(First in a series of conversations with Privilege Denying Dude)
Well, Privilege Denying Dude, that is an interesting claim. And while you may think it is unique, I’ve actually heard it before.
Katie Roiphe, for example, made the claim back in 1991, and it was promptly debunked by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Other proponents of this hypothesis include right-wing activists like Heather MacDonald. It’s actually quite the favorite old tune.
Outside of the public realm, a lot of other people have said the very same thing to me, in a lot of different contexts. I was an anti-rape educator for a while, and one of the exciting benefits of that position is that people will tell you all of their opinions about rape. They’ll do this while you’re doing your job, of course—that’s part of the job. But they’ll also do it on airplanes, in bars, and even at neighborhood potluck dinners.
This happens so much, in fact, that my former co-worker sometimes used to lie and tell people she was a florist, just so she didn’t have to have a conversation about rape every time she took a long train ride.
So, I’ve heard your claim before. I’ve considered it thoroughly. I’ve thought it through.
First, I have a question for you about your claim.
What evidence can you provide? Is there any study you can point to that indicates that such a problem exists?
Because that’s quite a claim you’re making. The consequences of making that claim—of spreading the public perception that those who allege rape should be met with disbelief—could be very, very dire if you are incorrect. Are you sure there is evidence to back it up?
If you are wrong, you’re perpetuating an idea that is often used to discredit rape victims. In fact, the “consent defense” (a defense based on the claim that sex occurred, but was consensual) is the most common defense used in rape cases. It’s a very successful defense. Only about 16.3% of reported rapes end in jail time for the accused rapist.
And since most rapists are serial offenders who rape multiple victims (an average of 6 victims per rapist), letting one go free is no small matter.
So you should have a lot of evidence before you make a claim like that. A claim like that could hurt a lot of people.
Are you familiar with the literature on this subject? The studies done by sociologists and forensic psychologists and law enforcement specialists?
Have you read the work of Mary Koss? Bonnie Fisher? David Lisak? Steve Thompson? Stephanie McWhorter? I’m not talking about the selective commentary on this work provided by people with a political agenda. I’m not talking about the abstracts, or blog posts about the articles. Have you read the studies themselves?
If you really feel that the body of research on sexual assault is flawed, I would like to hear why.
Second, Privilege Denying Dude, I have a fact for you. The national rate of rape claims classified as “unfounded” is less than 10%.
Let’s be clear, “unfounded” is not the same as “false.” “Unfounded,” in law enforcement speak, includes both “baseless” claims, in which the account given was considered truthful, but in which the elements necessary to meet the legal definition of rape were absent (Laws vary from state to state. For example, marital rape is still not classified as “rape” in some states), and claims the officers involved felt were untrue. In my experience, police officers are just as likely to hold stereotypes about which rape reports are “real” as the general public. According to the Sexual Assault Training and Investigations training developed by nationally recognized law enforcement expert and former head of the San Diego Sex Crimes Unit Joanne Archambault, many untrained officers will disbelieve a victim because the victim knows the suspect, had a prior sexual relationship with the suspect, is acting “too” calm, is vague, later remembers more about what happened, is a prostitute, is drunk or on drugs, is belligerent, and for a whole range of other reasons that simply do not indicate that a report is false.
Some poorly trained departments may also improperly call cases “unfounded” when they have issues such as a victim’s refusal to cooperate, inability to find a victim, or simply insufficient evidence (this is what is called an “unsubstantiated” claim). Lack of evidence does not mean that a report was false. It simply means that there was not enough evidence for a criminal case to move forward.
Add to this the pressure on officers to report very low rates of certain violent crimes in their precincts, and you find a bias toward labeling rape cases “unfounded,” even though there is no evidence that the rate of false reports of rape is any different from the rate of false reports for any other crime (around 2-8%). According to a report by the American Prosecutors Research Institute, One of the largest studies available looked at 2,059 reported rapes, and found that 7% were false. The largest and most rigorous study looked at 2,643 cases reported over 15 years and found that 8% were considered unfounded by the police officers handling the cases. Another large study placed the false report rate at 2.1%, and others have confirmed the 2-8% range repeatedly.
In other words, the rate of false reports of rape is the same as the rate of false reports of muggings, car accidents, and home invasions. Two to eight percent.
Two to eight percent is important. Two to eight percent is the reason we have a justice system and a trial. It’s why we really, really need due process in all criminal cases. But it is not a majority, or even a large percentage, of rape cases. It certainly is not a reason to assume that many or most people alleging that a rape occurred are lying.
Now, privilege denying dude, if you still believe your original claim in the face of this overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I have another question.
Why do you think women would do that?
When someone makes a report of rape, they would generally need to get a rape kit done to have much success in a court case, unless there were witnesses or other victims. A rape kit is pretty invasive. For women, rape kits usually include a pelvic exam, and I don’t know any woman who looks forward to those. They’re not terrible, but they’re a lot like prostate exams in that you’d rather do something else if possible.
Not to mention, when someone reports a rape, they will be asked to provide a pretty detailed account to police. The kind of account that is hard to fake. It takes a few hours. And if an accuser is found to be lying, they face serious criminal charges.
A day’s worth of interviews and hospital time, a year’s worth of legal proceedings, a pelvic exam, and the risk of criminal prosecution seems like an awful lot of effort to go through just to get even with someone who didn’t call you back. So why do you think women, in particular, would be so driven? You specified that you believe it is women who lie about rape, so I am assuming that you don’t believe that men are likely to do the same. Why not?
I don’t know you all that well, PDD, but I have to wonder whether you think women are different from men in some important ways. Do you think that women are less trustworthy, or more unpredictable, than men?
If women are less trustworthy, why is there no evidence that they are more likely to falsely report crimes other than rape? Wouldn’t the tendency to make false police reports carry over to include other offenses? Wouldn’t women also be involved in more fraud of all kinds? Why would women’s greater propensity for dishonesty be isolated to allegations involving this particular offense?
Finally, privilege denying dude, I wonder what you think we should do about this problem you feel we have. If women are, in fact, less trustworthy than men, or uniquely tempted to make false allegations of sexual violence, how did they get that way? What is it in our culture that has created this epidemic of untrustworthy women, and what is your proposed solution? Certainly, for the time being we should give less validity to anything a woman says, in court or in life. But how do we prevent the dishonesty in the first place? Is it an immutable quality in female humans, or can we socialize girls differently to avoid it?
These are the questions we must ask if we take your claim seriously, PDD. And, as the person making an assertion without evidence, you are responsible for providing the answers. The burden of proving your claim lies with you. I am not responsible for disproving it (though I believe the information I have provided does just that). You are responsible for proving your claim, and for proposing reasonable responses to the problem you claim exists.
Until you have done this, I don’t feel we have anything further to discuss.