Minimizing Tragedy: The Damning Effects of False Rape
For some time now, I’ve been meaning to write about rape, specifically in regards to how we profoundly exaggerate its frequency, disregard the ubiquity of fraudulent charges of it, and paint a grossly distorted picture on the whole. To date, I’ve avoided doing so, largely because Pierce Harlan does such an exceptional job speaking to these issues on a regular basis on his blog, The False Rape Society. But, in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Week, my campus newspaper has decided to run a lengthy article about rape and attempted rape, presenting it as news, despite its reliance on appeals to emotion over the presentation of fact and the inclusion of demonstrably incorrect information. While a blatant disregard for basic journalistic standards is old hat for the paper, this particular article is too egregious to go unchallenged.
The article opens by declaring:
Most students on this campus are shocked to learn that one in four of their female peers are the victims of rape or attempted rape. But this is the reality that exists at Washington University and on college campuses across the nation. This week is Sexual Assault Awareness Week, and Student Life is taking a deeper look into sexual assault on campus and why so many rapes and rapists go undetected. In the hopes of debunking the myth that rape can only be defined as a violent crime between strangers, one student has shared her story of rape.
Now, there are a couple of fair points within this paragraph. Namely, it is correct to say that Washington University is not immune from rape, and that the act of rape needn’t be a man jumping out of the bushes to attack a woman casually passing by. Everything else stated therein however, is false. The “one in four” canard, elaborated on shortly thereafter, is an absurd Department of Justice statistic that, if true, would translate to approximately 750 undergraduate women at Washington University either having been raped, or been the victims of attempted rape. Realizing that the average undergraduate spends four years at Washington university, we should expect approximately 188 rapes and rape attempts to have occurred within the past year. Yet, as the Student Life article readily admits, only five women on campus reported being raped in 2009.
What this means is that if we accept the DOJ numbers, 97.3% of rapes or attempted rapes where current Washington University students are the victim go unreported. That number alone should suggest that the DOJ’s estimates are too extreme to be trustworthy. Still, the official statistic is one in four. So how exactly is that number reached? According to the National Institute of Justice, which is part of the Department of Justice, the “one in four” canard comes from a “methodologically rigorous” study by Koss, Gidycz, and Wisiewski. It turns out however that study doesn’t hold up too well to scrutiny. Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers does a phenomenal job demonstrating its flaws. In short, the survey of some three thousand college aged women asked a series of 10 questions about their past sexual activity, from which she concluded that 15.4 percent of respondents had been raped, and that 12.1 percent had been victims of attempted rape, translating to 27.5% overall, called “one in four” out of convenience.
There are two problems however. First, the definition of rape included any woman who admitted to having sex after having ingested alcohol or drugs, making no distinction regarding her actual level of impairment, the willingness of the woman to ingest such substances, or even how they reacted once sober. Second, and even more damning, Koss and her associates entirely disregarded whether or not a woman regarded themselves as having been victimized. As such, roughly one quarter described their experience as rape or attempted rape, five percent as some other crime, and the remaining as a simple matter of “miscommunication,” where in many cases no victimization was felt. In essence then, the “one in four” canard gives a big tent definition of rape and attempted rape which includes women who don’t feel victimized or who willingly ingested even the smallest quantity of alcohol.
This trivializes real rape. But so does the story of “Rachel,” the anonymous figure whose story in the Student Life article is supposed to sway emotionally those of us not moved by obviously false statistics. She, after a night of drinking, blacked out and awoke later with vaginal pain. Despite remembering almost nothing of that night, including having had sex, she believed that the male peer who drove her home had sex with her, and thus raped her. Now, there seems to be no evidence for this (other than a UTI, obtainable through other means), and certainly no way to know whether or not he too was intoxicated, if indeed they had sex. And, likely because it was not rape, but at most drunken sex between the willingly intoxicated, she did not regard herself as a victim until quite a while later, under the guidance of a friend who has grown up in a generation that believes rape to be far more prevalent than experience and hard data suggests, and who by extension see rape where it is not.
It is worth noting that the law does hold a person unable to consent after ingesting alcohol. However, if both parties are intoxicated, it is generally only the male who is liable to face criminal charges. This is in keeping the cultural and legal emphasis on defining rape as a male crime against women. The reality however, is quite different. And if we are to recognize the severity of rape, and thus seek to properly address it, we must recognize that men are just as seriously victimized by rape.
The male victimization occurs in two forms: actual rape, and the trauma of false rape accusations. Regarding the former matter, it is often overlooked, but the prevalence of prison rape is quite astounding - 240,000 American men falling victim to it each year. Before dismissing it is as the fitting punishment of criminal scum, remember that many men raped in prison are there for victimless crimes, especially of the drug related variety. Sanctioning prison rape then, aside from granting approval to something inhumane and otherwise immediately fit for condemnation, is sanctioning rape for possession of marijuana. And that is all without even discussing male rape outside of prison, particularly of minors.
False rape accusations get even less attention. Outside of the Duke Lacrosse scandal, such matters are rarely discussed. Yet RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) has demonstrated nearly half of all rape accusations against non-criminal males are false. Their conclusion is based on three academic studies of rape accusations (one in the Air Force, another in a large midwestern city, and a third at a pair of universities), all of which found between 41% and 60% of rape allegations to be false, as measured primarily through the accuser recanting their charge of rape. As they disturbingly note, with 95,000 reported rapes per year in the US, this means that approximately 47,000 men are falsely accused of rape each year within our borders. And, even those who avoid conviction have their lives ruined.
In the spirit of Sexual Assault Awareness Week, let us therefore reject unsound dogma and acknowledge certain facts:
- Rape is not vastly underreported. While no doubt some women who are genuinely raped never file a police report, it is not the rarity the DOJ statistics would have you believe. Moreover, about half of those instances where rape charges are filed are bogus.
- Men can be victims of rape too, and are, in large numbers. Prison rape is a serious phenomenon.
- False rape accusations and gross statistical distortions, as well as defining intoxicated sex as rape, serve to belittle true victims by both introducing greater doubt in genuine cases, and in trivializing rape by making it falsely appear to be something so commonplace and potentially non-violent.
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Posted on April 7, 2011, in Campus Issues and Personal Commentary and tagged Caleb Posner, DOJ, False Rape, journalism, Junk Statistics, politics, Sexual Assault Awareness Week, WUSTL. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.