Another day, another entitled white male columnist expressing his outrage at the victimization of his poor, downtrodden brothers. Today (yet again) it’s the turn of Dan Hodges, who not only penned this little rant on lives ruined by false rape accusations, but then took to twitter to ask this gem of a question:
@PennyRed It’s a simple question Laurie. Do false allegations of rape make it easier or harder to secure convictions against rapists.
— Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) April 15, 2014
It is, I’m sure you will agree, a simple question, but also a profoundly stupid one. Of course the tiny proportion of complainants who lie about rape make it harder to secure rape convictions. The behaviour of the liars is bound to have an impact, at least insofar as it proves that some people lie about rape. That’s obvious. However, what doesn’t seem to be so obvious, at least not to Dan Hodges, is that this impact will – but need not – be magnified by the over-reporting of cases involving false accusations and by the proliferation of opinion pieces on the “ruined lives” of the falsely accused. The broader impact is indirect but even so, rape conviction rates suffer less from false accusations themselves than from misconceptions about how often accusations are proven to be false. What’s more, it’s at this point that the responsibility shifts. Those who lie about rape are not responsible for how their crimes are publicised; writers such as Dan Hodges are.
Why doesn’t Hodges ask whether rape makes it easier or harder to secure convictions against false accusers? Or whether rapists make life easier or harder for victims of rape? These are stupid questions, too, but since it appears to be “ask a stupid question about rape” day, I thought I’d throw them in. I think, however, there’s a reason why these questions are rarely asked, whereas questions such as Hodges’s come up all the time. We think rape is inevitable, natural even. Rapists gonna rape, right? Therefore potential victims – usually women – must modify their behaviour accordingly. Lying about rape, on the other hand, seems to be neither inevitable nor natural. There’s no point asking the potentially falsely accused – usually men – to modify their behaviour in response to something so aberrant. That just wouldn’t be fair.
It seems to me that making a false accusation of rape is considered far, far worse than committing an actual rape. I don’t just mean this in terms of the impact on the victim, but in terms of how people view the motivations and culpability of the guilty party. Rape is still considered an opportunistic crime, something that can happen almost by accident when a woman happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That rape culture exists – and that rapists spend years absorbing the idea that they are entitled to rape – is something a great many people still refuse to accept. By contrast, making false accusations is invariably presented as calculated and malicious. It’s something a false accuser could control, if she really wanted to. Unlike the rapist, the false accuser is not destined to commit a crime; she must have been enabled by a legal system which allowed her to get away with it (usually by granting anonymity). And so it is suggested by the likes of Hodges that we can’t stop rape – sorry, potential victims! – but that we can work on stamping out false accusations. We can’t control the impulsive, violent behaviour of (mostly) men but we can control the malicious behaviour of (mostly) women. Funny, that.
Of course, none of this is true. We could do more to prevent men from raping; we just don’t want to. Meanwhile potential victims of rape are still held to ransom by the argument that if only they could all be perfect – if only not one single person could lie about rape –– then all of them would be treated fairly. Hey, that isn’t so much to ask, right? Obviously we can’t ask the same of the potentially falsely accused (aka men). Asking men not to rape is both unrealistic and insulting. You can’t go around viewing all men as potential rapists just because some men rape. You can, however, go around viewing all women as potential false accusers just because some women and some men lie about rape. That is, apparently, totally realistic and fair. Or at least patriarchy – and its Telegraph blogger spokesmen – would like us to think so.