Guilty By Gender

On the one hand, it’s good to see that justice had prevailed in the Nifong/Duke case:

Time and time again, Mike Nifong strode into court and confidently proclaimed that three Duke lacrosse players raped a woman at a team party. He smirked when anyone suggested otherwise.

The Durham County district attorney thundered away in interviews, calling the players “hooligans,” framing the case as a racially motivated attack by privileged white students. He never even hinted that his case started out weak and soon became fatally flawed.

That self-assured Mike Nifong of 2006 couldn’t be more different than the disgraced man who left a courthouse through a side door on Saturday — quiet, humbled and disbarred.

This is a victory in many ways; for the judicial system, at a time when people are being released (not commuted, mind you) from death row at the rate of three every two years, in most case due to prosecutorial misconduct and witholding of evidence. 

It’s a victory, of course, for the lacrosse players who were found guilty by many of the lesser minds among the punditry due to nothing more compelling than “they were men”.

And maybe it’s a victory for people who refuse to smugly believe that rape is a crime immune to abuse.

Here are some things we hear a lot: Vindictive women use rape charges to get back at men. Women’s sexual histories can be informative in a rape case. Women who were “really raped” are easily identified by the way they behave.

None of them are true.

“None”.  Paradoxically, it’s a very big word.  We’ll come back to that.

Yes, there are some women (and men) who file false rape charges. They are, however, rare, usually quickly identified as false, and are almost always thrown out long before trial. In truth, many genuine victims of rape never see their cases reach trial due to lack of evidence; a genuine rape victim is exponentially less likely to see her attacker prosecuted than an erroneously charged man is to be prosecuted.

The piece goes on to claim that rape charges are about a third less falsely brought than auto theft.

Let’s accept a few things right up front (since if I don’t, some peabrain leftyblogger will write “Why Does Berg Hate Women?” or “Blogger Berg: Soft on Rape” or some such BS); society was disgracefully tardy in accepting rape in its many forms as a “real” crime.  For my part, I’ve done my bit of societal penance not only by advocating for women’s (and men’s) rights to self-defense, but by teaching one rape victim to shoot.  I am firmly behind empowerment.

But claims of false accusation vary widely:  one study claims that around 2% of rape charges are false, while on the other hand…:

A study of rape allegations in Indiana over a nine-year period revealed that over 40% were shown to be false — not merely unproven. According to the author, “These false allegations appear to serve three major functions for the complainants: providing an alibi, seeking revenge, and obtaining sympathy and attention. False rape allegations are not the consequence of a gender-linked aberration, as frequently claimed, but reflect impulsive and desperate efforts to cope with personal and social stress situations.” ( Kanin EJ. Arch Sex Behav. 1994 Feb;23(1):81-92 False rape allegations. )

In 1985, a study of 556 rape allegations found that 27% accusers recanted when faced with a polygraph (which can be ordered in the military), and independent evaluation showed a false accusation rate of 60%. (McDowell, Charles P., Ph.D. “False Allegations.” Forensic Science Digest, (publication of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations), Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 1985), p. 64.)

One interesting discussion on the internet is at the CrimProf Blog, where this topic was raised, and a number of former AFOSI (Air Force Office of Special Investigations) comment on this 30% number.

But let’s take the shriekbloggers at “Shakespeare’s Sister”‘s numbers at face value (always a dicey proposition when leftybloggers are concerned), and assume that “only” 1.6% of all rape accusations in the US are false.  Each of those false accusations has every bit as much potential to destroy a life, a family, a job and career, as an actual rape does.  Even though the three Duke lacrosse players have been completely exonerated, there’ll be an asterisk by each of their names in the minds of some people forever – and the only thing that makes their case more egregious than any other is that so many in the media and the Sorosphere piled on their case (because nothing satisfies like lynching a “rich white male child of privilege”). 

So what about the other cases – where a person’s reputation is destroyed (indeed, “raped”) on a more local level?  Saying, as so many now are re the Duke case “Oops, I screwed up!  My Bad!  Sorry, although I’d be sorrier if you weren’t “rich” and white!” doesn’t really cut it.

People making false accusations of any crime – but especially extra-heinous crimes, like rape, where the punishment for real charges is and should be exceptionally harsh – should be charged, and punished ferociously – not merely because they intend to falsely destroy someone’s reputation, but because when the law can be openly abused without retribution, confidence in the law suffers.  Jonna Spilbor writes:

It’s not just about punishing one person for a very serious misdeed – though that is surely important, given the devastating impact on the three defendant’s lives. It’s also about the way her lies will wrongly be used by some to question the veracity of genuine victims of rape. Protecting Crystal Mangum isn’t protecting a victim; it’s making every future victim more vulnerable, in the prosecutor’s office and in the courtroom, to being wrongly disbelieved.

Thus, Crystal Mangum not only wronged the three defendants, but also all the women in this world who ever have been truly victimized, or who, sadly but unavoidably, one day will be. These are the unseen victims of Duke.

The law already allows those who falsely report crimes to be punished. I can’t imagine a better case for invoking it than this one.

Mangun committed a crime, counting on society’s justifiable revulsion with rape to carry the day.  Prosecutor Nifong abetted the crime for his own careerist profit.

Prosecution may be the least they deserve.  It’s the least society should do.

2 thoughts on “Guilty By Gender

  1. Prosecution may be the least they deserve. It’s the least society should do.

    It’s absolutely necessary to punish them for betraying society. Bill Whittle wrote why its imperative to do so in order to maintain a well-ordered society:

    If you think about it, all of our laws – and indeed, the very idea of respect for and equality under the law – are written to protect Tit-for-Tat, because Tit-for-Tat produces the best results. You may sell your product at a profit, but if you lie about what it does we will call that fraud and you will go to jail because successful societies start nice but retaliate against those that decide to Screw the Other Guy. The punishment of fraud is what gives us confidence in the claims made by other products. Retaliating against Screw the Other Guy is not mean-spiritedness or a lust for revenge. It is essential to protect the confidence needed to stay focused on long-term wins. And that’s how, in theory, you build a cooperative society.

    You retaliate against those that take advantage of the common trust. In other words, you punish the cheaters.

    If you do not punish the cheaters, you have an “always cooperate” society that produces, consistently and rapidly, the worst possible outcome because it encourages – it selects – competing nasty strategies, by providing them with what I can only describe as a food source. Without retaliation against cheaters, cheaters thrive because that becomes the smartest strategy. There’s nothing “kind” about non-retaliation, nothing noble or good. Non-retaliation is suicide. Plain and simple.

    Go read the whole piece…

  2. There’s something wrong with minimizing the suffering and injustice of the falsely accused this way:

    a genuine rape victim is exponentially less likely to see her attacker prosecuted than an erroneously charged man is to be prosecuted.

    If burglary was as difficult to prosecute as rape would we say that the injustice borne by innocent people falsely accused of burglary was less important than the fact that many burglars get away with their crime?

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