Monday, May 23, 2011

The Myth of Moral Equivalence Between Jailing Innocent Men for Rapes They Didn't Commit and Allowing Rapists to Go Free

I came across an old Ann Landers column that brilliantly illustrates perhaps the single greatest stumbling block to raising awareness about the gravity of the false rape problem. A reader of Ann Landers succinctly summed up the fundamental injustice faced by the falsely accused, an injustice as true now as it was then. But it is Ms. Lander's response to the letter that is problematic:

Dear Ann Landers: Several months ago, you printed a letter from my mother, who signed herself, "Heartbroken in Texas."She told what it was like to have her son falsely accused of rape. You might be interested in how things turned out.

Just before the case was to go to trial, all charges were dropped. Prosecutors found conclusive evidence that the woman was lying. So after 14 months of a living hell and nearly $20,000 in legal fees, my nerve-racking ordeal is over.

I consider myself lucky. Unlike most men falsely accused of rape, I was fortunate enough to have proof that the woman was lying. I hired an attorney, and we filed hefty lawsuits against the woman and the police department that investigated her claim. My nightmare is over, but hers is just beginning.

The frightening thing about all this is how easy it was for her to get me arrested, charged and indicted by a grand jury. I was only one more bad break away from prison.

The political climate is changing. Once upon a time, authorities greeted claims of date rape with skepticism. Now they blindly believe almost any claim, no matter how improbable.

I have no doubt that at this moment, there are many men in prison on rape convictions who are as innocent as I am. My heart goes out to all of them. - Lucky in New England

Dear N.E.: So does mine, but I'll bet an equal number of men who are guilty of rape are walking around, free as the breeze.

Too often, the woman is reluctant to file charges and risk the publicity, so she keeps quiet. Or she files, the court is not convinced of the man's guilt and he's off the hook.

Ann Landers posits a 57-word response to a very sincere letter that discussed a very troubling problem about our justice system, about how even improbable date rape claims are automatically believed.  Ms. Landers spends three words agreeing with the letter and 54 words talking about an entirely different problem, rape.

The problem we face is that even people who claim to agree that false rape claims are an injustice always seem to want to change the subject. If we are ever going to alter the public discourse, we must insist that they stop talking about rape every time we talk about false rape claims.

Even more problematic than changing the subject, in many cases, they insist that it is somehow worse that a rapist is not convicted and is free to rape other women than it is to deprive an innocent man or boy of his liberty for a rape he didn't commit.

The view is as offensive as it is misinformed.

A wrongful acquittal is a terrible thing, of course. But a wrongful acquittal is never, ever the moral equivalent of a wrongful conviction. When a rape victim sees her rapist go free, the rape victim is not at risk of losing her liberty as is the innocent man or boy imprisoned for a rape he did not commit.

We often talk about this in connection with the long-settled principle famously expressed by the celebrated English jurist William Blackstone, who said it is "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." (Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765.)  See here:

While an individual is capable of doing terrible things to another individual, including rape, the state itself should never fall to the level of a criminal and reasonably risk doing a terrible thing to another human being. Charging a man or boy for rape on the basis of doubtful evidence is among the most terrible things that we, as a society, can do.

By the same token, just as we must insist that they stop talking about rape every time we talk about false rape claims, we must stop changing the subject to false rape claims every time they talk about rape. We must be willing to engage in an honest discussion about rape.

The operative term is "honest," and by "honest," I mean free of the politicized rhetoric that elevates agendas over facts. We must be willing to talk about how terribly traumatic rape can be to women. About how our young people need to be taught to better communicate their desires. About how the vast majority of rape offenders come not from our college campuses but from lower socioeconomic classes and are under-educated, under-employed, under-skilled, and grew up without fathers. About how the majority of rapes of college-age women take place when the victim is too intoxicated to resist, suggesting the need for the victim to exercise greater care. About how it is scientifically proven that young women in the hook-up culture feel far greater after-the-fact regret, and regret sometimes translates into feeling "used," and feeling "used" sometimes translates into spurious rape claims. And about how the integrity of all rape victims will be enhanced if we eradicate false rape claim.

If they are not willing to engage in that kind of honesty, that is not our fault. For our part, we must not mimic their dishonesty in advocating for the falsely accused.