Monday, December 20, 2010

Suspicious rapes should be treated the way suspicious fires are

Have you ever wondered how the crime of rape would be treated, how it would be investigated and reported, if it weren't so terribly politicized?

Maybe it would be investigated and reported the way fires are.

Arson is a very serious problem in the United States. Like false rape claims, the prevalence of arson is difficult to pinpoint, and even the definition/classification varies (some classifications of arson include fires of either an incendiary or suspicious nature, others include only incendiary fires). While the numbers are a moving target, ironically, the range of percentages typically cited isn't far off from conservative estimates of false rape claims. We've seen reports that 16 percent, 12.2 percent, and 21 percent of all reported fires, and 14 percent of all structural fires, are arsons. Each year, arson is responsible for hundreds of deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the US.  Motives for arson range from malicious mischief to attempts to collect insurance money to revenge or intimidation to attempts to cover up another crime.  The majority of arsons are started by teenagers, and studies show that boys make up the vast majority of teen arsonists. 

Despite its seriousness, arson is treated as exactly what it is: a crime.  Unlike rape, fire investigations and arson have not been politicized.

For example, no sane person insists that no one commits arson, or that every report of fire is a legitimate report of an accidental fire.

Few people are intent on manufacturing statistics to make it appear fires occur more frequently than they actually do.

No one insists that every arson diminishes the credibility of every person who reports a fire, or that arsons cause homeowners to not report legitimate fires due to fears they won't be believed.

Fire investigations aren't subject to political pressures to reach a conclusion about the origins of fires. This is in contrast to rape claims in some jurisdictions: due to political pressure from women's groups, special sexual assault police officers are sometimes assigned to make putative victims more comfortable and to help build a case against the accused male. Evidence inconsistent with the claim that a rape occurred is at times ignored.

Neither police nor journalists shy away from publicly raising the possibility of arson after a fire they deem "suspicious."  When fire fighters suspect arson -- perhaps they see multiple points of origin, or the presence of accelerants, or they just have a gut reaction that something isn't right -- no one thinks it improper when they initiate an arson investigation.  A recent headline blared the following: "Suspicious Early Morning Fire in Edinburg"  The story noted: "The fire was quickly put out. The Hidalgo County arson K9 was called to the scene to help determine how the fire started."  Another started this way: "Fire Department investigators suspect an arsonist set fire to a home that has burned twice in 22 days, a Fire Department spokesman said." Another story said this: "An arson investigation is underway in Emerado after a mobile home burned down. . . . . It's not clear yet what caused the fire, but the Fire Chief is investigating it as an arson . . . ."
No one is suggesting that false rape claims are as easy to spot as arson is to a trained fire investigator.  The lifeless crime scene is often more conducive to objective fact-finding than a human being who cries rape. But suspicious rape claims are often relatively easy to spot.  Usually, one or more red flags are present. I frequently can predict that a rape claim will turn out to be a lie just from reading the news accounts of alleged rapes.  I am 100% certain that qualified law enforcement investigators are far more adept at it than I am.

Yet, we are stranded in a culture where it is proper to deprive men of their liberty and blacken their good names name over even suspicious rape claims -- because treating a rape claim as "suspicious" before it is conclusively shown to be a lie, usually in the face of overwhelming evidence of falsehood and a recantation, is not the politically correct thing to do.

If rape/false rape claims were handled the way fires are handled, we'd let law enforcement investigators do their job without subtly and not so subtly urging them to snag more rape convictions. Law enforcement wouldn't shy away from treating suspicious claims as suspicious claims, or calling them exactly that. And law enforcement would not jail a presumptively innocent man or boy on a suspicious rape claim merely because a woman cried rape.

In short, we would stop treating rape as a political issue, and start treating false rape claims as crimes.