that to take even greater leaps in logic:
Ethically, if the goal is to prevent people from being raped, and if a statute of limitations has passed and the evidence available is grossly unlikely to land Shermer in jail even if all these accounts were absolutely true, then the correct ethical choice is to make these accusations known to the audience that might use that information to better protect themselves. Since we are an internet-based community primarily, I see no problem with using the internet to get this information to the people that might be most in need of it.
That assumes that the evidence against Shermer proves he committed rape. The accusations alone are not technically proof. Anyone can make an accusation, so sans some investigation, one would be remiss to simply assume the evidence is true. It is unethical to make such accusations known. The potential harm to Shermer, professionally, personally, and legally, is far greater than the potential benefit because you do not know if the accusations are right. More so, this takes a criminal issue and plays it out in the court of public opinion. This is precisely why we have due process, and it is the reason our court system operates on a presumption of innocence. It is very difficult to prove a negative, particularly when it is simply one person’s word over another’s.
Thibeault concludes with:
If, ultimately, Michael Shermer learns that he needs to be a lot more careful about consent — even if he ends up with hang-ups about it, like I did — that’s not a horrible result. Especially not where we have multiple witnesses to multiple events suggesting he’s taking the issue of consent a lot less seriously than he should.
It is a horrible result if those accusations are untrue. Like Thibeault, Shermer could end up distrusting women he meets, making it difficult for him to form relationships, friendly or otherwise. It could make him hesitant to associate with female fans, damage his ability to work with women, or make him generally distrusting of people.
Every person reacts differently, and we do not know Shermer’s past experiences. This could compound an existing trust issue. This is why you do not do this sort of thing to people. Once you mess with someone’s trust, you cannot undo the damage. The more profound the experience, the greater and longer lasting the impact.
While one can see the appeal to feminists of having men afraid to interact with women, it is an unethical thing to do to someone. It sounds like Thibeault understands this, but cannot come to terms with it.