“You damaged my perception of women entirely… I don’t know why you told your friend that I had raped you – maybe because you didn’t want to admit you’d had sex so casually.”
This was written in The Guardian US edition on Saturday in a piece called “a letter to the girl who accused me of rape when I was 15.”
The anonymous letter-writer describes an incident in which he was falsely accused of rape, and concludes: “Rape is an abhorrent crime and every victim should be able to report it. But false accusations of rape are abhorrent too, and the victims too easily forgotten.”
It is very difficult to obtain accurate statistics about false rape accusations. A broad group of comprehensive studies of police departments, districts and universities the world over have continued to place the number at between 2% and 8%, with most emphasising that these are high estimates.
When you consider that the “false accusations” category also includes cases in which victims are so scared by the response to their allegations that they recant them in order to move on, and cases where reports are considered true but cannot be prosecuted due to statue of limitations or lack of evidence, the 2-8% number looks increasingly over-optimistic for the champions of the falsely-accused rapist cause.
Compare this 2-8% figure with the 17% of Australian women over 18 who have been victims of rape, and keep in mind that this number is likely very conservative given the stigma around reporting rape.
Given the story these numbers tell, my question is this: why is the letter-writer given a platform to tell his story when the thousands of victims of rape so rarely are? When he is in such a small minority, why would a national newspaper run his letter and imply that his situation is representative of rape accusations more broadly?
And why has the overwhelming response to The Guardian’s piece been to believe the anonymous letter-writer instead of the victim?
Unfortunately, as we know, this is a courtesy not afforded to most victims of rape. Just last week, the total number of women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault rose to 15. So when we have 15 voices against one, thousands of victims against one anonymous letter-writer, why are we asked to believe him and not her?
A common response to this is that our criminal justice system is built upon a presumption of innocence. Of course, this is true, and it is important. But in cases of allegations of rape the construction of “presumption of innocence” is very different – what is our legal system supposed to do when presuming the innocence of the accused necessarily means presuming the “guilt” of the victim?
Whatever the legal implications, giving a national platform to someone who considers himself a victim of a false rape accusation implies that false accusations are more common than they are and reinforces the idea that victims of rape deserve part, if not all, of the blame for their own assault.
Encouraging sympathy for the accused and blame towards the victim is one of the major factors contributing to the ongoing prevalence of rape and impunity of rapists.
The bottom line is this: rape accusations – true and false – will only stop when men in society stop systematically and repeatedly committing rape, and we have a much better chance of making that happen if we don’t champion the voices of the accused at the expense of the victim.