Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Increasing sentences for false rape accusers won't hurt innocent men by discouraging recantations

In our last post, we advocated increasing sentences for false rape claimants. How do we respond to those people who claim increasing sentences will only prevent false accusers from recanting? Here is how I respond:

We have been confronted with this argument many times at False Rape Society, and refusing to increase sentences for fear of putting of would-be recanters is exactly the wrong approach. It is our belief that such approach would only serve to perpetuate, indeed encourage, a vicious cycle of more and more false rape claims.

The solution to the false rape problem is not to continue to hand women and girls the power to lie and destroy with impunity the lives of innocent men and boys (and I mean literally without punishment), all in the hope that some of the false accusers could, or might, or possibly will -- decide, at their own whim and discretion, to recant and spare the falsely accused victim further pain. The solution is to deter these lies from ever happening in the first place, as much as possible.

At present, there are innumerable false rape cases where the accuser does not recant, despite the absence of serious punishment for lying about rape. So, relying on recantations to spare falsely accused men is a slender reed on which to rest any argument about increasing maximum prison sentences for false accusers.

We advocate a sliding scale for sentencing, allowing lenient punishment for recantations that occur before identifying a specific individual; greater punishment after identifying but before an arrest, etc. Early recantations should be encouraged and rewarded, but even they need to be subjected to more serious punishments than currently exist. This will have the salutary effect of encouraging early recantations.

It is well to note that fears about discouraging would-be recanters with increased sentences are based on the present state of our law and culture where false accusers know they can lie with impunity and there is no effective deterrence whatsoever. If the law is changed to impose greater sentences for false rape reporting, it will be clear that lying about rape is a serious crime, like rape, and there will be far, far fewer Hofstras.

Every other criminal act is assigned a sentence, in part, to deter others from committing that act based on the seriousness of the act. The more serious the crime, greater the need for deterrence, and the greater the sentence. (There are, of course, other purposes for sentencing as well, but deterrence is an important one.) Underlying the claim that increasing sentencing will hurt innocent men seems to be an unstated belief that deterrence simply does not work. That belief, of course, bucks centuries of collective wisdom.

False rape accusers lie because they can, and because they believe they have some need to do so. If we convince them they can't lie -- at least not without serious consequences -- it is likely we'll see a significant decrease in false rape claims.

In addition, it is a matter of simple justice that false rape claimants deserve to be punished in a manner consistent with the serious harm they cause. At present, that isn't happening.