Obsessive coverage of 'cry rape' cases and public perception

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Another day, another 'cry rape' story for the Daily Mail. This time the paper gleefully tells the tale of a woman (a businesswoman, no less) who has been jailed for 18 months for making a false allegation of rape.

While it's difficult to quantify false accusations as a percentage of total cases, the fact remains that it's a small one - yet such cases receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the media. The Mail and its ilk are repeat offenders, rarely featuring a story involving rape unless it's one where a woman's allegations have been proved wrong - unless of course, the rape victim happens to be beautiful, white, virginal and wealthy, in which case tragedy is laid on with a trowel.

The problem is that when the media continues to publicise such cases yet ignore the majority of shocking and disgusting attacks against women, the poor rape conviction rate and the rape culture that exists in our society, we end up with the situation we have at present, where a woman who has been raped is automatically assumed by many to be a liar simply out to ruin an innocent man's life.

Not in the case of any other crime does the public so readily assume that the victim must have made it all up. Take any news story involving rape on the internet and you can guarantee that there'll be one vile misogynist comment after the other, accusing the victim of all sorts of things while sympathizing with the accused. This has become particularly noticeable when the cases involve an allegation of date rape, no doubt down to a series of stories in recent years which have painted it as little more than a myth.

Yesterday Peter Tatchell wrote about the case of a group of men cleared of raping a woman after it was revealed she had spoken online about her group sex fantasies. Judge Robert Brown urged the jury not to return a guilty verdict as he considered this revelation to be the moment "her credibility was shot to pieces". In his piece for Comment is Free, Tatchell says:

"The judge and prosecutor appear to have come close to suggesting that the alleged victim had, by sharing her group sex fantasies, invited the rape; that given her racy sexual mores she had only herself to blame. Having heard she was open to the idea of an orgy, the five men were, it seems, entitled to believe that she was theirs for the taking."

He quite rightly goes on to point out that it seems like a disturbing throwback to the days when courts routinely blamed a woman for her own rape, citing her clothes or her behaviour which proved too irresistible for men who could not be expected to do anything else under the circumstances. As he concludes, it's truly unbelievable that in 2010, an allegation of rape should be disbelieved because a woman's 'morals'.

Wise words there, but unfortunately I made the mistake of reading the comments - some of which seem to insinuate that the woman deserved whatever happened to her and questioned her credibility - along with a few jokey remarks (now compulsory, it seems, as a response to stories about rape) about the concept of consent. It was a common criticism of the woman's allegations that she 'had no evidence' to support them, despite the fact that the case was halted before evidence was presented.

As long as the press continues to cover rape cases in a way which suggests the majority of allegations are made up and that the victim is often to blame for the violence against her, public attitudes towards victims will never change. If the media parrots certain views often enough they come to be taken as gospel and all too quickly, the first reaction to rape being mentioned is that 'most women make it up anyway'. I've heard it among people I know when I've explained what Reclaim the Night is all about or when I've brought up conviction rates. Comments from people I wouldn't have down as rape apologists and misogynists, nevertheless there's nothing that satisfies some people more than a rape allegation proved untrue.


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makomk said...

"While it's difficult to quantify false accusations as a percentage of total cases, the fact remains that it's a small one - yet such cases receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the media."

Actually, most false accusations don't make the media either. In general, unless it's a particularly serious case CPS policy is not to prosecute women who make false rape claims, giving the media nothing to go on.

For example, this woman was prosecuted because she convinced the police that a man she'd never actually met had raped her so well that they arrested him and searched his home. Apparently, her story only fell apart because her clothes had been cut and not just torn.

IIRC, false claims of stranger rape by mentally ill women - like this one - make up somewhere around 5% of reported rapes, and that's just the ones that can be proved false. (Bear in mind that most rapes aren't reported, so this is less impressive than it sounds.) Generally they don't go anywhere though.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on this one. True, there are false accusations of rape out there. And I find those women to be truly disgusting! And also, living in a college-town environment, I bear witness every weekend to the number of girls who drunkenly go home with guys at the end of the night and regret it the next day, trying to shove blame off themselves.

However, the fact remains that rape should always be taken seriously. You're absolutely right--heavily publicizing the false accusations takes away the credibility of truly honest women.

As someone who has been physically sexually harassed (not raped), it's very difficult to have someone not believe you. I told someone who was very close to me at the time, and though they believed me, it was only after "making sure" that I had remembered correctly. (I, however, had not been drinking.)


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