Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can we please ditch the simple-minded 'Oppression Olympics' when it comes to rape and false rape claims?

Among the most infuriating things about writing a blog like this one is that we are forced to endure comments like the ones posited by Hailey Cross, a University of Wisconsin senior, who trivialized the victimization of the wrongly accused by engaging in a sort of twisted "Oppression Olympics." She posited that "the rate of false reports . . . hovers around 2 to 8 percent," but that "only about 40 percent of sexual assaults are even reported to the authorities." But Cross then declared: "The problem here is not false reporting, but the lack of a culture where survivors feel safe and supported enough to disclose their experiences with the hope of finding justice."

Being falsely accused of rape is not a problem?

Cross's blithe and cavalier dismissal of the horrors of a wrongful accusation of rape isn't just ill-informed, it's offensive to the community of the wrongly accused. Beyond that, it does no favors for rape survivors. With all due respect, Ms. Cross, it is not "either/or." Mature and rational people can accept the fact that rape is a serious problem for its victims, and that false rape claims are a serious problem for its victims. A civilized society should not tolerate either, and a college newspaper should not trivialize one to advocate for the victims of the other.

But we urge Ms. Cross to try and tell Brian Banks, or the young men falsely accused of rape at Hofstra, or Jonathan Montgomery that what happened to them wasn't a "problem." They are the tip of the iceberg -- the line forms to the left, Ms. Cross. One need not look back to the hanging trees of the Old South for such tales. We've been chronicling the horror stories of the wrongly accused here and on our predecessor blog for years.

You are fortunate that false rape claims aren't a problem for you, Ms. Cross. But too many others don't share your good fortune.

Take Sumbo Owoiya. He was just 18 years old when he gunned down while looking through the peep hole of his front door. The killer was exacting vengeance, because a 15-year-old girl lied that Sumbo had raped her.

Cory Headen, 19, was beaten to death with a baseball bat while he slept by another 19-year-old who wrongly believed a girl's rape lie.

John Chalmers, a 47-year-old prominent businessman, suffered devastating brain injuries in a vicious attack by the brother of a woman who wrongly believed Chalmers had raped her. The beating was so terrible that Mr. Chalmers had to relearn how to do things the rest of us take for granted.

A man named Darrell Roberson came home unexpectedly from a trip when he found his wife, Tracy Roberson, and Mr. Devin LaSalle together in Mr. LaSalle's truck. To cover up her affair, Mrs. Roberson falsely told her husband she had been raped. Mr. Roberson shot and killed Mr. LaSalle.

Cody Wightman, 25, incurred the wrath of Felisha Hardison, 25, when Hardison along with her mother, picked up a group of young men, ages 19-22, and drove them to Mr. Wightman's home. Hardison and her mother then sat in their minivan while the young men proceeded to kick in Mr. Wightman's front door, then punch and kick him, and finally, beat him with a claw hammer. You see, Hardison had told the young men that Mr. Wightman had raped her. Police say the rape claim was false. It turns out that several weeks before the attack on Mr. Wightman, Hardison had falsely accused another man of raping her.

Then there was the nameless Quiznos worker who was gunned down because a 23-year-old woman lied to her boyfriend that he had raped her -- the lie was told in an attempt to cover up the fact that the woman was two-timing her boyfriend.

We can't forget Daniel Cicciaro. John White, a 50-something black father, shot the 17-year-old Cicciaro, who was white, following a heated exchange over a false rape claim. At his trial, Mr. White testified that late in the evening of August 9, 2006, his 19-year-old son, Aaron, woke him up to tell him that he had just come from a party where a young woman said he had threatened to rape her. Aaron told his father that a group of angry white youths were headed to their house to beat him up because they wrongly believed the young woman's story. Mr. White and his son walked to the end of their driveway to confront the youths, and in the heated confrontation that followed, young Mr. Cicciaro was killed. Mr. White claimed his gun accidentally discharged. According to a news report: "Cicciaro Jr. and four friends descended on White's home to confront his teenage son because they were wrongly led to believe that in an online chat room Aaron had threatened their friend with rape. She later recanted the claim."

And remember the gypsies who were displaced from their homes when their camp was burned down outside of Turin? The fire was started to avenge a rape after a 16-year-old girl falsely claimed she had been raped by two men. She lied to conceal the fact that she had lost her virginity to her Italian boyfriend.

Closer to home, on a steamy day in June of 2009, an innocent man named Michael Zenquis was beaten by an angry mob after he was wrongly accused of raping an 11-year-old girl. In light of this despicable atrocity to an innocent man, what did the mayor and the police commissioner do? Nothing. Worse, the next day, a different mob caught up with the actual rapist and gave him a brutal beating that lasted several minutes until the police got there. The police gave two of the men who helped "apprehend" the rapist $5,750 each.

Trust me, Ms. Cross, I could go on and on and on and on. The point is that for far too many people, false rape claims are devastating. Despite all your twisting and pounding, they are a problem, and they are worthy of society's attention.

If we want to take sexual assault seriously, we need to take false accusations of sexual assault seriously, we need to stop trivializing the victimization of the wrongly accused. After all, a society that doesn't think falsely "crying wolf" is a serious matter must not think the wolf is such a bad thing after all.

It may surprise you to know that rape victims we've heard from loathe and detest false rape accusers because they diminish the perceived integrity of rape victims. I put this question to a prominent victim of clergy abuse, who told me he "hates" false rape accusers. In false rape case after false rape case after false rape case, we read about judges who reprimand the false accusers for the harm they do by diminishing the integrity of rape victims. These reprimands, sadly, do not resonate on the pages of college newspapers, where ill-informed comments like the ones Ms. Cross made are not uncommon. Your advocacy for sexual assault victims is admirable; your off-hand dismissal of a problem that afflicts too many innocents is not.

We can't leave without briefly addressing your statistics. When you posit that only two to eight percent of rape claim are false (you wrongly state that it's the same as every other serious crime -- there is no support for this), you seem to suggest that remaining 92-98 percent should be categorized as definitive rape claims. My guess is that you actually believe this.

Don't take my word for this, check it for yourself: no research has ever shown that. We've written about it many, many times and won't bore our readers with the breakdown again. While only a relatively small percentage of rape claims can be definitively classified as false claims, the fact of the matter is that only a relatively small percentage of rape claims can be definitively classified as actual rapes. Surprised? The majority of rape claims fall into a grey area where no one can say one way or the other whether it was rape. (Only in polls where every rape allegation is uncritically accepted and untested against competing claims of innocence is every rape claim construed as an actual rape -- but when claims are actually reported, most can't be proven by even a preponderance of the evidence.) Even Dr. David Lisak, whose research is widely touted in feminist circles, has demonstrated that the majority of rape claims can't be definitively classified one way or the other. Of those claims that can be definitively classified one way or the other, the percentage of false claims is much higher than 8 percent.

None of that should deter us from recognizing that rape is a serious social pathology that needs to be eliminated. It is unnecessary, unjust, and hurtful to trivialize the victimization of the community of the wrongly accused in order to reach that conclusion.

And lest you are tempted to make unwarranted assumptions about this blog, you should know two things: (1) this blog advocates for women who've been wrongly accused with the same zeal it advocates for men, and (2) this blog does not tolerate any trivialization of the horrors of rape. We believe that every civilized society must strive to eradicate heinous criminality by punishing offenders, but it also must insure that the innocent aren't punished with them. The latter concern typically is absent from the public discourse. Accusations of serious criminality, especially alleged sexual wrongdoing, are often their own convictions in the high court of public opinion because the stigma is so severe, and because definitively proving innocence in a disputed sex case often is impossible. This blog highlights the injustices suffered by persons wrongly accused of serious criminality.