I’m going to start off with a great video that I recommend you watch. I’m going to imbed it for convenience. When you’ve finished watching it, join me down below.
You’re still with me. That’s wonderful.
I like Laci Green. I find her videos informative, interesting, and generally entertaining. I think she usually handles difficult topics well, this one included.
So first let’s get one thing out there and stated clearly. No matter what the crime is, false accusations can be rough on the one so accused. The more serious the crime, the greater impact that it can have on a person’s life. And yes, recovering from those accusations can be very difficult. For those who are convicted of false allegations, for whatever reason, you are talking about lost freedom and even lost lives. For those who see the allegations, but no trial, you can still see lives upturned, friends and loved ones lost, and isolation. Some have even committed suicide.
It can be hard when someone faces false accusations.
I will not pretend that it is not. We also have laws and penalties for dealing with people who maliciously file false police reports and falsely accuse people of crimes.
For all crimes, false reports make up only a small percentage of reports … research makes coming up with solid numbers hard. Wikipedia has a few hard numbers, and for violent crimes they seem to top out somewhere around 11%. Basically, false accusations are the exception, not the rule. While problematic, for most crimes, we don’t tend to look at the alleged victim and go “Um, is that really how it happened?”
For example, in high school, my home was broken into. We arrived home to the front door being ajar and found that the perpetrator had broken in through the pet flap on the back door. While yes, home break-ins are rarely faked for insurance schemes, they are rare enough that the police officers did not ask if we really had come home to our house being broken into. There were no follow-up questions about whether or not it really happened the way we said, or if we were feeling stressed, needing money, or just wanting attention.
Okay, so let’s get on to our topic of the day – rape allegations.
Only about 8% are false … only that is also misleading. You see, that 8% sometimes includes not cases where no assault happened, but where there was just not enough evidence to move forward. Other times, the victim recanted, but not because the crime did not happen. A victim may recant if pressured by law enforcement, especially if others around the victim doubt the incident occurred. A victim may also recant simply because he or she cannot handle the pressure involved in pursing criminal charges. In fact, that latter link specifically states that a victim recanting does not mean that the crime did not occur.
We also know that in all crimes, and rape is no different, that sometimes the wrong person is accused. That is not because the victim is targeting someone to take the fall or a crime. It usually happens because memory is only so good, and worse under intense stress. So people can be mistakenly identified as the assailant.
The 8% includes these because of how different jurisdictions treat rape reports. Some are good. Some not so much. And so we are left having to interpret a number that is pretty small.
It is even smaller, though, when you consider how many rapes are even reported each year.
If we wanted to look at this from a purely Utilitarian standpoint, we would simply accept that the very few true, intentional false allegations are the price to pay for ensuring that most people who do report sexual assault see justice. Needs of the many and all of that.
I’m not a true Utilitarian, though. Most people are not. We like anecdotes, and when we hear about a young man committing suicide or another whose life is ruined by false allegations, we pay attention. We ask why this happens and we ask, where is the justice?
The problem is – there is no good solution.
Should someone be punished if they ruin another person’s life maliciously? Yes.
But go back up to that chart. Out of 100 cases of actual rape, whether stranger or close, only 32 get reported. Of those 7 will see arrests and 3 will have a prosecutor, and presumably a trial.
We have three significant drop offs here, and we have to ask ourselves why.
Well, going from 32 reports to 7 arrests can have a lot of reasons. There may not be enough evidence to find the perpetrator. There may not be enough evidence to warrant an arrest. The victim may recant, for reasons discussed in the links above. Going from 7 to 3, we can see more of the same. We need evidence to get to trial. The victim has to be willing to relive the experience in interview after interview with police and prosecutors.
But what about that first drop off?
Why do so few victims report?
That happens for a lot of reasons. A victim may not understand what has happened, and once they do, they may simply not know what to do. I have talked to men who had to ask, if they never had the chance to give consent, was it rape. The answer is always yes to that question. It is one thing if you establish with a significant other that he or she can “wake you with sex anytime.” That is consent given ahead of time, to someone trusted, who can use that granted consent and power responsibly. When it is someone who that has not been negotiated with, that is another story.
But men do not always recognize it for what it is, even if they feel victimized after. Men also are more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused and their rapes go under-reported because we have so many misconceptions about rape and men and masculinity in general.
People are afraid of being believed and they are afraid of what will happen when people do not believe them. Will they be harassed? Will they lose friends? Will the perpetrator come after them?
The story from Pro-Publica about Marie is a difficult story to read, but you should read it. What happened to her is rare in cases of “false allegations” (hers was not false, spoiler alert too late) because police have to be careful not to make victims feel intimidated. If you were victimized and you knew that the police might not believe you, would you report if you thought you could be brought up on charges?
I see people share memes once in a while about putting people (read: women) in jail for false rape allegations and my answer to that in simply, no. That is to say, do not advocate for it. Again, we already have laws on the books to handle false allegations of any kind, so simply let police deal with it if they find that an unsubstantiated report was knowingly reported false.
But do not advertise this. Do not get it into the heads of victims that they could be arrested if there is not enough evidence to support their allegations. If you do, then that 32 out of 100 number will not improve, more people will become victims because rapists rarely stop with one victim, and fewer and fewer victims will come forward.
Instead of doing something that will just make victims more fearful or ashamed, instead, do something productive.
For those very, very few people who are truly falsely accused of rape, whether by willful false reporting or being incorrectly identified in a case, actually help them get their world back together. If they are suffering because of it, get them counseling. Help educate people around them. If their names were plastered in media, make sure their names are equally cleared. Help them rise above the stigma of false allegation so that they can move on with their lives.
And listen to victims. Do not instantly doubt them. Support them and help them stay strong to get help, to report crimes, and to maybe help save the next person from not being a victim.
You can probably tell, this is something I feel strongly about. It has been stirring in my head for quite a while, and I wanted to finally get it down and out.
I will see you soon with more porn – err erotica talk – and more BDSM and feminism of course.