Monday, January 25, 2010

Rape activists: only report the rape claim, not the news that the claim was false

We need to expose and debunk yet another rape myth that is among the more astounding canards in a milieu that is rife with them: that false rape claims get too much publicity. 

Rape activists are thrilled when rape claims are given high-profile publicity by the news media, but more than a few of them seem apoplectic when equal publicity is given to news reports that those same claims were, in fact, false.

One of the standard complaints I hear from persons interested in raising awareness about the plight of the falsely accused is that the initial rape report is typically given intense news coverage but when it turns out the claim was false, the news coverage is minimal and not equal to the initial coverage.

The fact is that by most if not all important measures, news coverage of rape and false rape claims are not balanced but are skewed in favor of the former. This unbalanced coverage foments rape hysteria and creates the unmistakeable impression that rape is rampant.

This, of course, masks the false rape problem.  The vast majority of false rape claims are not charged, much less reported. They are handled at the police level with the goal of disposing of them quietly and expeditiously, often with a stern warning to the false accuser that if the matter were pursued, she would be exposed to criminal charges. Those stories never make the news. This is not my opinion, this is what police officers -- the persons in the trenches handling these claims -- tell us.

The false rape stories that do make the news are typically stories where the news media has already reported on the initial rape claim. Initial rape reports are ground-zero for the type of story the news media craves: scary.  Hysterical news readers and reporters, anxious to boost ratings, pass off accusations by lone women or girls as fact, regardless of how troubled the accuser is or how far-fetched her claim turns out to be. You remember Hofstra?  The four young men were arrested and their mugshots splashed all over the newspaper before the police checked the video that disproved the claim.  While the identity of the accuser is never revealed, the names and faces of the accused are splashed all over the news, thus insuring that no matter how far-fetched the claims might be, they will forever carry the accusation around their necks like a millstone. We have chronicled the horrors that befall men and boys falsely accused.  For many, their lives are destroyed. 

The initial rape report is big news.  The fact that the accusation turns out to be false or that there is insufficeint evidence to bring charges is grudgingly reported.  When three University of Arkansas players were accused of an alleged rape incident at a fraternity, a local television station actually broke into the station's regular programming to provide a four-plus minute breaking news report about the accusation. Needless to say, when the prosecutor decided not to bring rape charges against them, there was no similar coverage.

When the rape claim is discovered to have been false, the news media typically provides a story no more prominent, and often less prominent, than the initial account, this time contradicting what it previously reported -- the accusation isn't fact after all, it was actually wrong. Even here the news media often reports the story from the perspective of the rape activist. It is common for the reporter to obtain a statement from a rape activist to explain how false claims hurt actual rape victims.  The rape activist rarely, if ever, is quoted as offering sympathy to any male falsely accused or describing the principal harm of false claims as the harm befalling the actual victim of the false report.  It is one of the peculiar aspects of false rape stories that the actual victims of the crime of false reporting are often treated with indifference, as if treating them as human beings who've been injured somehow would detract from the interests of hypothetical, possible rape victims who are the "real" victims of every false claim.

But, you see, this is giving false rape claims too much publicity, don't you know.

Would the rape acitivists have the news media fail to correct their earlier erroneous news reports? Would they have the news media not report -- you know -- the news?  That is the clear impression some of them convey.

But false rape claims are news, and they need to be reported as such, more than they currently are.

First, the initial report often has the entire community in a panic, so setting that straight is vitally important (it is telling that in story after story, after it turns out there is no big, bad rapist on the loose, communities often react with a hesitation as if to say, "OK, that's good news that there is no rapist on the loose, but we're still going to exercise caution." This attitude just illustrates the power of the initial rape report).

Second, false rape claims are a serious crime. In the Hofstra case, four young men faced decades in prison for a crime they didn't commit. At least one of the young men falsely accused at Hofstra was roughed up in jail because, you know, he was a "rapist" and all. (But remember, the false accuser never served a day in jail because it would have a chilling effect that might deter actual rape victims from coming forward.)  But false rape claims need to reported and they need to be charged because our citizens need to know that crimes are punished.  The news media should not elevate the victimization of our daughters over that of our sons by refusing to report false rape claims. Calling out the false accusers and punishing them can only help true rape victims because it will signal that rape lies aren't tolerated, thus enhancing the credibility of rape victims.

Third, to correct the reputational harm to falsely accused males, the news media owes it to them to report on the false claim with coverage at least equal to the coverage given the initial lie.  The fact of the matter is that no amount of publicity can ever undo a malicious false rape claim where a man has had his name dragged through the mud of a false rape claim.

Finally, isn't it ironic that the persons who parrot this canard that false rape claims get too much publicity do so in one blog after the next devoted to raising awareness about rape?  The blogosphere is a treasure trove of aids for rape victims.  In contrast, this is among the only blogs devoted exclusively to giving voice to the interests of the falsely accused. 

The rape activists think that ours is one voice too many.