Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The barbaric practice of publicly naming "rapists" on shirts

As we reported yesterday, a college woman has identified two males by name as rapists on her Facebook account, and at least one writer for a major publication has discussed it without bothering to consider the males' point of view. See here.  We have written to Dr. Cornelius Kerwin, the president of American University where the accuser and the accused men are students, urging him to investigate and condemn this public identification. We do not expect a reply, given the regrettable politicization of the issues surrounding rape, and we likely will need to mobilize an action alert to make our views known.

Read more after the jump

The public naming of alleged rapists who haven't been charged, much less convicted, raised the issue of the purpose of such a practice.  Is it "therapy" for the accusers?  Is it merely a way to empower women over men?  Regardless, it is an inhumane practice that should not be countenanced anywhere.

Many years ago, some zealous sexual assault counselors decided that women needed to be "empowered" and given the unilateral right to say whatever they wanted about the male they accused of the alleged crime of rape.  This attitude was manifested in Catherine Comins' quote: "To use the word ['rape'] carefully would be to be careful for the sake of the violator, and the survivors don't care a hoot about him.'"  So, you see, it is OK to use the word "rape" loosely, without regard for whether the accused male was "really" a rapist.

This attitude found its most vile recent expression in the University of Maryland Clothesline Project endeavor where, for seventeen years, purported rape survivors were permitted to publicly display shirts with the full names of males they accused of rape written on them in connection with an annual rape awareness event.

Did you catch that?  Seventeen years. 

This barbaric practice was finally stopped by the university, for legal reasons, in 2007.  See here.  The usual suspects chimed in to condemn the university's belated but correct decision. "The essence of the Clothesline Project is to let victims express whatever they feel they want or need to say," said Jennifer Pollitt-Hill, the executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Pollitt-Hill said a sexual assault survivor "can feel empowered by naming the perpetrator for a number of reasons. According to the article, many "surivivors" feel the justice system, be it the court system or a university judicial board, is too lenient on the perpetrators. "Victims feel like these things silence them," Pollitt-Hill said, "and there's no justice, and no one knows what happened to them." Writing the name on a shirt can be a "first step between feeling ashamed and an empowerment stage where they recognize that what happened isn't their fault and they can place the blame where it belongs," she said.  Likewise, Cortney Fisher, the senior victim advocate at the university's Office of the Victim Advocate, said that after being silenced for so long, it can be a therapeutic release to get the whole story out in the open, not just part of it.  "Sexual assault victims are silenced in our society. We don't talk about it, it's uncomfortable."

Absent from the discussion was even a recognition of the possibility that one or more of the purported survivors might falsely accuse a male of rape. 

Empowerment or no, therapy or no, the inhumane naming practice does not excuse the incalculable harm to presumed innocent men and boys falsely and publicly branded as "rapists" without even the pretense of due process.  For seventeen years at a major university, innocent victims of vicious public rape lies had no way to effectively combat the worst kind of university-sanctioned libel against them.  The trial for the hapless male was over before it had begun. He had been convicted in the court of last resort -- the university sanctioned clothesline project -- and he would be known all over campus as a "rapist."  His friends, teachers and acquaintances would forever harbor suspicions about the allegation.  All because a lone woman or girl decided to destroy him. And the university allowed her to do it.

But it turns out, even people who work in the sexual assault field are not unanimous in believing that this shameful naming practice was necessary to "empower" women.  See here:  "The Sexual Assault Center in Prince George's County holds a Clothesline Project each year but doesn't let participants write names on the shirts unless their attacker was convicted of the crime, according to Karalyn Mulligan, a therapist at the center. Even in those cases, the therapists encourage the victims to design anonymous shirts whose messages are meaningful to anyone reading them. Mulligan said she thinks the victims she works with find the project just as therapeutic."

So what is the purpose of naming names?  To shame and humiliate a male, for reasons good, bad, or indifferent.  Why would a woman lie by writing a non-rapist's name on a shirt? The same reasons women lie to police about rape:  revenge, attention, to "explain" a consensual encounter her friends disapprove of.  And which lie is easier to tell -- to make a formal police report, or to scrawl the hapless guy's name on shirt?  The question scarcely survives its statement.

For women who've actually been raped, naming isn't necessary for therapy, and it doesn't help put a rapist behind bars.  If a college woman claims a male classmate raped her, doesn't it make more sense to encourage her to go to the police rather than shout his name from the highest mountaintop?  Wouldn't this help other women? 

But nabbing rapists isn't really the goal, is it?  The goal is to empower women by perpetuating cult of victimhood -- where a female accuser need not bother subjecting her claim to time-honored proofs in a court of law, and where a male falsely accused of rape is forced to watch helplessly as he is branded a rapist in the public square.

If men had publicly displayed the names of their false rape accusers on shirts, how long do you think the university would have allowed that

Seventeen years?

More like seventeen seconds.