So 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.