Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Can we talk about false rape claims without being demonized?

Rep. Todd Akin has clarified his scientifically laughable comment that rape victims don't get pregnant. It's not the first time a Congressman has said something stupid (see, e.g., here), nor will it be the last.  But Akin's clarification might be more politically dangerous than his initial faux pas: he says he was actually talking about false rape claims. Here is what he said:
You know, Dr. Willke has just released a statement and part of his letter, I think he just stated it very clearly. He said, of course Akin never used the word legitimate to refer to the rapist, but to false claims like those made in Roe v. Wade and I think that simplifies it….. There isn't any legitimate rapist…. [I was] making the point that there were people who use false claims, like those that basically created Roe v. Wade.
The angry reaction to Akin's comments was sadly predictable, with some of the writers taking liberties with his actual words. Underlying most of the comments is an implicit belief that Akin thinks most rape claims are lies, and that when women are raped, they often "deserve" it.

I don't know what, if anything, Akin really thinks about rape accusers as a class, and I am not sure how the pundits know that, either. Akin might, or might not, assume that most claimants lie. If so, his thinking is barbaric and unjust, but his actual comment doesn't suggest any such belief.

What is disconcerting to us at COTWA is that we seem to have reached the point where anyone, but especially a conservative white male, who dares to bring up the subject of false rape claims is demonized. I write this as one of about 100 people in America who voted for the Ferraro-Mondale ticket because I thought it would be cool to have a woman as vice president, and as someone who is to the left of President Obama (which isn't difficult) on a host of issues. At this Web site, we go to great lengths to make clear our profound concern for rape victims and our strong belief that every rape claim must be taken seriously and never prejudged. Fighting the evils of both rape and of wrongful rape claims is not, and should never be, a zero sum game, and there is no necessity to trivialize the victimization caused by one in advocating for the victims of the other.

We know how it feels to be unfairly demonized for daring to discuss this subject. For many men and boys, our site is among the few outlets available to let them know they are not alone. We have received notes from young men who tell us that our blog was instrumental in their decisions not to take their own lives. This is a tremendous burden to place upon one unfunded, overworked blog. Yet, sadly, some people are very vocal in letting us know that one blog to give voice to the wrongly accused is one blog too many.

Rep. Akin needs to be held accountable for his record and his words, not for pointing out the irrefutable fact that there are people who make false rape claims. Here is a sampling of what some of the pundits are saying:

The Moderate Voice: "Rep. Todd Akin continues to dig himself deeper in the ‘legitimate rape’ fall-out. He clarified his despicable remark by saying women make ‘false claims’ about being raped."

Gawker: ". . . this once again demeans rape victims . . . ."  Gawker proceeds to tell us that Akin believes it is only on "rare occasions when the woman isn't faking it" even though Akin never said that.

In These Times takes Akin's comment to mean "women habitually lie about rape."  Then the writer makes this breathtaking assertion, echoing a meme that has gained unfortunate currency: "I can't think of a crime other than rape where preempting the very possibility false accusations has played such a big role in the definition of the crime."  She's obviously never heard of Blackstone's Formulation, which undergirds our criminal jurisprudence.

Barbara Arrigo, Detroit Free Press:  ". . . when people start talking that way, they sure seem to be implying that most women make up rape charges . . . ."  What, exactly, is "that way," Ms. Arrigo, and when, if ever, are people allowed to mention false rape claims?

Shannon Kulik, Salon: ". . . we have politicians suggesting that women, en masse, are out making false accusations about having been raped . . . ." Kindly name one Ms. Kulik. And: "This is an idea that I hear more often than I’d like from men. Some men have this fear of being falsely accused of rape. The FBI estimates that 'unfounded' rape accusations average about 8%, but unfounded is not the equivalent of false. If 'unfounded' estimates are 8%, then logic would dictate that “false” accusations of rape are less than that."  Sigh. We know that these numbers games are common with features writers, but how many times must we explain this? It is disingenuous to assert that less than ten percent of all rape claims are "false" without also explaining that the majority of reported rape claims can't be classified as rapes. No serious study, not even Dr. Lisak's, has ever refuted that assertion.

Just for good measure, Wendy Murphy has chimed in on Akins affair. She points out that the majority of the Innocence Project's exonerees are, in fact, guilty. Leave it to Wendy to launch this matter into the stratosphere of inanity.

It would be great to have a serious and civil discussion about the need to (1) eradicate heinous criminality by punishing the offenders while (2) insuring that the innocent aren't punished with them. That's not possible when serious voices who want to talk about both sides of that critical balance are drowned out by a cacaphony of angry rants eager to demonize anyone who dares to discuss the second part.