We don’t live in a rape culture, but we do inhabit a culture saturated with gender propaganda. Call it a Ms.Information culture. And nowhere is Ms.Information more rampant than in the area of sexual assault. On this week’s episode of the Factual Feminist: The two biggest myths about women and sexual violence.
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We don’t live in a rape culture, but we do inhabit a culture saturated with gender propaganda. Call it a Ms.Information culture. And nowhere is Ms.Information more rampant than in the area of sexual assault. Coming up on the next Factual Feminist: The two biggest myths about women and sexual violence.
Myth one: 1 in 5 college women are raped. This claim has been repeated over and over by journalists, activists and political leaders so often it has become the conventional wisdom. As I and many others have said, the figure is wrong, and now there is new data, released just last month, from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics which gives us a much more reliable estimate. The 1-in-5 claim is based on a 2007 internet survey with vaguely worded questions, a low response rate, and a non-representative sample. Other studies with similar findings have used the same faulty methods. But the real number, according to the BJS, is 1 in 53; too many, but a long way from one in five. Does that mean that sexual assault is not a problem on campus? Of course not. Too many college women are victimized, and too often they suffer in silence. But it is not an epidemic and it is not a culture. Exaggeration and hysteria shed no light and produce no solutions, and actually diminish the real problem
Myth two: Women almost never lie about rape—no more than 2 percent of rape charges turn out to be false. Rape crisis activists often urge us to dogmatically “believe women.” They are reacting to a long history where victims were routinely disbelieved or blamed because of their choice of clothing or sexual history. But the answer to bad old practices is not bad new practices. As Cathy Young has noted in an excellent discussion in Slate: “The myth of the lying woman,” has been replaced by “the myth of the woman who never lies.” Why replace one myth with another. Of course women lie. Not because they are women—but because they are human. And human beings lie. Especially about sex. A woman making a false accusation might feel she has a reason to do so–maybe she wants to explain away an embarrassing sexual encounter, or maybe she is disturbed and seeking attention, sympathy, or revenge. Perhaps, even, she may have recently taken one too many feminist theory seminars and came to believe that drunken or regretted sex constitutes felony rape. The claim that only 2 percent of rape accusations are false is unfounded. It seems to have started with Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 feminist manifesto “Against Our Will.” Other statistics for false accusations range from 8 to 43 percent. But these studies have flaws too. The truth is, we have no idea right now what the figure truly is. And it may be unknowable. For one thing, it is hard to define what we mean by a false accusation. Is it a case where the police refuse to pursue a claim because of too little evidence? That does not prove it’s false. On the other hand, it would be wrong to assume that just because someone is found guilty and sent to jail, that means the charge was legitimate. We know that many men have been found guilty of rape, only later to be exonerated. Think of the high school football star Brian Banks who served 5 years in jail before his accuser admitted that she fabricated the accusation. And recently, we have seen dozens of high-profile campus rape cases revealed to be born of false accusations. The bottom line: false accusations are nearly impossible to define, let alone quantify. We can’t know for sure how common they are. But we do know that they happen far too often. So there is no alternative: we need to treat the alleged victim seriously and respectfully, while at the same time being vigilant about protecting the rights of the accused. That’s called due process.
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