Thursday, July 17, 2014

Suing your false rape accuser 'contributes to the culture of silence surrounding rape'

In December 2013, singer Conor Oberst was falsely accused of rape in comments made on a website of an online magazine by a fan named Joan Elizabeth Harris. Oberst filed a defamation action against Harris, and Harris has now recanted her accusations and issued an official public apology. "I publicly retract my statements about Conor Oberst, and sincerely apologize to him, his family, and his fans for writing such awful things about him," she wrote.

A bewildering, yet all too predictable footnote to the story is that, even before Harris' public apology, an advocacy group publicly called for Oberst to drop his civil action because it "will hurt victims" and that "it is offensive to imply that filing such a lawsuit is a respectable way to procure money . . . ."  (You may need to reread that again just so you believe what you're reading.) Moreover, "even if Ms. [Harris] was not truthful, vilifying discussion of sexual assault by filing such a lawsuit only adds to the problem of under-reporting that enables sexual assault to proliferate at alarming rates." You see, this "lawsuit contributes to the culture of silence surrounding rape."

Another feminist extremist declared that rape is so prevalent, "it hardly matters if [Joan Elizabeth] Harris was telling the truth" (I am certain Mr. Oberst would disagree. Anyway, try telling that to wrongly accused men like Brian Banks and the young men in the Hofstra case.) "Harris . . . deserves to be left alone, despite the hurt she has caused for Oberst and actual survivors." The writer reminds us that "all men are capable of rape—even the awkward and sensitive ones."

If you are finished banging your head against the wall, let's explore these misguided sentiments. The suggestion that it is ethically imperative for Mr. Oberst to drop his suit is proof of how political correctness run amok can cause presumably intelligent people to say stupid things. What other class of citizens, aside from men falsely accused of rape, is expected to forego redress for harm done to them because, hypothetically, their lawsuits could put off women with no relation to their case from reporting they've been raped?

The suggestion is an affront to the community of the wrongly accused. Conor Oberst is not a stand-in for all "men," he's not an authorized agent of "the patriarchy," and he can't help that he was born with a penis or that he was victimized in this manner. He suffered an injustice, and he deserves redress. Period.

Beyond that, it does no favors for women who've been raped. Is this how anti-rape advocates think we empower women -- by scaring them into believing that rape victims are in danger of being sued for defamation and tossed into jail for truthfully reporting their victimization?  The facts don't support the scare tactic. Our civil courts are not being overrun with defamation suits against rape accusers. In fact, those cases are practically non-existent. Once cleared, the vast majority of even men who were falsely accused of rape are happy to put the incident behind them and move on with their lives. Some write to this blog to ask that their stories be removed so that the Internet can furnish no traces of their ordeals. It's not unusual for falsely accused men to publicly state they hold no malice toward their false accusers. Even those men tempted to sue drop the idea when (1) they realize that a defamation action will only publicize the rape accusation anew, and (2) they can't find a contingent fee attorney to take their case because few false accusers have deep pockets.

In addition, it is extremely rare for rape victims to be criminally prosecuted for making a false claim. We search for those cases to include in this blog (and we advocate for wrongly accused women with the same zeal we advocate for wrongly accused men), but those cases are hard to find because they hardly ever occur. Much more common are cases where prosecutors refuse to prosecute even demonstrably false rape accusers where there is compelling evidence of their falsehood. Typically, the few false rape cases that are prosecuted are the ones supported by ironclad evidence, such as a video, proving the rape claim was false. But even when there is ironclad evidence and a recantation, prosecutors typically just let it drop. (Can you say Hofstra?)

The suggestion that a man who seeks redress for a grievous harm against him is somehow silencing rape victims is the worst kind of straw man. Scott Berkowitz, President & Founder of the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) testified about the causes of underreporting in a 2010 Senate hearing in 2010 hearing. Berkowitz's testimony was summarized by Amanda Hess:
More victims may not be reporting their rapes, but the reasoning has changed over the past few decades. "A generation ago," the reasons were things like, "fear of not being believed; fear of being interrogated about and blamed for their own behavior, and what they were wearing. In short, they feared that they would be the one on trial."

Today, "the perception of many victims has evolved." Now they don't report for these reasons: "they don't want their loved ones to know what happened; they're ashamed themselves; they just want to put it all behind them." Today, "fear and shame of how the police wil [sic] treat them" has moved down on the list of reasons victims provide for not officially reporting the crime.
Despite the absence of any support for this bogeyman, don't expect it to collapse under the weight of its own falsehood. When the legend becomes fact, old cowboys and feminists alike insist on printing the legend. Sadly, we are stranded in an era where victims who seek redress are villains, and villains who cause grievous harm "deserve to be left alone." Where gender warriors not only want to strip presumptively innocent men of rights ("Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation?"), they are happy to strip innocent men who've been wronged of their rights, too. The world won't right itself until enough people of good will take the moral high ground from these woefully misguided zealots.