Additionally, please note that the following blog post originally arises from a conversation about rape and pregnancy, so the ideas are expressed in terms of male attackers and female victims. However it’s important to be aware that men can also be sexually assaulted.
Recently I posted this paper to the SPL Facebook page, and quoted from it as follows:
A victim of acquaintance rape in North Carolina became pregnant and carried her child to term. The man she accused of raping her threatened to assert his parental rights unless she agreed not to file charges against him. Another woman from North Carolina became pregnant as a result of rape and placed the baby for adoption. To complete the adoption, she needed the rapist to terminate his parental rights. The rapist, who was in custody awaiting trial, told her that he would terminate his parental rights only if she agreed not to testify against him.
I thought this passage would inspire a conversation about how our society can better support survivors of rape who want to carry their pregnancies and parent their children. To my dismay, this was one of the first comments:
|Never before have I so wanted to punch a puffin.|
- How many rapes and sexual assaults happen per year in the United States?
- Tens of thousands
- Hundreds of thousands
- Over one million
- What percentage of these attacks are not reported to authorities?
- Less than 50%
- Over 70%
- How many accusations of assault are false?
- Over 40%
Research suggests that 2% to 8% of these reports are false. To be conservative, let’s assume it’s 8%; so 8% of 97,112 reports means 7,769 false accusations. (And we are being very conservative. Read the previous link for issues with the way “false accusations” are often defined. Read here (trigger warning) for an example of a woman marked down as a “false accusation.” I would especially like the people who wax poetic about how we’re not harsh enough with women who lie about rape to read that link.)
Now, does this situation mean we should never talk about the injustice of false accusations? No. Falsely accusing someone of a crime is horribly wrong, and it wreaks havoc both on the person falsely accused and on the criminal justice system as a whole. That deserves a conversation.
But what I am seeking is a sense of proportion here. Do you hear people talking about unreported rape 32 times as often as you hear them talk about false rape accusations? Because I sure don’t. If anything, I hear people discuss false rape accusations more often than they ever talk about how many attacks go unreported. Our public discourse on rape is hugely disproportionate to the reality of the situation.
And having such a skewed public conversation about rape isn’t just misleading–it’s horribly damaging. Sexual assault survivors are frequently surrounded by an atmosphere of suspicion and even hostility, and we promote that atmosphere every time we jump to, “But what if she lied?” When survivors think they won’t be believed, they don’t speak up. When they don’t speak up, unreported rapes rise, both because less people are reporting their attacks and because the attackers can continue their behavior without repercussion.
So remember this idea? “Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too.”
|A smashed window in the House of Justice.|
Me: “Oh my god! The House of Justice is on fire, please help me to save it!”
Other people: “Yes, of course, we all care about the house being on fire. But if our interest is in keeping up the house, we must also care about smashed windows. Smashed windows require repair too.”
*Thanks to my friend Mishy for the analogy.