No one wants to believe the worst about their brothers, sons, or prominent celebrities when it comes to an allegation of rape. Well-publicized cases like Kobe Bryant’s and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s, where the prosecution virtually crumbled under pretrial pressure, make people wary that rape victims might be manipulating the system. But is there really a need for all the suspicion of the accuser?
The statistics on sexual violence in America are startling and could potentially explain America’s odd obsession with CSI and the rise of online forensic nursing schools. It is something you can’t escape. One in six women will be victim to rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. The numbers are around one in thirty-three for men, according to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which is taken twice a year. Two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. But what really stands out about these numbers is that they do not reflect the number of convictions for rape. In fact, the likelihood of being convicted for rape is slim. Only three of every 100 reported rapists will ever spend one day in jail (NCVS 2006-2010). Not quite half of rapes committed are ever reported to authorities. The system is undoubtedly rigged–but it’s not on the side of the accuser–false or not. It’s on the side of the rapist.
Doctors Lonsway and Lisak cite many studies that have come up with stats on false rape reporting. But the numbers vary between 2-90%, making them virtually useless. Their landmark study seeks to reduce scientific error of previous studies. In reality, false reports are usually easy for police to identify before they reach trial stage. They are cries for help from people who need attention and they generally don’t even have a description of their “attacker.” But rigorous scientific study points to a very small margin of between 2-8%, published by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women.
This advocacy organization posits that the legal imbalance of rape will only be overcome when we accept the reality that the majority of reports of rape are truthful, and investigate them fully before ruling them out as false accusations. This isn’t to say reversing that cornerstone of democracy, “innocent until proven guilty.” It seeks to take reported rapes seriously.
On college campuses, where sexual assault can be highly divisive, men’s groups are also bringing serious attention to the issue. Men Can Stop Rape is one such group, with a huge PR campaign and chapters on campuses all over the country, they’ve reached 2 million men to promote the message that men can use strength to build an environment free from violence. Ms. Magazine has also taken up an initiative to challenge law enforcement to create greater safety for women. This is in response to the alleged rape by an NYPD officer of a woman in her own home, as well as the notorious policy of law enforcement to unfound rape allegations if they do not meet the FBI’s forcible rape criteria.
Initiatives that encourage victims to report sexual violence will no doubt shed more light on the legal imbalance surrounding rape allegations, especially since statistically, so few of them are false.