Monday, June 28, 2010

Letter to Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun

Dear Mr. Fenton:

This note will not afford your article "City rape statistics, investigations draw concernL Police defend tactics, but mayor orders review," the full attention it requires, but I wanted to immediately express my serious concerns about it.

I founded the nation's leading site dedicated to giving voice to persons falsely accused of rape, The False Rape Society. We support women's rights, loathe rape, but share the decidedly politically incorrect concerns of people like Prof. Alan Dershowitz and innumerable others who believe that the rights of the presumptively innocent accused of rape are not adequately protected. The victimization of the falsely accused is widely ignored in the interest of fighting the "more important" war on rape, and that is both morally grotesque and wrong by any measure. 

Your article echoes and lends support to an unfortunate politicization that has infested the crime of rape in the past three decades -- a politicization that is grossly unjust to the countless men and boys who are falsely accused of rape each year because it insists that the "victim" must be believed.  It further insists that the interest in discerning the truth about rape claims is trumped by the interest in exhibiting amorphous sensitivity to rape accusers, even if that means arresting and charging innocent men and boys for crimes they did not commit. 
 
The awful price of a false rape claim
 
Nowhere does your article even allude to the awful price of false rape claims. False accusations of rape have caused innumerable innocent men and boys to be jailed, charged, tried and even convicted for rapes that never occurred. Many of the men falsely accused have suffered prison atrocities and a good number have been brutally victimized by the very crime that they were falsely accused of committing. Moreover, false rape claims have severely stigmatized more human beings than false accusations of any other crime. The public scorn from false rape claims has caused innocent men and boys to be killed and to kill themselves; to be beaten, to be chased, to be spat upon, and to be looked upon with suspicion long after they are cleared of wrongdoing. They lose not only their good names but often their jobs, their businesses, and their friends. It is often impossible for the falsely accused to ever obtain gainful employment once the lie hits the news: for the rest of his life, a falsely accused man will have prospective employers Googling his name and discovering the horrid accusation.
 
Referring to accusers as "victims"
 
Your article states: "This article refers to the women who made the reports as 'victims' because that is how they have identified themselves, regardless of whether law enforcement agrees with that label." 

By labeling an accuser a "victim" before a scrap of evidence has been admitted at trial, much less an adjudication of guilt, you have impliedly rushed to judgment and declared the accuser's allegation to be factual.  Such a description does a grave disservice to (1) the presumptively innocent who are accused of rape since, by necessity, they must be guilty if their accusers are, in fact, "victims"; (2) actual rape victims, because you trivialize rape when you include among its victims women who might only be false accusers; and (3) your readers, who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when you transform an accuser into a "victim."

You might be surprised to know that my website has much support from actual rape victims because -- surprise! -- rape victims loathe false rape claimants because they lessen the integrity of legitimate rape claims.

I recently wrote to the New York Times about a similar misuse of the term "victim" in reference to a rape accuser, and the reporter immediately changed the word. In the interest of fairness and accuracy, you should do the same.

The article's reliance on financially interested members of the sexual grievance industry

The article cites innumerable authorities -- a representative of an unnamed "nonprofit," supposed "experts on sexual assaults and police investigations," the Women's Law Project, and the administrator of a hospital's sexual assault forensic exam program.  Not a single defense attorney was quoted. Aside from the police, you do not appear to quote anyone who is not a member of what has been branded the sexual grievance industry, persons financially interested in rape, and who frequently assert that rape is not only widespread but more likely rampant. 

Two to eight percent of rape claims are false

Nowhere is that absence of balance reflected more than in the portion of the article that states: "Studies suggest the percentage of rape claims that are false is between 2 percent and 8 percent."

What studies are these, sir?  It is disappointing that you don't even allude to what those studies are.  But here are the objectively verifiable facts. The overriding evidence suggests that false rape claims are a significant problem, and that the victims of false claims are not rarities. No one knows for certain the percentage of false rape claims. A leading feminist legal scholar recently acknowledged: ". . . the statistics on false rape accusation widely vary and 'as a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown.'" A. Gruber, Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime, 84 Wash. L. Rev. 581, 595-600 (November 2009) (citation omitted).

But it is erroneous to assert that only a tiny percentage of rape claims are false because no one can make that assertion with any degree of certainty. The prevalence of false rape claims is neither known nor knowable. Here is why: for every rape claim reported, only a relatively small percentage can be definitively called "rape." This is beyond dispute. Approximately fifteen percent end in conviction and of those we know that some innocent men and boys are convicted. We also know that some claims reported (the numbers vary depending on the study) are outright false. But in between the claims we are reasonably certain were actual rapes, and the ones we are reasonably certain were false claims, is a vast gray area consisting of a group of claims that cannot properly be classified as "rapes" -- because we just don't know. That's the nature of a rape claim. The claims in this vast gray middle area often suffer from evidentiary infirmities. For example, for some such claims, while the claimant herself might think a rape occurred, her outward manifestations of assent did not match her subjective disinclination to engage in sex, so it wasn't rape.

Regardless of what the actual number might be, every impartial, objective study ever conducted on the subject (by persons without a bias or financial interest) shows false rape claims are likely a serious problem. As reported by "False Rape Allegations" by Eugene Kanin, Archives of Sexual Behavior Feb 1994 v23 n1 p81 (12), Professor Kanin’s major study of a mid-size Midwestern U.S. city over the course of nine years found that 41 percent of all rape claims were false. Kanin also studied the police records of two unnamed large state universities, and found that in three years, 50 percent of the 64 rapes reported to campus police were determined to be false (without the use of polygraphs).

In addition, a landmark Air Force study in 1985 studied 556 rape allegations. It found that 27% of the accusers recanted, and an independent evaluation revealed a false accusation rate of 60%. McDowell, Charles P., Ph.D. “False Allegations.” Forensic Science Digest, (publication of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations), Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 1985), p. 64. See also, "Until Proven Innocent," the widely praised (praised even by the New York Times, which the book skewers -- as well as almost every other major U.S. news source) and painstaking study of the Duke Lacrosse non-rape case. Authors Stuart Taylor and Professor K.C. Johnson explain that the exact number of false claims is elusive but "[t]he standard assertion by feminists that only 2 percent" or sexual assault claims "are false, which traces to Susan Brownmiller's 1975 book 'Against Our Will,' is without empirical foundation and belied by a wealth of empirical data. These data suggest that at least 9 percent and probably closer to half" of all sexual assault claims "are false . . . ." (Page 374.)

The article readily accepts an accusation of rape as a legitimate rape

The article starts off by recounting what is nothing more than an accusation of an alleged rape and treating the accuser's narrative as factual, based on no other evidence. At least you are up-front with your biases. It also suggests that the police officer's questioning -- his "tone," as you call it (as if "tone" can be gleaned from the cold, lifeless police report) -- was somehow improper and that it somehow caused a rape victim to recant. 

In fact, on its face, the questioning was in no sense improper but was a wholly appropriate probe of an allegation of very serious criminality that could cause a man or a boy to be arrested and sent to prison for decades. There is no basis to believe this approach caused a rape victim to recant.

In addition, you don't bother to suggest what more genteel questioning might have uncovered the truth, and we are left with the astounding implication that the police should simply have believed the "victim" -- with all the attendant repercussions of that worldview, including arresting and charging whatever male she might have named.  The suggestion is both breathtaking in its severity and unjust by any measure.

You proceed to assert: "More than 30 percent of the cases investigated by detectives each year are deemed unfounded, five times the national average." The implication is that, of course, Baltimore must be doing it wrong, and, of course, everyone else must be doing it right, without regard for whether that conclusion is warranted. You don't state whether Baltimore police are similarly aggressive in handling other criminal allegations.  Nor do you bother to note that police handling of sexual assault claims in other cities is routinely attacked for all manner of reasons by the same sorts of "experts" you cite here.

Police tactics attacked

The article proceeds to assert that experts and advocates "worry that investigative tactics used by police might distort the scope of the problem and discourage victims from coming forward."  You refuse to entertain even the possibility that Baltimore police tactics are discouraging false claims from being reported.

The article then states: " . . . women continue to report that they are interrogated by detectives . . . ." It is unfathomable why someone making an accusation of serious criminality, where there is often no other evidence and which could lead to the deprivation of a man or boy's liberty for decades, should not be interrogated.  Again, it seems the preferred alternative is simply to believe the initial accusation and arrest and charge any male accused. Is this in any sense fair? The question scarcely survives its statement.

Further, the article suggests that recantations should never be result in the recanted claim being classified as "unfounded" because the woman might have recanted for the wrong reason.  This, of course, would effectively rule out any rape claim from being classified as "unfounded."  (That seems to be the unstated goal of the advocates you cite.)

Your implication is that women must be believed when they cry "rape," but that they must not be believed when they admit they lied about that rape.  Go figure.

Then you attack police tactics leading up to recantations: ". . . in many cases, detectives, in their own notes, appear to be pressuring victims by explaining the consequences of lying, promising to seek camera footage or cell phone records, and focusing on inconsistencies."

First, it is unfathomable how it is "pressuring" for police to remind a woman making an allegation of serious criminality that she needs to tell the truth.  Second, promising to seek video footage and focusing on inconsistencies isn't the misogyny suggested by the article; it's good police work, for cases involving rape or any other criminal allegation where everything rides on the word of one person.

Perhaps the author isn't familiar with the recent Hofstra false rape case where police reacted to the accusation in precisely the manner suggested by the "experts" cited in his piece.  Four innocent young men were immediately arrested on the basis of nothing more than a woman's say so.  She recanted only when it turned out that one of the young men had a video of the consensual sexual encounter. 

There are innumerable examples of this precise sort of thing, but you don't cite any of them.  You are content to ask the reader to believe that actual rape victims are pressured into recanting because police threaten to obtain evidence -- that will confirm their rape. That doesn't just strain credulity, it shatters it into a thousand pieces.

The article's politically correct non-solution? Reclassify "unfounded" rape as "cleared by exception."  You don't tell us how many -- if any at all -- investigations into rape claims "cleared by exception" have ever been relaunched and have led to an actual rape conviction. The answer is virtually none, and more likely none at all.

By the way, the article's assertion that the term "unfounded" is "police parlance for saying the victim was lying or they do not believe a crime occurred" is contrary to the widely accepted meaning of "unfounded." See, for instance, Dr. Bruce Gross in False Rape Allegations: An Assault On Justice, Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, Dec. 22, 2008: ". . . many of the jurisdictions from which the FBI collects data on crime use different definitions of, or criteria for, 'unfounded.' That is, a report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship. Similarly, a report might be deemed unfounded if there is no physical evidence or too many inconsistencies between the accuser's statement and what evidence does exist. As such, although some unfounded cases of rape may be false or fabricated, not all unfounded cases are false."

Conclusion

Rape is a serious problem. So are false rape claims.  You seem to buy into the politically correct, but erroneous belief that false rape claims are rare and that police should err on the side of charging for even far-fetched claims.  What you don't consider is that this too often leads to arresting, charging, and convicting innocent men and boys.

In short, you seem to think that the victimization of our daughters is more deserving of our protection than the victimization of our sons.