Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Scholar: the frequency of false rape complaints remains unknown

Few people write extensively about rape aside from (1) extreme feminists in the blogosphere, (2) sexual assault counslors whose livelihood depends on the perception that rape is at least common and more likely rampant, and (3) feminist scholars who have taken a personal interest in the issue.  Nothing needs to be written about the first group since their take on rape is well-known, and few even attempt to do more than parrot information gleaned from the third group.  The bias arising from the financial interest of members of the second group disqualifies them from offering anything useful to the public discourse about rape. The third group, comprised of feminist rape scholars, furnishes the intellectual firepower for the first and second groups, and it is that third group that dominates the public discourse on rape.

The scholars' world view, to varying degress, is that our social structure is patriarchal, marked by males dominating females, with sexist laws that promote said domination.  Their take on rape is consistent with that world view.  One scholar, Professor Aya Gruber has published an important article in the Washington Law Review titled "Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime,"  84 Wash. L. Rev. 581 (November 2009).  It is interesting for a variety of reasons. Since our focus is false rape claims, it is that aspect of her article that we'll discuss.

We often stress on this site that the language one uses in the rape milieu is important. It not only provides a window into the soul of the writer, but it dictates what casual readers learn from the writing.  At the end of this post is an excerpt from Professor Gruber's article, found on pages 595-600 of her article, and I urge readers to look at the langauge she uses. 

The article attempts to fairly marshall objective information about our current knowledge of the prevalence of false rape claims. Prof. Gruber properly states that "the statistics on false rape accusation widely vary" and she notes that "'as a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown.. . . .'"  To her credit, she cites Mr. Greer's and Prof. Kanin's work in footnotes, also excerpted below. 

Despite this, Prof. Gruber encrusts her scholarship with the conclusory language of the feminist movement that insists the image of rape accuser as "vindictive shrew" is a myth.


I certainly can't make the blanket statement that rape accusers are "vindictive shrews."  But asserting that it as a "myth" and leaving it at that is inaccurate because of what it omits, and because of what it suggests.

First, repeating this alleged myth is at least unnecessary and possibly disingenuous. Its underlying premise is that rape accusers are, to this day, viewed as dishonest or untrustworthy.  While that might have been true in the past, my extensive review of rape cases, and especially cases where rape claims are eventually found to be false, suggests that it is no longer true. Rape accusers are afforded instant credibility by the police, the news media, and the general public. The fact that juries might have doubts about uncorroborated claims speaks more to the burden of proof and the evidence of particular cases.

Case after case, illustrated on this website, underscore the destructive power of even far-fetched rape accusations unsupported by other evidence.  The extreme reputational and other harm to countless men and boys from even disingenuous rape claims attests to the instant credibility afforded rape accusers.  This reputational harm is ignored by feminist scholars, and it is a principal reason we started this website.

The insistence that this myth is alive and well has led to a police and media backlash in far too many quarters where the mere accusation of rape is accepted as true because it's politically incorrect to do otherwise. When a rape accusation is automatically deemed true, the man or boy accused is automatically deemed a rapist. The trial is over even before it has begun, and the man or boy is destroyed in the court of last resort: the court of public opinion. Too many police officers are quick to arrest based on uncorroborated assertions of lone accusers and despite the availabilty of unchecked evidence that fairly rules out the claim. The Hofstra incident, which we wrote about extensively, comes to mind.

Second, to insist that it is a myth to view rape accusers as "vindictive shrews" seems to suggest that the opposite is more likely true, and that rape accusers should be automatically believed. This, of course, is the view posited by extreme feminists, and it is based on their insistence that "women don't lie about rape" (clearly a myth as some, and perhaps many women do lie about rape). Prof. Gruber herself concludes that it is impossible to state with certainty the extent of the false rape problem. Given that fact, and despite the extreme political incorrectness of the assertion, it cannot be ruled out that rape accusers are mostly liars.


We need to approach rape claims from the paradigm of  objectivity.  Women need to be encouraged to report rape, but men and boys accused of rape must not have their good names destroyed before an investigation reveals that they have committed rape.  As we have said repeatedly, it is possible to be concerned about both rape and false rape claims. Sadly, the persons who dominate the public discourse about rape assume there is no need for concern about the latter. To disabuse them of this notion, they would do well to spend several weeks reading through the actual cases of false rape claims chronicled on a daily basis on this site.

HERE IS THE EXCERPT FROM PROF. GRUBER'S ARTICLE -- A. Gruber,"Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime," 84 Wash. L. Rev. 581, 595-600 (November 2009):

"While eliminating formal legal barriers to prosecution and publicizing the violent nature of rape did much to shape society's condemnation of paradigmatic rape, it did less to advance the cause of "nonparadigmatic" victims - victims of rapes without physical injuries, victims acquainted with defendants, and victims in sexual professions. This is because such complainants face largely de facto obstacles to prosecution created by lingering sexist norms. Although in modern times even an unchaste woman or vindictive shrew will be believed if raped by a stranger or terribly injured, rape myths still profoundly influence nonparadigmatic rape trials. People continue to believe that women who dress and behave in sexual ways deserve to be raped. Today, respected media commentators show no hesitation in slinging bafflingly sexist attacks at high profile rape complainants: Kobe Bryant's accuser was no more than a "mountain trash slut," and the Duke complainant just a lying "crypto-hooker." Chastity ideals persist even in our highly sexualized Girls Gone Wild society. Co-eds still widely justify their open sexual communication or activity by overconsumption of alcohol that induced them to act in a manner inconsistent with gender paradigms.

"In addition, the vindictive shrew myth continues to pervade nonparadigmatic rape trials, leading jurors to require evidence of corroboration despite elimination of the formal requirement. Some contend that the belief that women lie about rape is no more than a "Bayesian" conclusion based on empirical evidence, and is not a product of sexism. [FOOTNOTE 84: SEE TEXT BELOW] Nonetheless, the statistics on false rape accusation widely vary [FOOTNOTE 85: SEE TEXT BELOW] and "as a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown." Continued adherence to the shrew myth is bolstered by the media publicizing cases of false reporting, in which accused date rapists play the role of folk heroes - innocent boys tragically charged by vindictive women. Today, typing "false rape accusations" into Google will produce far more articles with headlines screaming that false reporting is an "alarming national trend" than articles targeted toward dispelling the myth. [FOOTNOTE 88: SEE TEXT BELOW]
"Feminists recognized that nonparadigmatic rapes were underreported and underpunished because the date rape trial had become known as a locus of victim trauma and embarrassment, more concerned with reinforcing myths than determining consent or force. Moreover, prevalent stereotypes affected judges' management of cases and caused juries to unfairly acquit either because they mistakenly concluded there was consent or believed the victim deserved it. As a consequence, feminists advocated changes in the rape law that would reflect the reality of stereotyping and subtle sexism, despite the apparent achievement of formal equality."
 n84. See, e.g., Edward Greer, The Truth Behind Legal Dominance Feminism's "Two Percent False Rape Claim" Figure, 33 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 947, 948-49 (2000) (arguing that rape reform agenda might be reasonable if false reporting were rare, but because it is frequent, feminist rape efforts "are truly destructive"). Bayesian theory posits that conditional probabilities can be calculated mathematically. See James Joyce, Bayes' Theorem, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward N. Zalta ed., Fall 2003), I use "Bayesian" as a description of the "logic" that, for example, fear of African Americans is a necessary and non-racist consequence of probabilistic reasoning about blacks and crime. Jody D. Armour, Race Ipsa Loquitur: Of Reasonable Racists, Intelligent Bayesians, and Involuntary Negrophobes, 46 Stan. L. Rev. 781, 790-91 (1994).

 n85. Reports range from finding false rape claims to be surprisingly rare to astoundingly frequent. Compare Brownmiller, supra note 50, at 387 (noting that only two percent of rape claims are false), with Eugene J. Kanin, False Rape Allegations, 23 Archives Sexual Behav. 81, 84 (1994) (reporting study of small town in which forty-one percent of "disposed" rape cases involved victim recantation). The FBI reported in 1997 that eight percent of rapes were "unfounded." Fed. Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports for the United States 26 (1997), available at [hereinafter FBI Crime Report]. 1997 was apparently the last time the FBI reported statistics for "unfounded" rapes. See Fed. Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports, (last visited Sept. 18, 2009). "Unfounded" does not mean "false," but only that police decided the case was not pursuable, a decision that itself could be influenced by gender stereotypes. See Prompt Complaint, supra note 34, at 985-86 ("Police may think a rape claim is false or unfounded if the victim had a prior relationship with the attacker, used drugs or alcohol at the time of the attack, lacked visible signs of injury, delayed notifying police, did not have a rape exam, blames herself for the rape, or did not immediately conceive of the assault as a rape.").
. . . .
n88. The first several hits on a Google search for the keywords, "false rape accusation" performed in September 2009, included " - False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought"; " [-] Research Shows False Accusations of Rape Common"; "Ananda Answers - An alarming national trend - False Rape Allegations"; and "Salon Newsreal [-] Who says women never lie about rape?" No websites on the first page involved establishing false rape reporting as a myth. One website went as far as saying, "False allegations [of rape] are the feminists' "Silver Bullet,' making feminism, an abomination before God, responsible directly for most of our excess prison population." The Christian Party, One Third of the World's Prison Population, (last visited Sept. 18, 2009).