Friday, April 24, 2009

Sexual assault counselor says 'unfounded' claims means 'the chances are really good that something did happen'

We are quoted in an article published by a major college newspaper on false rape claims that makes a strong attempt to be even-handed. It is rare to find an article on this subject that isn't written from a sexual assault counselor's point of view, but this is one of them. This piece does reference some of the most important points in this area.

I take exception to a couple of comments by two sources cited. Here's the most problematic:

"Kelly Anderson, the director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center . . . said she thinks false sexual assault reports are an understandable crime to be concerned about, but said people often misuse the phrase, 'false claims' to represent unfounded claims.

“'A false report is when someone says, "I was raped," and it’s demonstrably untrue,' she said. 'Unfounded cases are where the chances are really good that something did happen, but [the Department of Justice] is not going to be able to prove it.'”

This comment is incorrect and does a grave disservice to countless men and boys who are accused of sexual assault but are not brought to trial.

"Unfounded" generally means there is insufficient evidence even to bring the matter to trial, for any variety of reasons, including the fact that the evidence doesn’t add up.

It absolutely, categorically does NOT mean that "chances are really good" that "something did happen." The implication of the sexual assault counselor is that "chances are really good" that any man who was not determined to have been falsely accused by (usually via the accuser’s recantation) is a rapist. What nonsense.

Here’s the reality. It is often impossible to determine if a rape claim is false because the only evidence may be of the "he said/she said" variety. Often the only physical evidence of rape is the same physical evidence of the most fundamental act of love, the act of procreation, that has been performed countless times every minute of every day of every year since the beginning of time the world over.

To suggest that there was "a really good chance" that any rape claim that is not demonstrably false was, in fact, an actual rape is akin to saying that we must automatically believe any woman when she says she was raped, and that we must automatically disbelieve a man when he says he didn’t do it. Women and men might lie about everything under the sun but, mirabile dictu, according to some sexual assault counselors, the subject of rape acts as a truth serum that forces anyone not possessing a Y-Chromosome to speak incontrovertible truth. They would have us believe that when it comes to the lone subject of rape, one gender is incapable of telling a lie while the other is incapable of telling anything but lies.

This is all very insulting to the countless men and boys wrongly accused of this crime. It suggests that even if charges are dropped, a man or boy must carry with him the taint of being a probable rapist forever.

To illustrate how unfair it is to characterize "unfounded" in the manner this sexual assault counselor has done, consider rape claims that are not "unfounded" but are actually brought to trial — but the men are acquitted by a jury. Sometimes the jury comes back with an acquittal in just minutes. Could anyone fairly say that "chances are really good" that the men acquitted were actual rapists who just got away with it -- just because the charges weren't determined to be "false" at the outset of the investigation? The question scarcely survives its statement. It’s simply not fair, or just, to suggest that.

And it is all the more unfair, and all the more unjust, to say that "chances are really good" that "something" happened with respect to claims dismissed even before trial -- often because there isn’t enough evidence to bring the claim to trial.

Here's the bottom line: a certain percentage of rape claims are demonstrably false (unbiased studies range from 8 to 60 percent -- no unbiased study puts it below that). A small percentage end in conviction for rape. In between, the rest are dismissed somewhere along the way for a variety of reasons. It is fair to say that some of those were NOT actual rapes, and that some probably were. It is grossly UNFAIR to say "chances are really good" that men and boys accused of this vile crime were actual rapists merely because the claim wasn’t immediately determined to have been a lie.

The only moral thing to do for unfounded claims is to treat the presumed innocent as factually innocent. The terrible stigma of a rape accusation suggests the grave necessity of anonymity unless and until there is a conviction. Short of anonymity, we need to beat the drum that men not convicted of rape should always be presumed innocent, and presumed innocent not just under law but in every way. Innocent men and boys who are unjustly accused of this foul crime deserve nothing less.