How False Accusations of Rape Are Widely Misinterpreted
Statistics lie more often than women do
The first thing you will likely come across when reading an article about any kind of sexual violation is the statistics. You will read that one in five women will be sexually assaulted, or, maybe, that one in six will be raped over her lifetime. Sad enough, but sadly, not the whole story.
These statistics are based on crime reports but also based on self-reports and surveys. They are almost certainly wrong. They are wrong because most women say nothing at all about sexual assault. Often, sexual assault is not reported due to embarrassment.
Rape is not reported because the embarrassment looms into humiliation and shame. There is more to it, of course, but I believe it is the core socialization process that helps perpetuate rape culture and misleading statistics.
There is no way to collect reliable data about sexual assault so long as it is uncomfortable for women to provide witness. As a result, we have no credible numbers about “one in five women” or any other percentage. Simply put, most women don’t report.
Until very recently, women are primarily programmed to “forget it, it was nothing,” or that “It’s not worth making a big deal about it.” Or, think of how you might ruin “his job/life/marriage/reputation/etc.” And, quite reasonably, the first thing women realize, is not about him, but about her. She will be concerned about her job/life/marriage/reputation/etc.”
Women know intuitively (often unconsciously) that making any kind of fuss for any kind of violation is going to put them through varying levels of hell, depending upon the seriousness of the violation. The power dynamic between an accuser and accused is also very often lopsided.
Statistics are used to downplay, often, the actual existence of rape culture. The numbers are thrown about like confetti by patriarchal apologists and manosphere bloggers. Rape culture is riddled with false accusations, they report, perpetuated by vengeful women, or women who regret careless sex.
However, vengeful women who accuse are far rarer than assumed. As for careless, regrettable sex, it happens far more often that, a woman realizes in hindsight that the violation or coercion is, in fact, rape. For example, I know women in their early seventies who, coerced by boyfriends, became pregnant as teens, married, and had children. They have learned only very recently that this type of coercion today is considered rape, statutory, or not.
Studies that have been done, however, show that the rare false accusation is so rare that it is almost non-existent. And, when such an accusation is made, it is for more mundane reasons. Reports where alcohol, or drugs, are involved, for example, are routinely thrown out. Reports where the woman took, “too long” to come forward, are thrown out. Reports where the younger woman wants to hide an inappropriate affair from her parents, or where she doesn’t want to be exposed for whatever reason, are far more prevalent than vengeance motives.
As a counselor, I have met many underage girls who don’t want to expose older boyfriends to trouble. They will, in fact, work hard to avoid any discomfort at all for the man they see in heroic terms.
Her power versus his power
Why, then, does the vengeful virago model figure so prominently in our culture? It is because we afford women a power that they don’t realistically have in our cultural perception of the lying, scheming, and dangerous woman out to trap men. Look at the way a “homewrecker” is viewed in comparison to the married man who broke his vows. Look at the way a “gold-digger” is portrayed as a woman out to take advantage of helpless males.
Even strippers and sex workers are seen, not as victims, but as scheming, vicious greedy people out to empty the pockets of innocent, unsuspecting, men. It’s just the way we set up our cultural view: women are the psychological predators and men just happen to haplessly fall into our devious traps.
As a result, we have no credible numbers such as “one in five”. However, as women age and the shame of assault fades into the deep past, more women are coming forward, to tell the truth. The #MeToo movement spurred some of this but has also been met with vicious backlash.
Most recently, reports of abuse by Marilyn Manson are in the news, but instantly too, are the stories by his defenders and apologists. We don’t see that kind of counter-narrative with most other types of crime such as robbery, arson, or mugging.
We assume men are innocent until proven guilty. We assume women are “probably motivated to lie.”
These popular statistics serve another purpose as well. They often mention that men are also the victims of rape and should not be forgotten (true) any more than women should be forgotten. That comment, however, does not take into consideration that a man is socially programmed to vent anger, vengeance, even a sense of justice, very differently than a woman is socialized.
At a party once, I heard a male victim of clerical abuse rant and rage about a probable pedophile who touched him inappropriately. He was given sympathy and comfort. That is the RIGHT thing to give. However, with women, although every lady I have ever met has a similar story about a doctor, coach, priest, teacher, or mentor, in my entire life I have never heard a girl or woman speak so freely about it. Women tend to hide, downplay, and internalize violation, where a male person feels free to express anger.
We also hear, from time to time, that the man who is victimized has more shame and humiliation. Why on Earth is that the case unless misogyny dictates that women are somehow better suited for rape and abuse?
What can be done
Given that women are still uncomfortable coming forward, men will continue to be more comfortable with this as the status quo. The only way to break these trends is to raise boys who are taught not to violate human beings and raise girls to believe they are worthy of respect and honor. Bodily autonomy is a huge part of the message we need to impress upon youth. No one, not even the church or state, should have power over what you do with your own body.
Be a homemaker. Be a stripper. Be a lumberjack. Be a mother. Be an athlete. Be a scientist. Be all of the above, but don’t let society tell you what to be.
Your body is your own. It seems reasonable, but this very simple message is under siege most of the time.
Honor and love your own body. It is true for all sexes and genders, yet it is a difficult message to get through. Advertising and more persuade women, especially the younger and more vulnerable women, that our bodies are both inadequate and shameful, and/or that they exist for the male gaze, or to serve as consumable objects.
Tell your truth
Resist statistics that tell you how many of all the women you know have been violated. After all, what are the odds that you, among six other women (who feel the same) in a room, each just happen to be “the one in six.” Instead, talk to real people, about transgressions big and little. Don’t shy away from the topic just because you may be a person with a penis. No. If you are a brother, husband, father, boyfriend, co-worker, friend, or any other type of male, (or not!) know that this is a man’s issue, not “just” a woman’s issue. The truth is, it is a human rights issue and must be seen as such.
Learn the power of the knowing nod. Even when women don’t relate their own stories, begin to notice how many of them recognize sexual transgressions. A woman should never be forced to tell her story unless she is comfortable in doing so. Nevertheless, every woman either has a story or knows of one. We have to learn to listen. We must honor victims, not immediately doubt them because they are told by female persons.
Female persons, after all, are the heroes who are just beginning to take down powerful and aggressive men. They are almost instantly belittled from Monica Lewinsky to Anita Hill, to Bill Cosby’s victims, to Christine Blasely Ford.
Finally, summon the courage when you can, to report abuse. National hotlines such as RAINN, rape, abuse, and incest national network, can help you remain anonymous if need be.
As full human beings, we don’t have to “ruin a man’s” life to hear her story. We just have to listen with open ears, an open mind, and most of all, an open heart.