Trigger Warning: Extensive discussion on rape and sexual violence
There’s a popular terror instilled in the hearts of even the most audacious of men: that they’ll be falsely accused of rape.
While I personally find the notion amusing, the idea that women toy with the fate of men is venomously common and a far cry from humorous. It’s certainly worth asking the following question, then: How commonly are men falsely accused of rape?
If you look at the scientific literature regarding the matter, you’ll get mixed results. On the one hand, you have studies like the one done by Eugene Kanin, which concluded that anywhere from 40-60 percent of rape allegations are fictitious. On the other, studies done by federal agencies like the FBI present the value as somewhere between 2-8 percent depending on the specific index. How then, does one go about making their way through the empirical marsh of conflicting results?
Here’s a bit of advice I highly suggest taking to heart: Never cite statistics from a study if you’re incapable of comprehending the experimental design of the study itself, and similarly, don’t cite something scientific if you don’t understand science. Oh, and don’t Google “false accusations of rape” because reading the cocaine and alcohol-addled musings of Men’s Rights Activists will leave you bedridden for weeks and emotionally unavailable for years to come. Granted, clicking on something called “Return of Kings” wasn’t a shining moment in judgment, but I digress.
For something cited so obscenely often, Kanin’s study is about as close to being science as I am to looking like Jared Leto (read: unlikely). For one, Kanin refuses to reveal necessary details regarding the population and location sampled, and moreover, the experimental design is flawed along every step of the scientific method. If you do opt to ignore the egregious bias in administering polygraphs only to survivors of rape as opposed to both survivors and the abusers, you’ll still be unable to gloss over the myriad indictments the Department of Justice sent to the police department used in the study.
There’s the more pressing issue, of course, of why the hell would anyone administer a polygraph test to a survivor of sexual assault? For the uninitiated, polygraphs measure physiological indicants like blood pressure, perspiration and respiration. If my column devoid of graphic depictions of sexual violence merits a trigger warning (which it readily does), then a series of invasive interrogations into the rape itself will surely make a survivor sweaty and anxious, at the very least. A polygraph’s gilded equivocation of stress to lying, then, becomes useless, as does the study.
The study done by the FBI is marginally better, but it remains flawed in its incipient definition of rape. Let me be clear. Rape isn’t an inherently hard thing to define morally, but it is difficult legally due to a need for excruciating specificity.
To offer a rather frustrating example, the definition of rape used by the FBI in the study bears caveats that “if the victim doesn’t fight back” or “has a prior relationship with the perpetrator” it isn’t rape. While this is certainly illustrative of a pulsating lesion in a prominent federal agency, the study is still useful given it’s otherwise excellent design. Even if we’re to afford the study a bit of clemency and give them the 8 percent figure — and that’s being very generous — it can be expropriated with well-regarded academia, figuring that a man is 27,500 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape.
That’s quite a large multiplier.
Now, that’s not to trivialize men as victims of sexual violence; indeed, a notable 8-10 percent of survivors are men, if you account for underreporting. Similarly, if you account for underreporting in women, you get statistics like “men are twice as likely to die from fireworks than to be falsely accused of rape” and, depending on whom you ask, men are anywhere from 9 to 68 times more likely to be struck by lightning than bear a false allegation. Oh, and the most a single person has ever been struck by lightning is seven times.
I’m sure somewhere, somehow, someone has made a false allegation of rape. That isn’t the point. On the contrary, I’m merely communicating that cisgender men are better off fearing Zeus or a yellow squirrel on Lowry Mall than they are the perjuries of a woman scorned.
There’s an important point that needs mentioning. Reporting sexual violence to the authorities isn’t something innately pleasurable for women. It’s rarely rewarded with any punitive measures for the perpetrator and can even result in social and legal action against the woman. Rape culture is real; assuming women feign accusations of violence acquits a fractured system and a functionally illiterate culture of their wrongdoing, and that simply isn’t right.
If a man or woman ever trusts you enough to tell you they were assaulted in any way, believe them. Acknowledge them, assuage any guilt, offer and direct them to resources, and advocate like hell for them because they’re not lying.