Monday, April 18, 2011

Rape Myths Part II, Part II

Somehow, in writing our last, we missed a great post from Ms. Magazine examining the same myth - that women frequently lie about being sexually assaulted. It is a must-read! Here is an excerpt:

Take the case of Ben Roethlisberger. Back in 2009, the star Steelers quarterback was accused of rape by a Lake Tahoe casino hostess. She filed a civil suit for assault, sexual assault and battery, false imprisonment, false pretenses, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She did not press criminal charges, though, which Roethlisberger’s lawyers claimed was evidence that the accusations were false.

However, even judges have said that rape survivors are sometimes better off not reporting to police because the stress of a criminal trial can add even more trauma after a sexual assault. And her hesitation is certainly understandable in this case: When she reported the crime to a casino security guard, he scoffed, “Most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.” Is it possible that a judge and jury might say the same thing?

Almost immediately following reports of the suit, TMZ released alleged photos of the survivor without text. The photos, predictably, were met with comments like this one: “This is a bunch of trumped up bullshit from a gold digging @#$?”

Then, just a few days after the photos were released, the gossip rags dug into the survivor’s mental health history, reporting on her post-assault depression, insomnia and anxiety–and calling her “nutty” rather than recognizing the possible signs of sexual trauma. On blogs and news sites, almost without variation, fans defended their football hero and reporters danced gingerly around the issue.

The assumption hung heavily in the air: She had to be lying. Why would a rich (or, in other cases, married/famous/charitable/kind) man rape a so-called “nobody”?

And here is another interesting follow-up touched on in the Ms. article. The FBI reports that between 2-8% of sexual assaults are unfounded. You'll notice that is higher than the 1.6% that we quoted in our last post and in our HLN interview. That's because the FBI number looks at sexual assault reports that are unfounded, not false. According to the Forensic Examiner, that 2-8% figure is pretty much meaningless.

According to the FBI, a report should only be considered unfounded when investigation revealed that the elements of the crime were not met or the report was "false" (which is not defined) (FBI, 2007).

This statistic is almost meaningless, as many of the jurisdictions from which the FBI collects data on crime use different definitions of, or criteria for, "unfounded." That is, a report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship. Similarly, a report might be deemed unfounded if there is no physical evidence or too many inconsistencies between the accuser's statement and what evidence does exist. As such, although some unfounded cases of rape may be false or fabricated, not all unfounded cases are false.

The police department mentioned in the Ms. article (who had an unfounded rate of 54%) went even further and injected a whole host of their own biases in determinations of whether or not a woman reporting a sexual assault was lying. Of course their numbers were inflated if they told the FBI that they believe some women falsely report rape to “obtain revenge” on a man who has “done her wrong,” or to make her partner “feel guilty” after a “lover’s quarrel”! The point is, these numbers are highly subjective and, since we live in a culture that assumes that women lie about being raped, our stats about women lying about rape are going to be inflated. It's a vicious cycle, and one that does not contribute to justice for rape victims.

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