Thursday, May 15, 2008

False Rape Accusations for the Internet Generation

This seems like a really bad idea. A girl who claims to have been the victim of a rape has posted information about it on YouTube.

According to the article, lots of people are telling their stories online in chatrooms and on social networking sites because it's a chance to "communicate without having to face someone or fear their judgment." And to that extent, this is probably a Very Good Thing. But there is a definite downside to this as well. First of all, not even rape awareness advocates are so hot on people posting details of their attacks online - and for a couple of very good reasons. Mainly: infomration once posted on the internet can be permanent, leaving open the chance that a later employer, enemy, publicity hound, whatever might stumble across it and use it against the victim. Secondarily: the perpetrator might find it and get a chance to relive the experience. Second of all, this seems like the perfect vehicle for the "revenge false accusation," which is unfortunately quite common. Just to reiterate what I've said before - a "successful" false accusation of rape (where the falsely accused goes to prison) is much worse than a "successful" actual rape. It is completely unforgivable that society is generally concerned only with protecting victims of rape and rarely talks about victims of false accusations.

Unsurprisingly, the article linked is a case in point. The entire article makes not a single mention of the frequency of false accusations, nor of the consequences that a victim of a false accusation can face. Instead, we get tripe like this:

But counselors said survivors are going to look wherever they can to find help and comfort, particularly when they don't get it through the court system.

That's nice, but the court system isn't for "comfort," it's for justice. The court system isn't there to make people feel better, but to remove known criminals from the general population and so prevent further damage.

"What you hear from every rape crisis center from Pensacola to Key West is that there are hardly ever any prosecutions," she said. "Most sexual violence is acquaintance rape and unfortunately, a lot of juries still think that if a victim had a relationship with their attacker, then they cannot be raped by that person."

What a disingenuous way to put it. The main problem with getting prosecutions isn't that the juries fail to understand what rape is, but rather that victims don't get themselves to hospitals to get tested in time. If Rape Crisis Centers want to fight the rape problem effectively, they need to encourage victims to get evidence on record as quickly as possible. Obviously, pursuing a case based on the purported victim's word alone is something the police should not, in fact, do. The very definition of a "witch hunt" is going after a person because he fits a criminal profile, rather than because there is any evidence to back up the conclusion. To the extent that rape resource centers blame the problem on a lack of willingness on the part of juries to the exclusion of a lack of evidence, they are encouraging witch hunts.

Pointedly, the case in question is just such a case.

Orange County authorities charged the 23-year-old man Crystal accused of assaulting her with lewd or lascivious battery. According to court documents, Crystal and the man both said they had an ongoing sexual relationship.


The prosecutor, who declined to comment to CNN, concluded that the teen and the 23-year-old had consensual sex, according to the case file.

Florida law states that a 15-year-old cannot give consent to sex. And though Crystal was 15 at the time of the alleged forced encounter, the prosecutor wrote that the case would not be prosecuted because Crystal was "a mere 1 month away" from turning 16, when it would be "legal to give consent," according to documents.

In other words, an investigation was done, and no conclusive evidence of rape was found. If there was a rape at all, it was "statutory," a technicality in the case of a girl who is 1 month away from turning 15. There's little doubt how that case would go: the accused would claim the girl had lied to him about being 16, and the jury would buy it because she was awfully close anyway. The prosecution wouldn't get a conviction even on the purportedly "proveable" charge of statutory rape, and so they choose not to waste their time. And why not? 15-and-11-months versus 16-and-1 is a hair hardly worth splitting when you're talking about a girl who repeatedly willingly had sex with a man she later claimed attacked her. Now - don't get me wrong - consensual sex between partners most definitely does not give one the right to violate the other. But recall that in this case there doesn't seem to be any hard evidence of a violation. (CNN certainly doesn't report on any.) Absent hard evidence, NO rape case should go to trial.

The reporter here is playing fast-and-loose with the word "rape." On the one hand, there's the violent type that involves a clear violation of the victim's bodily rights. On the other hand, there's the merely technical type that involves an arbitrary cutoff point not dissimilar to the voting or drinking ages. The one is clearly not the same as the other, and the two crimes should probably have different names, actually. But since they don't, we can technically call what "happened to" Crystal a "rape."

In any case, regardless of the wisdom of posting the intimate details of your sex life, consensual or otherwise, on YouTube, I find it appalling, and all-too-typical, that an article on this subject fails to even mention the potential damage that this practice will do to people falsely accused. Again - if false accusations of rape were rare, that would be one thing - but they most definitely are not. By choosing not to cover that side of this issue, CNN abdicates its professional standards at a social cost that is far from trivial.


At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real tragedy is that false rape accusers are never, ever prosecuted for their crimes, which are the worst thing that anybody can do.


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