Following up on a post of mine about rape accusations from last year, the excellent Wendy McElroy writes a piece criticizing the way prosecutors and police undermine justice while seeking publicity.

The stigma our society attaches to those accused of rape is at least as strong as that attached to rape victims. And, at the point of accusation, neither is presumed to be innocent or guilty. [Isn't everyone presumed innocent? I'm not sure what her point is here. -- MW]

The answer will come back: because women must be encouraged to report rape without feeling intimidated. But it is equally valid to argue that accused men must be encouraged to defend themselves without feeling that the police and prosecutors will use the media against them. If the goal is to protect the innocent, the obvious solution is to name neither party until after a trial verdict. But police and prosecutors do not advocate this remedy. ...

How common are false allegations of sexual assault? No one knows. And the more anonymous accusations become, the less likely it is that solid statistics will emerge. One of the best studies remains that of the now-retired Purdue University sociologist Eugene J. Kanin. Kanin examined reports of forcible rape lodged with the police force of a small metropolitan town from 1978 to 1987. There were 109 accusations; 45, or 41 percent, were discarded as false.

Forty-one percent seems remarkably high but it does indicate the urgent need to take false accusations seriously. The law should apply its own standard of "presumption of innocence" by naming an accuser as well as the accused, or naming neither. It should prosecute the filing of false reports as vigorously as it does valid ones.

The problem is that no one will make a career out of prosecuting women who accuse men of rape on legally insufficient grounds. It's often the case that when someone is raped, there's little evidence other than he-said/she-said testimony, and in such cases it's incumbent upon society to acquit the accused; if there is clear evidence that the charge was fabricated, then society must act to punish the accuser.

Women who claim to have been raped make very sympathetic victims, and for good reason. There are few crimes more terrible than rape, but I would argue that a false accusation of rape is one of them. I advocate a system in which a perjurer/false-accuser would face the same penalties as their victim would have, had he or she been convicted of the crime they were falsely accused of. (Naturally, in many circumstances it may be impossible to prove that either a crime was committed or that the accusation was false, in which case no one should be prosecuted.)

I'm not at all about "blaming the victim" and I think people should be able to walk around with $100 bills taped to their clothes without fear of robbery... but I also think doing so would be rather foolish. Similarly, I think men and women have a responsibility to behave wisely and to keep themselves out of situations that could lead to misunderstandings, false accusations, or actual victimization. How each individual should apply that principle is a matter of personal choice and the exercise of personal wisdom. I have some standards I've set for myself that I may write about in a later post.



Email blogmasterofnoneATgmailDOTcom for text link and key word rates.

Site Info