Monday, September 19, 2011

Proposed law would punish men accused of rape before trial

Republican Anchorage Assemblyman Dick Traini is big on "public safety." He's proposed a change in city law that would ban men who've merely been charged with rape -- no need to be convicted -- from driving taxicabs.  If adopted by the Assembly, the new rules would allow the city to suspend the licenses of drivers charged with rape while they wait for their cases to meander, creep, wheeze, and crawl through the system toward trial. The ban would apply to any alleged sexual offense committed in a driver's cab or against an alleged victim the driver gained access to as a cab driver.

In short, before a man is permitted to introduce a scrap of evidence in his defense, this law would punish him based on a charge. The ACLU is rightly concerned. Just another in a long line of public policies that institutionalize the notion that when it comes to sex crimes, an accusation or a charge becomes its own quasi-conviction, and guilt, and not innocence, is presumed. All in the name of "public safety."

Traini was asked about the possibility that his proposal would punish cabdrivers wrongly accused by police and later found innocent, Traini replied with a question of his own. “How often does that really happen in the real world?” he said. “It doesn’t happen that much. My concern is public safety.”

There is something about rape claims that transforms law-and-order politicians into actuaries. They weigh the risk of false rape claims and determine it is sufficiently small, and therefore that it is acceptable, given the "more important" goal of promoting "public safety." The men falsely accused who are also punished? Unfortunate, but acceptable, collateral damage.

That view is as frightening as it is disgusting. To hell with the men who are falsely accused, because, with no authority beyond his serene and all-knowing ipse dixit, Dick Traini has declared that false rape claims are not a serious problem.

Our guess is that in Dick Traini's world, Blackstone's formulation is just more liberal bleeding heart hogwash.

Traini's proposal seems to have support. “It seems like having the fox guard the henhouse again if we don’t do something about it. So we’re basically going to corral the fox and put him in a pen,” said Paul Honeman, an East Anchorage assemblyman and former police spokesman who is considering a run for mayor.

The question is, why does Traini single out cab drivers? Why not make sure everyone charged with a sex offense who comes in contact with the public, including members of the assembly, loses their livelihoods?  Why await trial for anyone? Let the punishment commence with the charge. But of course, it's not "punishment," it's "public safety."

At a public hearing last week, several cab drivers correctly noted that the law was unfair, and that the problem could be better dealt with by installing video cameras in all taxi cabs in the city.  "If there was a camera inside the vehicle, and they were proven innocent -- because any time they're falsely accused -- that is very important that it comes out because that can wreck your life, of course," said cab driver Lynette Moreno-Hinz.

Outfitting cabs with cameras is, of course, a prudent idea. Among the taxi stories we've reported are the following: a teen falsely reported to police she had been sexually groped by a taxi driver while she took a local cab home from a friend's house. Four young women falsely accused a taxi driver of sexual assault after he told one to put a cigarette in his cab. A teenager lied that a taxi driver tried to rape her, causing him to be arrested and held in custody for nine hours, because she didn't have the fare. The father-of-three broke down in tears in the witness stand when he gave evidence about the night, an image the judge said will "haunt the memory of the jury for a very long time." A young woman falsely accused a cab driver of raping her, apparently out of revenge over a fare dispute that occurred the week before.The part-time cabbie was arrested at his home and taken to the police station where intimate samples, DNA and fingerprints were taken. A 23-year-old woman was jailed after falsely claiming she had been raped by a taxi driver who tried to be a Good Samaritan to her in a bid to obtain £10,000 from him. Two women were willing to destroy the life of a cab driver with a rape lie because they didn't want to pay a fare. A taxi driver was locked up for almost a day and had his licence suspended for several weeks after an alcoholic drug abuser claimed he had raped her. A girl falsely accused a cab driver of rape to justify her long absence at home to her parents. A pregnant woman lied about being sexually assaulted by a taxi driver because she did not have enough money to pay the fare.

And we can't forget Clive Bishop. Mr. Bishop lost his taxi business and was shunned by the community as a result of a false rape claim that sent his false accuser to jail for ten months. He sought compensation for his ordeal by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). After all, Britain pays crime victims, including women who claim they've been raped, substantial sums of money as "compensation." Victims of alleged rapes need not have been subjected to violence to trigger the payments. Unfortunately, since Mr. Bishop wasn't raped -- only destroyed by a rape lie -- he was denied compensation because his victimization wasn't violent.

But getting back to Anchorage, there is, of course, no empirical support for Traini's statement that false rape claim don't happen much.  The prevalence of false rape claims is unknown and likely unknowable.  ". . . the statistics on false rape accusation widely vary and 'as a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown.'" A. Gruber, Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime, 84 Wash. L. Rev. 581, 595-600 (November 2009). 

Even progressive on-line magazines like Slate have said this: "While most of the good studies converge at a rate of about 8 percent to 10 percent for false rape charges, the literature isn't quite definitive enough to stamp out the far higher estimates."  (Importantly, and often lost in the discussion: even when studies arrive at a percentage for false claims, these can't be read to mean that all the remaining claims are actual rapes. It only means that we know that at least the stated percentage of claims are false. But a vast percentage of rape claims are unknowable -- they fall into a vast "he said/she said" gray hole -- and at least some of those claims, perhaps many, are also likely false.)

Regardless, even 8 to 10 percent would yield an awesome, and wholly unacceptable, number of false claims. As Slate's writers stated: "This is a problem that a men's rights movement shouldn't trump up. And also one that feminists can't dismiss." 

In the widely acclaimed book about the Duke lacrosse case, Authors Stuart Taylor and Professor K.C. Johnson explain that the exact number of false claims is elusive but "[t]he standard assertion by feminists that only 2 percent" or sexual assault claims "are false, which traces to Susan Brownmiller's 1975 book 'Against Our Will,' is without empirical foundation and belied by a wealth of empirical data. These data suggest that at least 9 percent and probably closer to half" of all sexual assault claims "are false . . . ." (Page 374.) 

So how often are rape claims false? Too often. Dick Traini's blithe and cavalier dismissal of the problem notwithstanding.

The task of balancing the interests of punishing rapists on the one hand, and of insuring that the innocent are not punished with the guilty on the other, is difficult enough without having public servants who pander to our worst fears. People like Dick Traini, whose only interest is "public safety" and who seem to have no concern for protecting the innocent from the tyranny of false accusations, should have no place in the public discourse of this very serious issue.