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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Column: The false nature of false rape allegations

According to the FBI, 2-8 percent of rape allegations are fictitious.

Rivu Dasgupta

March 4, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

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.

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Article comments

March 6, 2014 at 1:13 a.m.

Steven: Talking about Men's Rights Activists and then mentioning that you were visiting “Return of Kings” doesn't do much for your credibility. It's a totally different thing and confusing both is either a product of malice or ignorance. Return of the Kings is more of a "red pill" blog, Men's Rights Activism is a serious movement that seeks to improve the situation of men in different aspects of life in different places of the world.

March 6, 2014 at 5:50 a.m.

RB: You admit that there are at least an 8% false accusation rate, but then claim that we should''t be concerned about due process because the base rate of 1 of 10 complaints being malicious isn't important. The rights of people being exploited and persecuted when they have committed a crime doesn't matter. You are so noble and enlightened.

March 6, 2014 at 11:52 a.m.

ZS: Couple of things: 1) the whole believing the accuser no matter what sets a precident that removes "innocent until proven guilty" from any legal equation. This violates due process law and excludes the accused from basic civil rights guaranteed by law. The Dear Collegue letter sent out by the DOE has created a "preponderince of evidence" standard that does not allow for men to defend themeselves, according to this letter the accuser does not have to provide evidence, and the accusation does not have to be beyond reasonable doubt but instead has to only be 50.9% true. This violates several amendment rights and shouldn't happen in cases of law. 2)the court of public opinion plays a major factor when cases like this play out, ie... Duke lacross case, Brian Banks case, when men are accused it ruins their lives. They can get harassed by people, fired from their jobs, and excluded from the social campus even if the accusation is proven false. This is not rape culture it is misandry. To bring out another aspect of this, in the state of Missouri if a woman calls the police in a domestic violence suit the man is automatically arrested even if he is being abused. (source : personal experience) 3) feminism in itself has had a stranglehold on the rape / domestic violence discussion and when they are presented with facts (like in your article) they criticize the sources all while using personal anticdotes to further their own discussion (ex. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z7nteHMPJ8) watch as Naomi Wolf is presented with facts and vehemently denies them all the while using personal stories to further her end of the discussion. If anyone is interested in alternate views to the entire discussionn check out these websites: avoiceformen.com avoiceformalestudents.com

March 6, 2014 at 12:23 p.m.

Joe: You forget that not all false accusations are reported to the police but just circulated in a community/amongst friends etc. It is also important to remember that false accusations can also be made about domestic violence, child abuse etc. When you look at all those you find a very high prevalence: http://www.saveservices.org/falsely-accused/survey/results/ This post also shows why your reasoning on the chances of false accusations are utterly crazy: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/02/17/lies-damned-lies-and-social-media-part-5-of-∞/

March 9, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.

Jill: Steven, talking about Men's Rights Activists like that is like saying the Ku Klux Klan is just doing what it can to help out white folk. People who work to help disadvantaged men are called feminists..... Too bad you can't swallow your pride and just accept that feminism helps you too! And stop talking about due process of law when it was invented by men and meant to help men and only men. This doesn't mean put every man in jail it means actually listen to what women like us say.

March 11, 2014 at 10:03 a.m.

ZS: Jill, feminism is not to help men. Feminism on the college campus opposes anything that is for helping men in general, when they do oppose things like this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iARHCxAMAO0) and this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Jz63_lGuSE). This isn't viable to an open discussion, this is censoring free speech. This is what feminism on college campuses have become.

March 18, 2014 at 9:28 p.m.

ND: ZS, you lack a basic understanding of what feminism is and what it promotes. As Jill said, feminists strive for the equality of both genders, not destroying the patriarchy and having women take over. Naturally, and as with anything, there are radical individuals who take it to this extreme, but they in no way represent the basic core of the feminist movement.

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