Elle Beau, before I proceed I have to say I appreciate our discussion and our ability to talk about a sensitive manner civilly in ways that society often doesn’t.
There is without doubt that proven cases of false accusations are very rare, and the 2–6% statistic for false accusations is thrown around very often and mistakenly so. But what isn’t noted is the amount of cases that deemed unproven, which estimates nearly half, and the fact that there is no good data on which accusations are false. Either way, the police have to deem an accusation false and that certainly skews a statistic. Who knows how many cases just don’t meet the standard of evidence that a conviction requires, or just don’t proceed in the first place? Your title is on the myth of the false accusation, but current procedures for for determining the rate of false accusations doesn’t entirely make it true, either. You have written that intent doesn’t matter, but In “he said she said” cases that the vast majority of day to day cases of harassment and assault, our society is vastly immature at handling gray area cases of three dimensional truths. Perhaps both the man or woman (or man and other man or woman and other woman) are all telling the truths to the bests of their capacities. Why can’t we hold the contradiction that they can all be believed, and always have to choose a single side? Giving the accused the benefit of the doubt and presumption of innocence does not automatically mean we disbelieve the accuser. After all, in very few cases are criminal convictions for the accused being pursued in the first place.
Yes, accountability is important. Accountability is essential. But where is the accountability in the first place when we have a paternal attitude that “women have no responsibility over these actions but men are the have the power and responsibility to make sure women aren’t abused”? I understand the power imbalances that arise in so many of these cases, but that paternal attitude is one that infantilizes women and oversimplifies the conversation rather than progressing it.
Emily Yoffe of the Atlantic reports on This brilliantly, although this is data is in college cases that go through the Title IX process.
“A central tenet of advocates seeking greater accountability for sexual assault is that the complainant is virtually always the one telling the truth. As a 2014 White House report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” stated, “Only 2 — 10 percent of reported rapes are false.” Campus materials aimed at students make similar assertions.
But as Michelle J. Anderson, the president of Brooklyn College and a scholar of rape law, acknowledged in a 2004 paper in the Boston University Law Review, “There is no good empirical data on false rape complaints either historically or currently.” The data have not improved since that time. In a 2015 working paper, Lieutenant Colonel Reggie Yager, a U.S. Air Force judge advocate who has defended men accused of sexual assault, took a comprehensive look at the research on the incidence of false rape reports, and concluded that the studies confirming the overwhelming veracity of accusers are methodologically unsound.
For instance, consider Yager’s analysis of a 2010 study titled “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases.” The study is one of the few to examine false reports with specific reference to campus allegations, and is frequently cited by government officials and activists. David Lisak, a former associate professor of psychology at UMass Boston and a prominent consultant on campus sexual assault, is the lead author; when he and his co-authors reviewed the reports of sexual assault at one northeastern university to determine what percentage were false, they concluded that the figure was not quite 6 percent. “Over 90 percent of reports of rape are not fabrications. They’re not false allegations,” he said in a videotaped interview describing the research.
Yager writes, however, that about 45 percent of the cases Lisak reviewed did not proceed, because there was insufficient evidence, or the complainant withdrew from the process or couldn’t identify the perpetrator, or the allegation did not rise to the level of a sexual assault. In other words, no one could possibly determine whether these claims were true or false.
“Policy is being driven,” Yager wrote in his analysis, by the idea “that false allegations are exceedingly rare.” But we simply don’t know how rare they are. What’s more, no legal or moral system purporting to be just can make presumptions about individual cases based on statistics. For many years, feminist activists have said that the legal system and culture tend to prejudge assault claims, with an inclination toward believing men over women, accused over accuser. They have rightly pointed out the deep injustice of that bias. But it is also unjust to be biased against the accused.”
I have seen this in my own social circles, with a friend who was a woman accusing a man of sexual assault when both were very intoxicated and woman was too drunk to consent. Both are close friends. And I saw my friend group divide and self-destruct into ruins trying to take sides, when both people were telling the truth and both people were well-intentioned and doing what they thought was right. The current conversation of not being able to accept contradictory nuances contributed to that self-destruction. None of us had the voice that said “I wasn’t there, and I’m no saint, so I can’t make that judgment either way,” and the fact that we’re seeing a pendulum swing between the “believe survivors” movement and people on the other side sensationalizing possible false accusations is regressive versus progressive. And everyone just makes it about themselves at the end of the day and reduces the people actually living the situation to symbols, whether it was people saying “I see him as my abuser” or “i can’t believe she’s making shit up.” It is a highly emotional time, and an correction that is needed, but what we fail so often to acknowledge is that we know so much less than we think we do.
Don’t know if this made sense, but I’ve lived these things through and seen that the current way of doing things hasn’t worked and just causes so much pain to everyone involved. And at the end day, isn’t that the case for us, too? That it’s more about us than the issue itself? Just my two cents.