Anti-Feminist Victim Blamer in my own backyard

Cathy Young flyerSo I’m sitting in Business Associations class Wednesday night pretending to listen to the professor talk about tort liability (just kidding, I was really paying attention!) and I get a Facebook message from a like-minded law school classmate. The message says that the law school’s Federalist Society is having an event the next day called, “Presumed Guilty? Rape, Feminism, and False Accusations” with conservative journalist Cathy Young.

Now I had seen the flyer for the event which had the title, “Presumption of Guilt: Is Our Legal System Unfair to Men?” but it said nothing about rape and had a man with a baby on it (See above). So I contacted students who are on the executive board of the Federalist Society to ask them if the program was about rape or about something else. They confirmed that it was about rape.

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know that sexual assault and victim blaming is my passion. I write about it a lot and I am also a survivor myself. So the idea that my own law school would hold such an event about the so-called problem of false rape accusations was troubling to me and I decided to attend. To listen and learn, if given the opportunity to ask a question, and of course live-tweet.

I arrived in a purple sweater to show solidarity with my fellow survivors and advocates. The school’s Women’s Law Forum organized themselves swiftly to distribute purple ribbons to everyone who attended the event, although not everyone chose to wear a ribbon for reasons I don’t really understand.

When the presentation started, I took a deep breath because this topic is so personal for me. Still, I wanted to at least be able to listen to the arguments being made in order to effectively counter. Cathy Young began by commenting on old school treatment of rape victims and their smearing by everyone including the criminal justice system. It’s certainly true that feminists have worked very hard to create a world where reporting a rape doesn’t result in your life being ruined. But Young argues that by doing so feminists have not allowed any room for the presumption of innocence of men who are accused.

This is her central argument: Men who are accused of rape are not given the privilege of being innocent until proven guilty while women are automatically believed.

And to that I respond, on which planet does Ms. Young live? Here where I live, women who report rapes are sometimes believed by the police but most often are not believed by anyone else. Their stories, personal lives, clothes, histories are picked apart by anyone and everyone looking to discredit them.

I’ve rarely seen (oh wait except for Duke Lacrosse which Young cited because that is the most prominent example of a claim that was unfounded) men accused of rape be publicly shamed or have their sexual histories examined. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a man was accused of rape and someone asked him questions about what he was doing that night, what he was drinking, and other relevant questions that are not so relevant when asked of the victims.

Young also made the point that “Neo-feminist arguments about rape contradict principles of justice.” I would argue that patriarchy contradicts the principles of justice as well but that might not fit with Ms. Young’s one-sided presentation. Young failed to mention that half of rapes go unreported. She cited plenty of “studies” yet failed to name any that we could look up for ourselves and she continued to select information which only supported her premise instead of looking at all of the the available data which could possibly contradict it. Feminists have not argued that no women in the history of the world has ever filed a false report of rape. The problem is that the idea that this occurs is raised to cloud those claims that are actually true but lack physical evidence and to scare women into silence for fear that they will not be believed.

That’s my main problem with this kind of program: It fails to acknowledge all sides and dismisses the idea that some women are shamed into silence for fear of being called liars. The idea that women would make false rape allegations based on some sort of sick revenge fantasy or mental illness (two reasons Young mentioned) sound like something out of the 1950s. The Federalist Society at my law school normally has a second speaker to provide a response. There was no response provided to Ms. Young’s point of view. I was told that the attempts to get another speaker to respond fell through which means that Young’s opinions were left mainly unchallenged.

Instead of focusing on the real problem of 1 in 5 women (1 in 4 when it comes to African American women) experiencing a sexual assault in their lifetimes we are speculating about a few cases which were “unfounded” (but not necessarily false) to make the argument that too many women are lying about rape. Isn’t the epidemic of actual rape, not speculative false claims, the real problem which warrants a presentation? Everyone has the right to say what they want, but sometimes your theoretical analysis hurts real people who have been impacted in their real lives as opposed to your life of reviewing studies.

No one should go to prison based on a false rape claim, but no woman should be forced into a prison of silence based on theoretical speculation about the possibility of women making up rape stories for sport.

Join the Conversation

  • Angel H.

    No one should go to prison based on a false rape claim, but no woman should be forced into a prison of silence based on theoretical speculation about the possibility of women making up rape stories for sport.

    I want to make this into a banner! A big ol’ banner to hang on the tallest building downtown!

  • Brüno

    Speaking out against presumption of guit and victim blaming are two seperate issues. You can raise awarness for presumption of guilt against men in rape cases and for victim blaming. From your post your article you come across, as if there is either presumption of guilt or victim blaming and that you see the people who try to tackle the former as the natural enemies who are concerned about the latter.

    • Brüno

      The two go even hand in hand. If presumption of innocence is upheld, then there is no need to slander the accuser. It is assumed that both lie and both tell the truth and because there is presumption of innocence, a man does not need to fear to go to jail just on the word of a woman alone, if the rape can not be proven, by collecting evidence, such as physical trauma that indicates a rape took place.

      • kvp

        You’re still left with date rape via plied drugs or alcohol, as well as any number of alternative scenarios that lack physical evidence, such as cases where victims are forcibly assaulted and become dissociative or where they say no during a typical sexual scenario and aren’t heeded (or in the case of relationship abuse, in which physical evidence that can be called into doubt via “rough sex” defense or similar). Outside of “perfect” cases (stranger jumps out of the bushes, attacks upstanding white straight lady, leaves ample evidence) rape is extraordinarily hard to prove, which is one of the many reasons why so few cases go to trial.

        • Brüno

          Daterape drugs can be traced I think. Maybe some are untracable I am no expert. You said it, its hard to prove and we will have to live with that. If the presumption of innocence is thrown out of the window, then the defendant expects his lawyer to pull all the strings, including shaming the victim, putting her life under the magnifier. If presumption of innocence is upheld, then there is no need for that and because there is no need for that, women feel more confident in reporting and more rape cases go to trial and if women are educated to report a rape as soon as possible, there will be not only more trials but also more convictions.

          If one side tries to fight dirty, throwing presumption of innocence out of the window then the other side is forced to respond in kind and if women do not feel like they can stomach to play hardball, they stay away from the authorities less rapes go to trial and less rapists are convicted.

          I am sorry, but if presumption of innocence is thrown out of the window and more is accepted then what can be proven then it becomes all about character, sexual history and what other persons have to say about the person and the persons credibility and integrity. You cant expect that one set of standards is upheld for the accused and another set of standards for the accuser.

        • Brüno

          You say rape is hard to prove at the same time you decry the fact, that few rape victims get their trial. If the prosecution has nothing to go with, there should be no trial. However in the American legal system, there is no presumption of innocent until proven guilty. There is only the verdict of the jury.

          This means a case can go to trial even if it is an he said she said. If you get that kind of case, it isnt about evidence, because there is none, it is about asessing and dissecting the characters of the prosecution and the the prosecuter. The state attorney tries to paint the accused as an raping animal who is evil and inhuman. The defense tries to paint the accuser as a liar and the jury is supposed to come up with a verdict after all that.

          If you do not want a trial to be an ordeal for an alledged victim, then standards need to be upheld for which cases can go to trial and those with nothing to bring to a trial, should be refuted. If you want every victim to have “her day in court” then, depending on the situation, she will have to endure the same treatment the accused has to endure. If you want a trial at which the accused can be adressed as the raping rapist who raped her, but the accuser is to be handled with velvet glows to not upset her, then all you get is a showtrial.

          There is no silverbullet. Rape is hard to prove. Rapists go free on a regular basis. If you do not have a solution, then you cant point the finger at the legal system, or “men”. I dont see anybody on here coming up with a solution, so on what basis can somebody who has not a solution to this problem shame anybody?

    • Emily Sanford

      Hear! Hear!

      It sounds like the presentation was pretty badly one-sided in a sexist way, and the feminist response therefore shouldn’t be either.

      Because within the feminist community, I think there very much DOES need to be a discussion about the problem of presumption of guilt. Years ago on this site Jessica Valenti and other editors repeatedly argued that Bill Clinton is innocent until proven guilty regarding the sexual harassment, sexual asssault and rape of which he has been accused. Meanwhile, this site has given Anita Hill ten times more attention than they ever have Paula Jones.

      I completely agree with you that battling the practice of victim-blaming and reinforcing the “innocent until proven guilty” cornerstone of justice should never be mutually exclusive.

  • Joseph Martin

    There’s nothing I hate more (in an argument) than citing a study but not actually supplying the citation for the study.

    A legitimate question for Zerlina and the Feministing community – I’ve heard it suggested that the accused, like it should be (but all to often isn’t), not have their name released until, at the very least, a trial begins. Does this seem like an acceptable path forward?
    I understand that it may hamper some women coming forth when a serial rapist is finally accused in the public sphere, but I feel as though that could also be counteracted by helping to increase programs and support networks for survivors.
    Its a pretty huge legal upset – the idea that an arrest or accusation shouldn’t necessarily be public record, but I feel as though it might shut up a lot of the MRA arguments. Which might be one of the more beautiful silences I’ve ever heard.

  • Mari Passananti

    It’s disheartening to hear that no rebuttal or contrasting speaker was available. Because I have to wonder what planet Ms. Young is living on. Of course false accusations (from the petty to the extremely serious) are as old as human communication. But our prosecutorial burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” exists for one reason: to protect the accused.

    If the Federalist Society has a sudden interest in the rights of accused persons, perhaps they should hold a panel to consider the assault on the rights of all accused criminals by the Roberts Court.

  • Dan

    What a pity. You went to a presentation about the perceived risk of being falsely accused of a rape or rapes, and the consequences, sometimes including death, that nonrapists endure, but were unable to empathize.

    It wasn’t about rape victims-it was about instances where it is not certain that a specific individual committed rape. It is entirely possible to afford the accused reasonable doubt in an actual sense until the case has been settled in a legal sense.

    That FBI statistic you linked: 9 percent of reports are ‘unfounded’. That doesn’t mean ‘malicious’ and it doesn’t mean ‘false’. It also doesn’t mean a thing about the physical evidence, or character of the complainant. It means ‘the situation complainant described did not meet the legal definition of a crime’.

    Using that ~10%, and your statistics of 1 in 5 (20% of women, or ~10% of people) and 50% (percent reported), 1% of women will make an unsubstantiated (not malicious, and not one results in an acquittal) claim of rape. That’s three million Americans suffering serious repercussions, like having their education, job, or lives interrupted because of a system that refuses to be cautious both ways and protect both the accuser and the accused.

    Oh, and don’t discount the men who are silenced, shamed, or blamed for being raped. Rape happens to people, not just a subset of people. Every time you implicitly assert that victims of rape or domestic violence are women, it becomes somewhat harder for me to understand the point you wanted to make.

    • Dom

      Why are we still reading the What About the Menz argument in the comments section? Hasn’t this type of derail made the rounds of all feminist sites by now? We’ve heard this stuff ad nauseam before and we don’t need to hear it again. For. The. Last. Time: A feminist site is not the place to draw attention to Teh Menz. Live, learn, go back to your own spaces. We don’t need you here.

      • Thorne Melcher

        @Dom: Two things.

        First of all, it’s one thing to bring up men’s issues when not provoked. I understand how someone bringing them up on only marginally related subjects, however, I think comments are a better place than any to point out flaws in a op-ed piece. By posting this, Ms. Maxwell welcomed feedback, and it just so happens that men’s issues are key to that feedback, much more so than more general topics discussed on this site.

        Additionally, I’m regularly see people telling men’s rights advocates that what they really need is more feminism (to go after the patriarchy), not less. I realize there is a diversity of opinion among feminists, and that’s okay, but you have to realize that, as a community, there are some mixed signals being sent.

        (I consider myself both a feminist and an MRA, for the record, because a healthy perspective with one will reinforce healthy perspectives with the other, contrary to what a lot of members of both movements think.)

        • Dom

          As David Futrelle amply demonstrates in, MRAs are not feminist. They hate women.

          • Dan

            Strawman. Ad hom. Derailment. Sterotypeing.

            I refuse to acknowledge that men’s rights and women’s rights are distinct forms of human rights. That makes your accusation parse as “People who recognize rights do not recognize rights. They oppress people.”

            Clearly, you disagree on that point; I conclude that you believe that men’s rights and women’s rights are distinct and mutually exclusive. Is that accurate?

      • Dan

        “Presumed Guilty? Rape, Feminism, and False Accusations”

        That’s the name of the event under consideration. The author noticed what it was about, and then decided that the subject was not a problem before attending: “So the idea that my own law school would hold such an event about the so-called problem of false rape accusations was troubling to me and I decided to attend.” She did not listen to the points set forward, or seriously consider the subject matter: “I wanted to at least be able to listen to the arguments being made in order to effectively counter.” (Emphasis added)

        I don’t think this is a hijack about “the Menz”; it is more accurate to say that I’m calling out the derailment using “The Womenz”. Is it a non-problem that men have been systemically persecuted, jailed, and even killed because they have been falsely accused of rape? Cases where the evidence is overwhelmingly clear as to the absence of rape are rare, but not nonexistent. Cases where there is some doubt as to who is guilty however, are mostly consistent: Accused (male) rapists are presumed guilty, tried in the realm of public opinion, and marked for life.

        That said, this location IS actively hostile to men and to people who don’t reinforce the echo chamber aspect. I’m fine with that.

    • Kirsten White

      Emphasizing who comprises the demographic majority of victims in rape cases is not discounting those victims who comprise the minority. 90% of rape victims are female. Between 98 and 99% of rapists are male. With statistics like this it would be irresponsible to talk about rape without acknowledging the profoundly gendered aspects of rape and sexual violence. So yes, rape does “happen” to people. (Saying it “happens” to a person is probably not the most accurate or most respectful way to describe the experience of surviving a violent and dehumanizing crime). But women are the victims overwhelmingly, and men are the perpetrators overwhelmingly. It is incredibly important to work concurrently on all the horrible, gendered aspects of rape and rape culture, which of course includes supporting male victims.

      But I am not and do not need to be “implicit” about asserting the fact that the victims of rape and domestic violence are overwhelmingly women. I am going to be unashamedly explicit about it. It is the reality of sexual violence in the world.

      • kvp

        That’s fair. But at the same time, as a male survivor of sexual violence I find myself repeatedly asked to be silent, particularly in spaces that are devoted to the discussion of and organization against sexual violence. It’s not really an issue when those spaces are explicitly defined as being devoted to male violence against women, in which case I know where I stand in relation to the mission of the space.

        But for whatever reason (political correctness?) many places deign to use the umbrella term “sexual violence”, implying a scope that encompasses the gestalt issue of sexual violence (including, for example, intimate partner violence in queer relationships) and in those cases I increasingly feel as though I’m resented for adopting this mantle (“survivor”) that rightfully belongs to the collective woman. You just have to look at the articles that popped up in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, which bitterly pointed out the gender of the victims and hinted not-so-subtly at coverage of sexual violence as a zero sum game, as this thing that had to be wrested away before it became about something it wasn’t, which is the rape of boy children.

        Which gets at a larger issue that I tend to have. I participate in anti-violence advocacy work, Take Back the Night Rallies, etc. because it’s the right thing to do but I never assume for a second that my experience as a survivor is one that’s accepted within the community, because it isn’t, not really. I get a single sentence at the end of a paragraph, maybe an entire paragraph here and there, in gender studies textbooks. It’s only there because of a sense of minimal obligation. Male survivors like myself turn to the Women’s Movement, partially because of its soft and (absent-mindedly) deceptive language, partially because of the near-entirety of victim support apparatuses have been built by it, but you get to a certain point and the message that you get (but is never explicitly stated out of politeness, except from the occasional Dworkinite) is go build your own goddamn spaces, which is a rough thing to hear when you approach a culture that so openly and self-consciously wrestles with its inclusiveness in so many aspects.

        So ultimately yes, we do have to make our own spaces, and quit showing up on feminist websites announcing our identities and demanding they be recognized, but I worry about the same things that feminists tend to – about the potential hijacking of conversations around sexual violence, about radicalization into a malignant wing of the MRA movement, and most importantly the fact that I’m going to be forced into a space where I feel unsafe. The most important reason that men are so often pushed out of anti-violence spaces is to ensure the safety of women who have been victimized by men, but I have also been victimized by men, and I’m expected to rely and thrive in a “safe space” entirely populated by them. It’s a wash, it always has been. We don’t have a home.

        Well, that turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, but I think I comported myself coherently, yeah? That’s all I needed to say.

    • Christy

      People being falsely convicted of any crime is a problem. To address it, we need to focus on prosecutor and court procedures, poor sources of evidence such as eyewitness testimony and bad forensic science, and we need to understand that police can manipulate false confessions out of some people.

      It is a problem, however, to focus on false convictions of rape and rape alone. The myth of widespread false reporting is pervasive in our society. Talking about false accusations of rape alone reinforces this myth. This myth is directly responsible for low rates of reporting and conviction of this serious crime.

      Dan’s made up stat of 3 million men in the U.S. suffering destroyed reputations from false rape claims can’t be accurate. First of all, you can’t mix statistics from two different studies that use different definitions and expect to come up with anything more substantial than a guess. Second of all, assuming that Dan’s description of the definition of “unfounded” for the statistic he cites that 9% of rape reports are unfounded is right (I didn’t see a link), his conclusion can’t be right. Do you mean to tell me that when the actions in the victim’s story do not constitute a crime, men are charged and convicted of those not-crimes? That makes no sense to me.

      If you want to focus on the very real problem of false convictions, do that instead of feeding into the lie that a significant number of women are vengeful creatures who will destroy a man’s life out of spite and should be listened to with extreme skepticism.

      • tylik

        Just as a random bit – last time I went looking for decent numbers on the prevalence of false claims of rape, the numbers from sources that did not have an overt political agenda, across a number of (western) countries, were around 10%. This was in the last year or so. I don’t have the links on hand, I think I mostly used PubMed and Google Scholar to locate articles. (I’m not saying “so take my word”, just that my recollection is in line with Dan’s assertion in this case).

        If so… it happens (which we already knew, it was just a question of how often). And if so, it happens an order of magnitude less often than do real rapes that are reported.

        I’m generally kind of suspicious of arguments that posit this or that is the “real” problem or even the bigger problem. Both here are problems. Considering the higher prevalance of actual rape, to assert that false accusation is more important would seem to be asserting that false accusation is vastly worse than real rape (which strikes me as rather… odd.) Or perhaps simply that men are more important than women. But both are problems, and false accusation deserves to be taken seriously – in proper context and proportion. It does sound as if this talk wasn’t that.

        Meanwhile, this looks as if it might fall into the general pattern of men’s fears of women being publically inflated so as to justify measures being taken to curtail the rights of women.

      • Dan

        It’s not about people who have been adjudicated guilty according to the law. This is about people who have had their lives ruined by the accusation that never went to trial. False convictions are a criminal justice problem, and I don’t think there is an unjust tendency to convict people accused of rape. The problem is that there is an unjust tendency to punish accused rapists without a trial. THAT is the lesson to be learned from the Duke case- the accuser should have been called a liar after the initial medical examination, because she was lying then, and the evidence then amply demonstrated it. Because of the over-application of the proper feminist philosophy of supporting the victim, she was still treated as though she was believed despite the entirety of the actual evidence actively contradicting her, and sanctions which were appropriate to apply to -convicted- criminals were irreversibly applied to -alleged- criminals.

        And I admit my numbers don’t really hold up as to much scrutiny, since the 1-in-5 number is a wild-ass-guess itself based on reporting numbers and estimates of reporting frequency, and self-selecting surveys, all of which use a different definition than the FBI -was- using. I was also deliberately choosing the large number rather than the small percentage for emphasis.

  • Cooper

    If, according to you, all events which talk about false accusations and the problem it present for men should ethically talk about the problem of rape in our society, then wouldn’t it also make sense that, ethically, all presentations which talk about rape in our society also talk about the problems with false accusations?

  • Jordan

    “It’s certainly true that feminists have worked very hard to create a world where reporting a rape doesn’t result in your life being ruined. But Young argues that by doing so feminists have not allowed any room for the presumption of innocence of men who are accused.”

    I think to even argue that men are the real losers in rape culture in America trivializes the real issue we’re talking about – it makes rape less serious and arguably more reasonable. After experiencing rape in my own life and the social nightmare that followed, I had very intelligent people/friends explain to me (men and women) that women falsely accuse men of rape all the time (as if to say, and I’m not joking: don’t be mad at the system, be mad at all those crazy women falsely accusing men of rape for ruining any chance you had of being taken seriously).

    You have to wonder, under what circumstances would a women falsely accuse a man of rape? How often does this, “presumption of guilt”, result in innocent men in prison for rape? Given that anything less than the presence of a full blown audience to rape constitutes innocence in criminal prosecutions anyway (or at least that was my experience), I doubt many of these false accusations make it off the ground. Maybe it does happen, though I’ve never heard of it. However, in my view, if we were to actively campaign for a social climate more conducive to actual gender equality, I suspect many, many more women would begin to come forward, rendering the argument of “presumed guilt” in American culture completely ridiculous. False claims are simply way too infrequent and isolated to be a worthwhile distraction from the very common and very serious issue of rape in the United States. I imagine that there are more untold stories of rape than there are women waiting around for that perfect and totally irrational opportunity to totally fuck over their ex-boyfriend/boss/coworker/subway sandwich artist with a half-assed police investigation that will ultimately result in nothing more than a few wasted hours answering questions in the police station and the opportunity for people to call you crazy with some authority. What a deal!

    The “false accusation” in itself is not part of rape culture, and should not be part of the discussion. We do not have a culture of women running to police stations with made up stories about being raped. We do not have a culture of women abusing the system in an attempt to seek revenge or screw over a stranger, or as a manifestation of mental illness. No way. What we have is 1 out of 4 or 5 women experiencing sexual violence in her lifetime. That is real, and that is what we should be talking about. What we have is women being sent the message that their ideas don’t matter, that how they think about themselves doesn’t matter. This is what the conversation is about, period.

    • zerlina

      Excellent comment and I wholeheartedly agree!! Solidarity!

    • I. Guffy

      How do you expect to ever figure out if false rape accusations are a problem if even talking about the issue is forbidden?

      I think the problem is that you are looking at this as a binary problem: either women being raped is “the” problem OR men being falsely accused is “the” problem but that it is impossible for both to be occurring, which is clearly false. This isn’t about who is the bigger victim, but about making sure that everyone is treated appropriately. You can’t seriously say that no person has ever made a false rape accusation, and nobody should have to loose their reputation, career, friends or family because of it. That doesn’t mean that anyone should get away with it either.

      Anyone involved in the justice system should be concerned that everyone gets a fair outcome, not just one group of people.

  • honeybee

    I dunno, the very fact that you made this post kinda backs up the fact that alot of people refuse to even consider that a man might actually be innocent of such charges. It does happen – even this site acknowledges it. Given that this is the legal profession and there have been several high profile cases in the media (e.g., DSK) lately of men being presumed guilty before there was even a trail, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to discuss the topic.

    As other commentators said, I don’t think fighting victim blaming and fighting for justice of rape victims is mutually exclusive with wanting people to be given a fair trail. In fact to argue otherwise only serves to justify why such a discussion is valid.

  • drahill

    It sounds like a talk that really could have been really good, if the speaker had been clearer. From this, it sounds like she was speaking only to “false” rape claims, which are claims where the person makes the claim knowing it is false (or possibly did not know what happened does not mean the legal standard for rape). Did she take any care to address cases of misidentification or other mistakes (like when a victim truly is assaulted but id’s the wrong person as the assailant? It doesn’t sound like it.

    I worked for a while during law school for the Innocencence Project, and its so sad to say, but there were a large number of men trying to get exonerated for rape convictions – and some of them are freed eventually. However, there was never a case I saw in which the woman (it was always a female victim) flat out lied. Never. All the cases involved women who actually were assaulted and mistakenly identified an innocent man as the attacker. One thing that always struck me about those cases was that the victim was usually white and the accused generally was not.

    There ARE serious issues about identification proceedures, race and other dynamics at play in rape cases. Somebody could really addres that stuff in an excellent talk. It sounds like this speaker didn’t do the topic justice, though.

  • onlynow

    ‘The problem is that the idea that this occurs is raised to cloud those claims that are actually true but lack physical evidence and to scare women into silence for fear that they will not be believed.”

    The problem could also be that those claims that lack evidence are actually false and malicious. If there is no evidence, how can anyone be convicted without taking the word of one person over another? Are you suggesting that women be believed by the court system just because they are women? That is not the type of justice system I want.

    The problem of false accusations (which do occur in numbers high enough to be of concern) in the absence of evidence is a difficult and possibly intractable problem, and those who think it can or should be dismissed run the risk of losing their intellectual and moral credibility. There is always a danger that feminism can degenerate from a quest for equality into partisan self interest. Rape, because of its great emotional intensity, is one of the issues where that danger is greatest.

  • Stella

    I don’t think it makes sense to have any discussion about this issue that does not look at the social status of the people involved. Rape (the act itself, the punishment, humiliation and disbelief of alleged victims) has been used as a huge tool of social control in this country, and in particular control of women.
    But so has the accusation of rape. My understanding of the history is that falsely accusing male members of oppressed groups was a huge excuse for killing and imprisoning them and taking away their wealth.
    The same in-power group was served by both of these strategies.
    I’ve read quite a bit of what Ms. Young has written and disagree with much of it. I also think the nuanced criticisms in this post are well thought out. However, I take serious issue with the idea that exploring the question of whether some men are unfairly treated when accused of rape is victim blaming.
    Recently, it seems that any attempt to think about rape by anyone has been met on this website by the shouting of “Victim Blaming.” This is a complicated issue, and not everyone who disagrees with you is anti-woman or pro-social control of women.

    • zerlina

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think that everyone who disagrees is anti-woman. I think this one speaker is though. I hope I made that clear.

      • angrycupcakes

        Respectfully, I don’t think that was clear at all. It sounded like you were against all discussions of false accusations as most of what you pointed out as disliking seem like they would be found in any discussion focusing on false accusation.

  • michelle

    It was the focus of the presentation/seminar which implied that rape accusations belong in a special category than other crimes. Stats show there are no more false rape accusations than any other crimes, so why the focus on rape. Given the very low rates of conviction and the fairly low chance of harsh punishment, framing the presentation on false accusations of rape was a direct challenge to the truth of rape accusations. If this were not the case, the presentation would have focused on people (or men) who are falsely accused of all crimes, perhaps with a particular charge of false convictions of men who receive death penalty etc. The focus of this presentation as on rape and its purpose was to cast doubt on rape accusations.
    I will anticipate the criticism of this reasoning by saying that anti-rape advocates focus on rape because of the unique nature of the crime, its impacts on victims and societal views on rape. This uniqueness makes a focus on the crime of rape necessary and positive. But false rape accusations are not in a category on their own–they are no different than false accusations of theft, fraud, murder, assault, abuse, drug dealing etc… So singling out false rape accusations betrays the ulterior agenda: to cause people to question the truth of any and all rape accusations.

    • pictish

      Hear, hear. You have hit the nail on the head.

    • Lisa O.

      This should be the exact response every time regarding the subject of false rape accusations. 100% the point.

  • ihopeiwin247

    I agree with Dan.

    It’s unfortunate that you were the victim of a sexual assault. It must have been difficult beyond imagination and if it colors your outlook and approach to things then that is fair and understandable.

    But it’s unfair to Cathy Young to arrive at her event scowling, arms folded, and mind closed. I wasn’t there so I can’t speak to exactly what Ms. Young proponed, but let’s take your word for it:

    “Men who are accused of rape are not given the privilege of being innocent until proven guilty while women are automatically believed.”

    So what’s the problem? Criminals should be innocent until proven guilty. But you then wail that ‘women where you’re from are never believed’ and people pick apart their story and history to discredit them.

    Sexual assault is a serious charge for BOTH people–serious penalty for perpetrator, serious damage to the victim–and thus we should move cautiously. Police officers and others who slouch, furrow their brows, and play devil’s advocate to a victim telling his/her story is NOT the appropriate reaction. We agree on that. It takes a lot for a victim to come forward and report such a crime and they should be afforded proper courtesy.

    But we also have a little something called “Due Process” that I would hope is taught at more than just my law school. Should we convict every alleged rapist on site? Do we have to do that or else the victims don’t feel like they’re being supported enough? They don’t feel believed unless the accused gets immediately slapped with 25 years?

    Bottom line is, it’s not so black and white. Yes, sometimes people too viciously probe the victim and instead we should show understanding and give merit to their accusation. But officers and others *can* believe you at the same time they have to ask you penetrating questions and carry on the criminal procedure and judicial process that society is founded upon. The accused is innocent until proven guilty and we shouldn’t overturn judicial bedrock for the heightened emotional frenzy of victims. And that goes for all crimes: larceny, sexual assault, homicide, etc.

  • billy williams

    This shouldn’t be surprising seeing as you published these stories awhile back, Oh and i must say that i find it interesting how you call the accuser the “Victim” in the story of the guy in prison for 4 years:

    I publish this not in attempts to diss you or attack you, But rather in hopes that you may see the wrong you’re doing & stop it.
    Thank You for taking the time to read this comment.

    • billy williams

      * The false accuser the victim.

    • rhian

      Just wanted to let you know that:

      -Both of the articles you link to were written by other people. A lot of different people write on this blog.

      -I looked at the article you refer to and the author does not call the accuser a “victim” but only 1. quotes a newspaper headline referring to her as such and 2. says that she testified under oath that she was a victim. Those are both completely appropriate uses of the term.

      • billy williams

        It’s still not acceptable for feministing to do that & they should have called out those other articles,-Isn’t silence affirming?

        What? The article headline is victim blaming even though there wasn’t a victim, It wasn’t quoting another headline.

  • billy williams

    Feministing: If you were to hold an event about rape & the harmfulness it causes, And i showed up with a group of people & started passing out flyers & ribbons & tried to make the event about false rape claims, Wouldn’t you be upset? -It’s the same thing here. Again, Please don’t hijack events for your own personal gain, Thanks.

    • tylik

      No, it’s not.

      Writing this article here, on Feministing, is akin to, in response to your event, holding a discussion in another locale. Is your contention that a presentation shouldn’t be discussed?

      • billy williams

        I’m fine with it being discussed, What I’m not fine with is taking an event about false rape accusations & turning it into an event about rape.
        What if i were to show up like that at an event about rape & try to make it about false accusations?

  • Robert

    This is always an interesting topic. The law says “innocent until proven guilty”. It should apply to everything including rape accusations. Women shouldn’t whine about this, the law is there to protect the innocent in all crimes. When they whine about this it makes them look like man-haters which reinforces the feminist stereotype. The biggest reason men don’t get on board with feminists is because they believe they all hate men. That’s not entirely false because some feminists admit to hating men. Then they wonder why there is no support for a particular cause.

  • Jonathan Goodman

    If there are statistics on false rape convictions, how to they to false convictions for other crimes? Does the Federalist society run seminars on false murder convictions or robo-signing that leads to false foreclosures?

  • Brüno

    The author says this “The idea that women would make false rape allegations based on some sort of sick revenge fantasy or mental illness (two reasons Young mentioned) sound like something out of the 1950s.”

    What does it mean? Does the author not believe that false accusations of rape did and do take place?

  • Zed

    Since it doesn’t look like anyone has posted a link to neutral stats yet, I thought I’d offer the following: (~6% false rate of accusation, high confidence between 2% and 10%).

    The FBI report listing an 8% “unfounded” rate of accusation (which as others have noted is not the same as “false”) has been removed from the FBI website, as far as I can tell, but a similar study done in the UK also gave an 8% false accusation rate, and that one is still up: (page 47).

    These values are three to four times as high as the average base reporting rate for all crimes (~2%), but are still vanishingly small, especially given the (undisputed so far as I know) 60% under-reporting. Claiming that false reporting amounts to a serious social problem is rather disingenuous. The rate of false arrest, conviction, or detainment in low-income urban areas absolutely dwarfs it, and even the average false arrest rate is three to four times as high (~25%, see “Lies, Damn Lies, and Arrest Statistics” by Delbert Elliott).

    Let me repeat that last stat for a bit of perspective here: you are three to four times as likely to end up with an unfounded arrest record that never gets expunged by pure incompetence than you are to be the victim of a false rape claim. I’ve spent more time digging through stats as it is, but someone else may be able to come up with the studies showing that even if you did rape someone, the odds of you actually going to prison for it are around 15-16%, so the odds of you going to prison on a false allegation are tiny.

    Striving for justice for all isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when you find yourself attempting to better the odds of justice for 5% of those innocents falsely involved in a rape case with their reputations at stake, but at the cost of lowering the odds of justice for the 95% of those innocents who had their bodily integrity violated and may be suffering from incurable diseases, internal injuries, pregnancy, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder, not to mention having their reputations dragged through the mud as part of the process, you may want to consider whether your little conference is about to be lumped in with conferences with titles like “God’s Word: Top 10 Myths about Evolution” or “Preserving White Rights”.

    You can only be on the wrong side of the science and be debunked so many times before having people show up with no intent to “seriously consider the subject matter” stops being an event worthy of comment.

  • billy williams

    What’s so “troubling” about an event about false rape accusations?