Details magazine has published an account of one man’s experience of being accused and later found not guilty of rape. The story, written by Kayleen Schaefer (who tweeted a link to the story with the question “is this every man’s worst nightmare?”) calls rape accusations “one of the last indelible taints in society” and bemoans the fact that even though a jury found Kevin Driscoll not guilty, he must now live with the stigma of having been accused of rape.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: no one deserves to be judged, stigmatized, or discriminated against for something they didn’t do. The fact that this goes on at all points to deeply problematic holes in both our court system and our cultural attitudes towards justice, which feminism does and should continue to actively address. And this story certainly fuels empathy for Driscoll’s experience, and anyone who has gone through anything similar. This is especially true for me given the history of false rape accusations leveled systematically against black men and men of color.
So we all agree, this is no easy issue to tackle, yes?
That being said, I wish the story had taken a moment to acknowledge some of the more complex elements of this issue.
As it stands, I am sort of disturbed by some of the unspoken but ever-present implications of the story: that since this particular man was found not guilty of rape, everything he says about his accuser is to be believed and everything she says is to be discredited; that since one woman lied or had her version of events disproven, there must be many more with similarly bunk accounts; that the outcome of individual rape cases should play into our bigger political and cultural attitudes towards sexual assault.
I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many men’s rights groups take up the cause of false rape accusations with great gusto, but that their enthusiasm for seeking justice through the law rarely extends to victims of sexual assault.
And it’s frustrating to me that there’s such a strong relationship between false rape activists and anti-feminists, because in reality feminists and those trying to reduce instances of false rape accusations have a lot of overlap and a lot in common. We both want a fair and effective justice system. We both want to reduce stigma and discrimination around cases of sexual assault. We both want to find ways to facilitate more honest and truthful dialogue around rape, sexual assault, and violence in our communities and justice systems.
Alas, we find ourselves too often in opposition. Take, for example, the blog called “The Counter-Feminist”. Tagline: “The female-supremacist hate movement called ‘feminism’ must be opened to the disinfecting sunlight of the world’s gaze and held to a stern accounting for its grievous transgressions.” How poetic. They gleefully posted links to contact the author of the Details story in a call to contribute thoughts to the piece.
Insofar as it’s true that the tale of the falsely accused rapist is a man’s worst nightmare, it’s also a feminist’s worst nightmare. False rape accusations- and false accusations of any kind, really, aren’t good for anyone. They shouldn’t be framed as an anti-feminist issue any more than sexual assault should be framed as solely a feminist issue. It’s when the quest for justice becomes an anti-woman bashing session that feminists have to step in.