The Sexist

False Rape Accusations and Rape Culture

Last night, the Hofstra University freshman who had accused five men of gang-raping her recanted her statement. The 18-year-old student, who had told police that the men had lured her into a dorm bathroom, tied her up, and raped her, admitted to the Nassau County District Attorney's office that the "incident" was, in fact, consensual. After being released from jail, where they had been held for nearly 24 hours, the four men cleared of the rape charges posed in a series of celebratory photographs, smiling, raising their hands in the air, and offering thumbs-up signs to the press. Overnight, the men turned from accused rapists to . . . four guys who had had consensual sex with a woman together.

It was an odd scene, if only because the implications of this situation are too thorny to be glossed over by a jubilant release story. Since the men were cleared of all charges, the public will likely never know what actually happened during this "incident," why the woman reported it as a rape, and why she later took it back. For most bystanders, these details are unimportant. Whenever a high-profile rape accusation becomes public knowledge, commentators tend to gravitate to one side of the story, regardless of the outcome of the case. On one side are people who are concerned about the problem of rape. On the other, people who are concerned about the problem of false rape accusations. It shouldn't have to be that way.

I can't recall how many times I've seen a discussion of a rape accusation devolve into the one side arguing why the accuser should be believed, and the other side arguing that the accuser should be discredited. Another common point of argument I find frustrating—what percentage of rape claims are genuine, and what percentage are false? Most of the time, we, armchair rape analysts, launch into these arguments before we have any actual idea whether a particular person has raped another person. In most cases, we will never know. What we do know, all the time, is that rape is a problem, and false rape accusations are a problem. The meaningless squabbles between the two camps tend to overlook the fact that people concerned about rape and people concerned about fake rape accusations are both fighting against the same thing: rape culture.

Rape culture does not just encourage men to proceed after she says "no." Rape culture does not simply teach men that a lack of physical resistance is an invitation. Rape culture does not only tell men to assert ownership over whichever female body they desire. Rape culture also tells women not to claim ownership over their own bodies. Rape culture also informs women that they should not desire sex. Rape culture also tells women that saying yes makes them bad women.

Both rape and rape accusations are products of the roles assigned by rape culture. In the traditional seduction scenario, a woman is expected to not desire to have sex, and to only submit after the man has successfully coerced her into submission. When the preferred model for consensual sex looks a hell of a lot like rape, an array of fucked-up scenarios are inevitable: the woman never wanted to fuck the guy, refuses to submit, and is raped; the woman submits to the man's coercion in order to avoid other negative consequences (like being raped); the woman had desired the sex all along, but must defend her femininity by saying that she had been coerced into sex. Thankfully, a good deal of modern men and women reject these antiquated ideas, but they're far from being banished from the sexual landscape. Especially when that landscape involves four men, one woman, and freshman year of college.

And yet, even the people who care most about false rape accusations seem to find ways to keep rape culture going strong. In his coverage of the case, Men's News Daily editor Paul Elam writes:

In what has become a more or less common turn of events, the female Hofstra University student that accused five men, including one classmate, of gang raping her in a school dormitory bathroom has recanted the charges. That’s legal and media speak for admitting she cheapened herself by taking on five men willingly on a men’s room floor and lied about it later out of what little capacity for shame she had.

Elan admits that even if the woman hadn't accused five men of raping her, she still would have "cheapened herself" by having sex with the men "willingly." Meanwhile, the four released men in the case carry no such group-sex stigma when they pose triumphantly outside the jailhouse doors. In case you're interested, it gets worse.

RELATED: Why are people calling the accuser a whore instead of a liar?

  • Silenced is Foo

    Props to Martin. The whole "Slut" threadjack just makes me sad.

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  • David

    These guys should be put against a wall and whipped util their screams are heard in Anchorage. NO HIGH RANKING MALE has sex with a girl while other men watch. These boys made a bad choice. Whether it's called rape or not, shouldn't be part of the conversation now that the charges have been dropped. We need to talk about the quality of our young men. Are they WORTH our protection? NO, not these boys. There must be some punishment for such weak males other than the criminal system. Native American tribes would humiliate their weaker men until they proved themselves worthy of praise. This might help get these ridiculous boys under control. It's a man's job to control the more vile of our sex, NOT the job of young women.

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  • Albert Gallo

    In order to better understand false rape allegations, one must understand the REAL reason women commit them. It is NOT because they feel shame, but because rape accusations have become an effective and socially acceptable way for women to exercise power and control over men --- power and control that they would otherwise lack. Since they can't use their brains or their brawn to push men around, they use the law. The majority of women are jealous and envious of men, and pointing an accusing finger at them, makes them feel empowered.

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  • Melanie

    I tend to wonder if she recanted of her own volition or if she was coerced in some way. Was she a liar the first time when she accused them or the second time when she said they didn't.
    Personally I had the best first experience guy ever. I was going farther than I was ready for to please him. I really wanted to please him. He stopped me and told me to never do anything I didn't want to do, that I always had the right to say no, no matter what. That no matter what he would rather go home and take a cold shower than feel I had done something I would regret. Then he just held me close for a very long time. If only every woman had that same first experience.

  • Lou

    Those women who perpetrate false rape charges need to be held accountable. They have ruined lives with their false charges. How can we get the laws changed to recognize that false accusations are a serious matter? At work today I heard a 37 year old woman, and a 39 year old woman discussing seducing a 19 year old boy, then accusing him of date rape. If I knew they were serious, I'd report them. If I ever hear of it happening, I most certainly will. And by the way, I'm a woman, and I can't agree more with the men. False rape accuations, as well as a lot of domestic abuse accusations, are used a great deal of the time as tools.

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  • AnonToo

    A word about the much-touted Kanin study. Kanin performed this so-called "study" in a location that he did not name -- thus making it impossible for other researchers to verify his findings. It is a well-known fact that "research" that is impossible to be peer-reviewed, is utterly worthless. For all we know, he could have just made it all up. Lack of verifiability is a hallmark of hack science.

    Second, Kanin's "study" reveals that he never actually talked to the victims. He only talked to the police department. That police department used the polygraph to "encourage" accusers to recant. There is a good reason why polygraph test results are inadmissible in court -- they are notorious for their inaccuracy, as well as their use in extracting false confessions and forcing people to retract good-faith allegations out of fear. Subjecting a rape victim, who has just been through a tremendously traumatic experience, to a polygraph is highly likely to yield inaccurate results and to intimidate the victim into recanting just so she wouldn't have to be treated this way. It is surprising that only 41% of accusers in this town recant. The only thing that Kanin's "study" proves is the misogynistic and dismissive attitude towards rape of the town's police department.