Whenever the topic of sexual assault comes up in conversations and discourse, the arguments about “What happens if she lied?,” “If they cannot prove it, it obviously did not happen,” etc. are soon to follow. This is an interesting phenomenon as this does not happen with other crimes. Yes, there are times when the victim or survivor is painted to be nothing close to a Boy Scout – like the black people who get shot for no reason – but the immediate tendency to not believe the survivor is unique to both sexual assault and domestic violence. There is also the response, that I have never heard for another crime, that we should punish those who bring a case against someone and they are found not guilty. While yes, it is terrible to lie, this possibility of punishment if they cannot prove the assault happened to a judge, will decrease the already extremely low reporting rates. Some find it hard to believe that so many people are getting sexually assaulted so frequently, especially when they think that they and their friends could never assault someone.
As hard as this might be to believe, every 98 seconds another person in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, according to RAINN, but only six out of 1,000 rapists will end up in prison. Statistically, men are more likely to be raped themselves, by men, than they are to be falsely accused of rape. Less than ten percent of accusations are false, but when they are, they get a lot of attention. Instances like the Duke Lacrosse team are prime examples of false accusations getting intense media coverage, whereas instances like Brock Turner, a rape that was proven in court, still end up demonizing the women. In the first case, these women were not in the right, but in the latter, she did everything “right” and still she was made to be the “bad guy.”
Many times when rape is found in court, which happens wildly infrequently, the perpetrator serves little jail time. RAINN found that out of 1,000 cases, only 4.6 rapists actually saw jail time. This is because of a slew of factors, mainly that so few get reported, and those that do, rarely lead to arrest and even fewer actually make it to court. Some may ask, “Why wouldn’t they report if there really was a problem?” The leading reason is fear of retaliation, as they know all too well that the perpetrator will likely not face actual consequences.
Now back to the idea that these mean women are just trying to ruin men’s lives. Since so few assaults get to a law enforcement body and even fewer go higher, it is very difficult for people to get real rapes through the system, imagine how difficult it would be to get a fake one through. When these people actually manage to get some result from the accusations, they will likely only lead to a bruised reputation and a slap on the wrist. If this goes any further, there are ways to fight for the damages made by the false accusations, mainly civil procedures for defamation of character and malicious prosecution.
Many would point to the #MeToo movement as making it so women are believed no matter the situation. While there has been an increase in people coming out about their sexual assault, this is because they have lived in shame for years because they did not think anyone would believe them. When people would come out before, they would face intense backlash, being told that they were ruining these people’s lives for no reason and they were just overreacting or even “asking for it.” While I could write a whole piece on that alone, what is important in this discussion is that now these survivors have a voice to tell others what happened to them and hope that this does not happen to other people. False accusations make a great headline but, in reality, they rarely happen. The idea that the accuser has to be dragged through the mud just to be believed not only hurts women but also the men who have even lower rates of reporting. While we should not believe anything we hear without proof, it is important to understand how difficult rape and sexual assault are to prove and understand that those who come forward with real experiences are doing so with more courage and strength than most of us could even hope to have.