Victims Vs. Sluts: Hofstra’s False Rape and the Media
Last week's false rape accusation at Hofstra University has inspired a media storm unparalleled by most actual rape cases. The feeding frenzy has produced some helpful discussion—check out Emily Bazelon's piece at Slate for a thoughtful dissection of rape, sex, feminism, and the law—and a whole lot of unbridled misogyny.In "Crying wolf really hurts true victims of assault," The New York Post's Andrea Peyser rightly points out that false rape accusations can harm the reputations of real sexual assault victims. Peyser also personally demonstrates what else hurts victims: sensationalized media coverage of false rape accusations.
In the piece, Peyser refers to the accuser as a "venal vixen"and a "whore." She then links her to "a string of high-profile rape-criers who found brief fame, sympathy and the prospect of riches by claiming the worst." Peyser name-checks Crystal Gail Mangum (who falsely accused three Duke lacrosse players of rape in 2006) and Tawana Braley (who falsely accused a man of rape in 1987). That's three in 22 years. The conclusion Peyser draws from this stunning trend: "Who will believe a rape 'victim' now?"
Peyser isn't the only one calling the accuser names. Men's News Daily Editor Paul Elam writes that the accuser "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." On Urban Dictionary, "Hofstra" is now a synonym for "Someone who is infested with STD's"; "A slut/someone who sleeps around"; and "The act of being slutty." And at AntiMisandry.com, you don't have to falsely accuse a man of rape to be called a "whore"—in the wake of the false rape claim, simply remaining a feminist is cause enough to earn the label.
As the New York Post points out, there is evidence to suggest that the accuser lied in order to avoid being called these names. She didn't want to be labeled a "whore" or a "slut," "cheap," or "shameless," because she chose to have sex (though I'm betting she didn't anticipate "venal vixen"). Is avoiding slut-shaming a valid excuse for lying about rape? Absolutely not. Do false rape accusations hurt real victims of rape? Absolutely. But is a woman's false rape accusation a valid excuse for slut-shaming her? Absolutely not. And does slut-shaming hurt real victims of rape? Absolutely.
Lying about rape does not make you a "whore." It makes you a liar. And yet, critics have continually chosen to employ terms which shame the accuser not for lying, but for having sex in the first place. Some of the name-calling is a product of misguided outrage at a woman who committed a serious offense. The remainder is pure misogynistic release. They found an opportunity to scream "whore!" with impunity, and they seized it. When bystanders call a false accuser a "slut," they tell her that her reasoning for lying was on-point; when they call a false accuser a "whore," they tell her that her real crime was having sex, not lying.
When the accuser admitted that she was not a victim, she was instantly re-branded a slut. This false dichotomy—victim vs. slut—is not only applied to women who falsely accuse men of rape. It's applied to any woman who accuses a man of rape. That's why defense attorneys use a rape victim's sexual history against her in court—because people believe that women who say yes to sex in one situation would never say "no" in another. Conflating a serious crime—fabricating a rape accusation—for a normal human activity—having consensual sex—will not help eliminate rape, and it will not help eliminate false rape accusations.