In the latest Republican attack on rape victims, Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican state lawmaker from Georgia, has introduced legislation that would replace the word “victim” in criminal statutes with the word “accuser” (hat tip to Melissa at Shakes). But not all criminal statutes, mind you. Only the ones where the victims are predominantly female and typically targeted by men precisely because they are female: rape, domestic violence, stalking, and obscene phone calls.
While Rep. Franklin is apparently considered a bit of an extremist even in Republican circles and this bill may have little chance of becoming law, the reasoning behind it is all too familiar. It surfaces every single time a rape case makes headlines. Women lie about these things, we are told. Apparently the world is full of lying, scheming women out to destroy perfectly innocent men’s lives and reputations. For no reason at all. Or, in some cases, it’s because they had consensual sex and regret it. Or something. While filing a police report and submitting to hours of grueling questioning and medical exams hardly seems like a rational response to regret, we’re talking about women here, and everyone knows women aren’t rational.
From the way people respond to rape allegations, one would think there’s an epidemic of false accusations. In reality, false reports of rape are less common than false reports of most other crimes. We’re talking about a tiny percentage of cases. Even those rare cases where a man convicted of rape is later exonerated by DNA evidence don’t involve false rape reports. According to Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, not one of their overturned rape convictions was based on a false report. In every case a woman was really raped, but the wrong guy was put on trial and convicted.
But even if false rape reports are less common than false burglary or car theft reports, we are told that they’re still more serious because a rape accusation has the potential to ruin a man’s life, even if he’s never actually convicted or even put on trial. In this fantasy world, everyone will start treating the guy like a leper the moment a woman accuses him of sexual assault. In the real world, of course, things are a little different. Even men who have been convicted of rape can almost always count on the support of their families and friends and sometimes their community as well. Particularly if they’re wealthy or famous and/or choose their victims well.
The thing is, we do have an epidemic when it comes to rape reports, but it isn’t false reports that are the problem; it’s non reports. Statistic vary, but all studies indicate that the vast majority of rape victims do not report their assaults. I am one of those statistics. So are nearly all of the rape survivors I know. In fact, out of the dozens of rape victims I’ve known, only two reported. And it’s no coincidence that both of these reports involved stranger rapes and women who, at least at the time of the assault, fit the stereotype of the “innocent victim” (i.e., no alcohol or drug use, no “provocative” clothing, no walking alone after dark, no accepting rides from strangers, etc.).
Most rapists will keep raping until they are stopped. Some of these rapists will eventually kill someone. Years ago, a friend of mine was raped by a psychotic drug dealer. It was a brutal attack, the kind that certain people would refer to as “rape rape.” My friend said the way this guy got off on the violence and the blood, she wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up killing someone–if he hadn’t already. And yet she didn’t report the rape. Because she had gotten the message, again and again and again, that women like her aren’t considered credible witnesses and that even in the unlikely event that she was believed, no one would care about her rape because she was a drug addict and a prostitute and she had willingly gotten into the guy’s car with the intention of buying drugs. So she warned the women we knew to stay away from the man who raped her and forgot about getting justice. It was about a year later that we heard he had been arrested for the rape and murder of a high school student–a crime that almost certainly could have been prevented if all victims were encouraged to come forward and all rape reports were taken seriously.
Every time a rape victim doesn’t come forward because she got the message that what was done to her is no big deal, or she brought it on herself, or she won’t be believed, or any of the other rape-minimizing and rape-denying crap all of us are constantly bombarded with, other women are in greater danger of being sexual assaulted or even murdered. Those other women include the sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters, wives, and girlfriends of rape apologists. Sometimes they include the rape apologists themselves.
And yet so many people are incredibly concerned with the tiny percentage of false reports–often to the point where every rape allegation is automatically disbelieved–but completely unconcerned with the overwhelming number of non reports. It’s almost like we’re living in a rape culture or something.