Saturday, January 7, 2012

A member of the sexual grievance industry says news coverage of false rape claims deters rape victims from reporting

There was a singularly bizarre article in yesterday's Gresham Outlook, written by someone named Mara Stine, that claimed the media focuses too much attention on -- are you sitting down? -- false rape claims. 

No, it wasn't an Onion story. This was apparently a serious stab at journalism. Stine's sources for this epiphany were the musings of a member of what can aptly be called the sexual grievance industry, Gabby Santos, a program coordinator with the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force.

The article stated: "If people have the impression that a high percentage of rape reports are false, it in effect shifts accountability from the perpetrator to the victim, [Santos] said. It also creates an environment in which true victims may feel too afraid to report a real rape because they fear not being believed, Santos said."  The bottom line: reporting on false rape claims can cause rape to be underreported. 

There they go again.  Heaven forbid that newspapers should actually do their job of reporting the news if it happens to reveal that some women lie about rape.

First, Ms. Santos would do well to read a case study of how "sensational" false rape claims are actually reported in the news media. Typically, they are initially treated as legitimate rapes and given sensational, even lurid, news media coverage. The reputations of the men accused are often destroyed (often the men are subjected to all manner of indignities, up to being beaten and killed, because of the false claims). When the case completely falls apart and the lie is finally exposed, the story about the false rape claim is given far less sensational coverage, and the reputations of the men falsely accused can't ever be fully restored. See, e.g.,  The story of the Hofstra false rape case should be required reading before mouthing uninformed opinions about how the news media gives too much attention to false rape claims.

Second, the assertion that reporting of false claims deters women from reporting legitimate rape claims would be laughable if it weren't so serious a charge. The assertion is, of course, is posited with no authority beyond Ms. Santos' serene, and presumably financially interested, ipse dixit (that is, we are assuming that, like most people, she's paid to do her job). At this blog, we review every mainstream news media report involving false claims of rape and sexual assault that our diligent research can uncover.  The cases where charges are filed, and that are reported, are almost always supported by overwhelming evidence that the woman lied, typically including her own recantation. These are not unfounded "he said, she said" claims where the police simply decide the rape accuser is unworthy of belief.  It is almost always clear to even a casual reader that there is irrefutable evidence that the claims was false.  Rape victims cannot reasonably believe they won't receive justice based on news reports of these blatant rape lies.

In fact, the only place rape victims are hearing that they can't get justice and won't be believed because of alleged media bias is from victims' advocates.  If rape victims' advocates want to know who's responsible for underreporting, they might want to look in the mirror. We saw a crass example of their irresponsible fear-mongering after the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dropped last summer and they claimed that rape victims won't come forward because the case proved that women who report rape have to be "perfect" to get justice.  One newspaper reported: ". . . for many feminists and victims' advocates, the victory for Strauss-Kahn is a defeat for women who have been sexually assaulted or raped, and who may already have been nervous about coming forward." 

Those "feminists and victims' advocates" were being grossly dishonest. They failed to tell the whole story, and by publicly insisting that women can't get justice unless they are "perfect," they, themselves, improperly discouraged rape victims from coming forward.  The accuser in the DSK case wasn't just not perfect; according to the very prosecutors who arrested and charged DSK (and forced him to take a humiliating and high profile "perp walk"), she was "persistently" and "inexplicably" untruthful to prosecutors, so unbelievable, in fact, that the prosecutors concluded she had no credibility. Read it here

Another blatant example of this fear mongering is found in the UK, where, for a long time, the Home Office and politicians allied with anti-rape activists, have talked about the success rate in prosecuting rape by disingenuously citing the attrition rate for alleged rape, which is the number of convictions as a percentage of number of reported crimes. That rate is 6% or slightly less. But, the Home Office, and everyone else, uses the conviction rate, the number of convictions secured against the number of persons brought to trial for that given offence, for all other crimes – murder, assault, robbery, and so on. In fact, the conviction rate for rape is 58%. Stern Review,page 45.

The chasm between 58% and 6% represents dishonesty of Biblical proportions. The result of such dishonest advocacy has made it appear that law enforcement is terribly, and uniquely, ineffective when it comes to rape.  Importantly, the Stern Review in 2010 noted that the wrongful use of the attrition rate instead of the conviction rate "may well have discouraged some victims from reporting." Id. 

It seems that some of these people don't care if their Chicken Little shtick puts off rape victims from reporting so long as they can scare up more funding for themselves.

So what's the truth about underreporting? Underreporting is a controversial subject because, among other things, it's prevalence is impossible to prove. Significant under-reporting of rape can't be accepted as fact because the entire public discourse surrounding it is so terribly politicized that the truth has been obscured and is elusive at best. See, J. Fennel, Punishment by Another Name: The Inherent Overreaching in Sexually Dangerous Person Commitments, 35 N.E.J. on Crim. & Civ. Con. 37, 49-51 (2009).

But at the Specter rape hearings in Washington in 2010, Scott Berkowitz, President and Founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), rejected any notion that women typically don't report because they legitimately fear they won't be believed. According to the summary of Mr. Berkowitz's testimony prepared by Amanda Hess: "On reporting: 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.'"

Bottom line: does reporting false rape claims discourage legitimate rape victims from coming forward? No.  The assertion that it does is a snare and a delusion, another attempt to brush under the rug the victimization of the falsely accused.  But it would not be surprising if the very recitation of this canard causes some rape victims to pause about coming forward.

One other point deserves mention. In the news article, Santos also trots out the usual canards that false rape claims are rare. She cites a study finding that the percentage of false rape reports to be in the 2 percent to 8 percent range.  An 8 percent range is nothing to trivialize, of course, but the problem is, it's dishonest to feign certainty when it comes to the prevalence of false rape claims. The studies typically cited are misleading for a reason that goes beyond the obvious -- that they are conducted by persons whose careers and livelihoods depend on the existence of a rape epidemic; that they only get one side of the story without examining the evidence and treat every untested assertion of rape as an actual rape; that they characterize the results of alleged encounters to find "rape" even when the respondents didn't think rape occurred; and that these studies often employ self-selecting respondents.  We know all that.

The real problem is that these studies often conclude that only a small percentage of claims are false because, the researchers say, only that small percentage of claims can be definitively determined to be false. The persons who conduct the studies invariably, and disingenuously, suggest that the remainder of all claims must have been actual rapes.

That, of course, doesn't match the reality of any objective examination of actual claims. We can be reasonably certain that, for any randomly selected universe of rape claims, only a relatively small percentage were false claims, AND only a relatively small percentage were actual rapes. What the researchers don't tell you--because it doesn't fit the preferred narrative--is that if such universe of rape claims were subjected to an objective review of the evidence on both sides, most would fall into a vast, gray, middle area where no one, aside from the participants, could say exactly what happened, and even the participants might be murky about it. Because that's the nature of a typical rape claim (e.g., she claims she was incapacitated by alcohol, he claims she was merely impaired; she claims that she allowed him to climb into bed naked with her but not to have sex, he claims she consented -- I actually represented the latter kid in a claim against the college that tried to expel him). Instead, the rape researcher adopts the default rule that if it can't be definitively called a false claim, a fortiori, it must have been an actual rape, whether or not it really was. To say that "only" 8 percent of all claims are false suggests that 92 percent must have been actual rapes -- sorry, but no one can make that assertion with a straight face. It is dishonest in the extreme.

A leading feminist legal scholar has correctly acknowledged this irrefutable fact: ". . . 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) (citation omitted).

In any event, the sexual grievance industry never ceases to amaze when it comes to new ways to trivialize the victimization of the falsely accused. It is not at all surprising that its members would stoop to such depths as suggesting that news be suppressed if it doesn't fit their preferred narrative.