Seattle Weekly Furthers the Myth of Common False Rape Allegations

by Cara on April 24, 2009

in assholes, media, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

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.

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{ 15 comments }

1 Bird April 24, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Add to that the way so many cases where a person is found not guilty are touted as proof that the lying women are liars, even when the evidence points strongly to guilt but is not conclusive enough for a legal conviction.

People often confuse the legal standard for a guilty verdict with actual guilt. Just because there’s not enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” does not mean there was no assault.

See, for example, the recent case in Ontario where a he-said, she-said type case ended in a not-guilty verdict, even though the judge himself stated that the accused was probably guilty. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict.

http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/622309

2 EKSwitaj April 24, 2009 at 9:31 pm

I’m glad you blogged about this: I saw the cover of that issue and couldn’t bring myself to pick it up.

3 Brandy April 24, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I can’t even read the news story. The mere thought of doing so threatens to send me into a helpless fury. Helpless because I feel there is nothing I can do to change reality of how this rape culture is built and re-enforced everyday, and fury at the fact that it is being re-enforced.

4 Paul April 24, 2009 at 11:31 pm

What’s the Duke case?

5 Cara April 25, 2009 at 7:41 am

Hahahaha . . . wow, Paul. I think you’re the first person to ever ask that question :)

Um, I’ll say the case where a woman, who happened to be black and a stripper, accused three white Duke lacrosse players who whose party she was dancing at of raping her. Much racism, rape apologism and “women are liars!” ensued. If you haven’t previously heard of it, though, I wouldn’t know where else to even begin. Though googling “duke rape case” will bring you lots of loveliness (read: abject hatefulness), I’m sure.

6 abyss2hope April 25, 2009 at 10:25 pm

It’s interesting that the fault for this wrongful arrest is placed solely on the shoulders of the woman who reported and none of the blame is placed on the investigators who booked this man before completing the investigation. They were clearly sloppy, possibly to the point of malpractice.

As the APRI report discussed, this woman worked to make this case at first glance look like an easily prosecutable rape case by giving the investigators the type of evidence they craved.

Investigator sloppiness is what hurts the innocent whether that innocent person is accused of a sex crime or a victim of one.

7 Deborah White April 26, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Bottom line the percentage of “false rape” claims is so minute that to take it as “false” and consider other “real” rape cases also as “false”, is absolutely ridiculous. It’s difficult enough for a woman or even in some cases a man, to come forward with their case, let alone it be a lie.

8 Jet April 27, 2009 at 12:02 am

Thank you for posting this.

9 abyss2hope April 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

I had more thoughts on this Seattle Weekly article than would fit in a comment so I wrote a post titled: The responding injustice that doesn’t just happen.

10 milica April 27, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Two steps forward and one step back… this feels like a whole leap back… :(

11 Emmy April 27, 2009 at 2:58 pm

… iirc, the real mess of the Duke case was that the prosecutor wanted to make a huge splash, threw everything into the limelight, pushed the case too fast, lied about it, and kept going long after the point where “you know, this is probably a bad idea” should have been invoked, because he couldn’t admit he’d made a mistake.

Also, that the jerk who made some highly disturbing comments about killing strippers wasn’t punished, but the coach of the team lost his job.

A lot of people acted badly. A lot of people harassed, frightened, and damaged each other. Most of them will not suffer any consequences for it.

12 J.Love May 21, 2009 at 3:25 am

As a recent victim of rape in King County (Seattle) I reported it and SPD came to my house. I explained the circumstances and the officer replied, “So what do you want us to do?” I said, “I don’t know, your job, investigate.” They told me that the prosecuting attorneys office (PAO) would never consider my case because I was intoxicated, and therefore an uncreditable witness.
Regardless of my creditability, several people saw what happened to me that night in the parking lot of this local restaurant. The police never went to the restaurant or talked to anyone! They simply wrote a half page report ended with she admitted drinking and flirting.
I provided a rape kit to the hospital including DNA and pictures of all the bruises from the violence. Nevertheless, a detective from the Seattle Special Assault Unit called me to tell me why he wasn’t going to investigate…because the PAO would never consider my case and he knew that from his “22 years of experience working with the PAO.” He said so many awful things, but the worst was, “A jury is going to say, you were drinking, and flirting. What did you expect?”

I didn’t expect to be raped! Nor did I expect to be denied investigation because the Seattle Police Department feels that an intoxicated victim is not creditable. Why do the cops have the power to play judge and jury? I cannot believe they did this to me, and probably other victims too. I bet that I am not the only one who has experienced this type of treatment….

13 Cara May 21, 2009 at 8:37 am

J.Love,

I’m so incredibly sorry to hear that they did that to you. I bet that you’re not the only one either.

I would suggest contacting a rape victim’s advocacy group in Seattle, if not because you still want to press charges (though they might be able to help with that, too), but so that they can know about and work on the problem if they’re not already. Just a suggestion.

But no. You did not expect to be raped. Nor should you have. And even if in some weird universe you had expected to be raped, that still wouldn’t make it your fault. No one rapes her or his self. It would still have been a result of a rapist choosing to rape you.

14 Anna May 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

J.Love: Not from Seattle, but when I was raped at 17 in England those were the police officer’s exact words to me too (bar the fact I’d been taking drugs as well as drinking). It’s incredibly sad it’s a global thing.

15 NHer June 5, 2009 at 1:11 am

As one of the 2% who suffered from a false accusation, I can tell you that the mere accusation is the worst. Even after I had to go to the police to have them investigate myself, she said she made it up and walked away scott free.

I know rape is real. I know false rape accusations are real. I must admit to being angry about how there are two “sides” when really in both cases there is a bad person and a survivor. The issue is complicated and very gray, but don’t for a second think that the 2-8% don’t matter.

I survived a false allegation of rape, and I am proud of that.

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