Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The awful choices men must make when they are falsely accused of rape

Men and boys falsely accused of rape often face an awful dilemma that is rarely discussed and for which I don't think I've ever heard anyone express sympathy: they are forced to reveal a consensual sexual relationship as a necessary part of their defense that is intimate, that may be embarrassing to them, and that is none of anyone's business. The tragic irony is that they are forced to make such revelation solely because they are victims of a terrible crime, false reporting of rape.

Of course, if there was no sexual contact, the falsely accused's defense will be exactly that. He will need to gather alibi evidence to demonstrate that he was elsewhere at the pertinent time, and, hopefully, DNA evidence will bear witness to his innocence.

But if he was engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with someone other than his wife or girlfriend, he is often presented with a terrible choice that is really no choice at all. For their part, women can accuse men of rape and their involvement in the sex act is rarely publicized. That's because accuser's identities will be protected with all the tenacity that Clark Kent uses to guard Superman's. In the UK, that is the law; in the US, it is ordained by compact of the major news organizations.

But as part of the male's defense of a false rape claim, if he engaged in consensual sex, his choice is either to reveal it (and hope the authorities, or the jury, believe him) or risk going to prison, possibly for many years, for a rape he didn't commit.

The sex act is typically a very personal matter, and the participants usually have no desire to announce it to the world. Often, publicizing it has widespread ramifications that are impossible to predict. Yet the fact that men are forced to reveal this very personal act in order to keep from going to prison for many years is something rarely ever mentioned, much less of concern to many people.

Let's get this out of the way first: men who cheat on their wives are forced to confess it to defend against a false rape claim. Few people -- and let's be honest, especially few women -- have any sympathy for men's forced confessions of infidelity, even when they are made to combat a crime committed against the man (a false rape report). It does seem perverse that women would gleefully deny men the choice that is always available to women -- the choice to reveal their infidelity at the time of their choosing. Men who cheat, you see, apparently do not deserve the same privileges enjoyed by women who cheat.

It is well to note this: an unfaithful woman often cries rape to cover up her unfaithfulness. Professor Kanin's landmark study of false rape claims found 56% of all false claims served an alibi function to "provide a plausible explanation for some suddenly foreseen, unfortunate consequence of a consensual encounter . . . with a male acquaintance." In contrast, the innocent but unfaithful man she falsely accuses must admit his unfaithfulness to keep from going to prison. She uses their illicit sexual contact as a sword to destroy him while he must use it as a shield to preserve his liberty. And even if the shield is successful -- even if he's cleared of the rape charge -- the sword has done its damage. His marriage is often destroyed simply because he was forced to reveal the sexual encounter. Women reading this likely will say "he brought it on himself." But that doesn't account for the gender asymmetry, does it? The fact is, women who cheat are not subjected to a similar fate. How is it acceptable to allow the guilty female to punish the innocent male?

But put the unfaithful man aside. The forced revelation that the man or boy engaged in a consensual sex act often wreaks havoc for single guys as well. It can destroy relationships with casual girlfriends with whom there were no promises of commitment; it sometimes causes estrangement between a young man and his family who might not approve of his sexual activity. A teen's 80-year-old grandmother might not approve of his sleeping with some girl.

The fact is, our sex lives are personal. Contrary to popular myth, men and boys typically don't go around school or work bragging about their "conquests." They typically don't share the details, or even the fact of, their romps with their mothers or their aunts or their sisters or the attendees of the family Christmas party. They typically don't announce to their classmates, teachers, co-workers, bosses, secretaries, or neighbors that they slept with a particular woman the night before.

So why is it somehow acceptable when a man or boy is forced to share this intimate fact with the entire world after he's been victimized by a crime? He is not afforded the anonymity enjoyed by his false accuser. The revelation that men are forced to make to keep from going to prison is often embarrassing and, to put it bluntly, none of anyone's business. I sincerely doubt that if the genders were reversed, women would stand for the public airing of such details.

But, hey, it's just men who are the victims. So, really, who gives a damn?