Michael Stern opens with an appeal to authority, which isn’t surprising as there’s a fairly good chance his otherwise tepid observations would never get real estate at USA Today.
And according to Stern’s website, he was indeed a prosecutor.
30 Years of experience as a litigator: 25 years as a Federal Prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, 3 years as an Assistant District Attorney.
For the unwary, federal prosecutors don’t prosecute sex crimes. It’s a state crime, so his experience comes from his first three years rather than the last 27. Yet, his point would have been just as obvious, and just as benign, had he been the guy selling hot dogs outside the courthouse, so what might otherwise have been considered a bit of rhetorical hyperbole doesn’t present any real problem.
Part of the ramped up fervor that comes with a public allegation of sexual assault is the anticipated reaction that people will believe, or not, before the facts are revealed. This reaction may be human, but blindly cheering for one “side” or the other does a disservice to both.
One of the few cases I dismissed as a prosecutor was a rape case in which the “victim” ultimately admitted she falsely claimed consensual sex was rape, after her boyfriend found out about her affair with another man. I spent months investigating before the truth came to light.
He prosecuted a case that ultimately turned out to be false? Who would have thunk except, well, everybody. That there are false accusations comes as no surprise, and really doesn’t require some monumental depth of prosecutorial experience to note. Of course there are cases, and to say so is about as uncontroversial at it gets.
But then Stern takes his otherwise pedestrian observations down a rabbit hole.
While false accusations of sexual assault occur, statistics show they are rare. A widely respected 2009 study, authored in part by a University of Massachusetts professor, concludes that 92 to 98 percent of sexual assaults, in which the suspect is a nonstranger, are real. The same study explains why women who have been sexually assaulted often do not react in the same way as a victim of car theft or credit card fraud.
A study? Wow, we love studies, as they’re very empirical and we love empiricalish stuff. So who is this University of Massachusetts prof who did this “widely respected” study?
Dr. David Lisak, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts
Uh oh. Lisak’s study isn’t “widely respected,” but thoroughly debunked.
Anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the wild west of campus sexual assault hysteria would know that the study by David Lisak was utterly, thoroughly, totally debunked. And, for a brief shining moment, it disappeared from the dialogue, relegated to the trash bin of “fake news.”
And yet, here it is, again, this time given the ascribed cred of being “widely respected” because it was authored in part by a professor, and obviously Stern finds Lisak’s academic credentials impressive. Except the study was crap, a lie that won’t die because people like Stern keep repeating it despite the study having been debunked.
David Lisak had been a bulwark of the rape culture movement. It was his research, cited more often than anyone else’s, that provided the foundation for the existence of a rape epidemic, that false rape accusations were below 10%, that serial rapists were responsible for 90% of college rapes. This guy was the mother lode, and everybody took for granted that he was, if not necessarily correct, legitimate.
It turns out that Lisak’s study was just as much crap as anybody else’s.
Aside from Stern’s reliance on a false study, his op-ed is generally fine if hardly as bold as he seems to believe it is.
I have a clear understanding why “believers” come out swinging before the gun powder has settled from the opening shot. Historically, women who have been sexually assaulted have faced an uphill battle in getting police, prosecutors and the public to acknowledge the truth of their assault. You can’t place a brick wall between a victim and justice and act surprised when it calibrates the push.
Why Stern’s understanding is any more clear than the hot dog guy’s is unclear, but if he says he’s got some special grasp of the problem, whatever.
There are two choices. We can keep up the scorched-earth battles over public allegations of sexual assault. Or, we can make a choice to consider the facts before letting our partisan impulses get the best of us and bring out the worst in us.
Consider the facts? Amazingly, that’s what’s considered a controversial assertion these days. Thankfully, we can fall back on Stern’s experience during his first three years as a prosecutor, to the extent he did sex crimes as to the other cases he handled during those years, to arrive at the idea of considering the facts.
But if we’re going to consider the facts, let’s not spew malarkey like the Lisak study. And let’s not enhance it by calling it “widely respected” when any person knowledgeable on the subject is painfully aware that the study was a sham. Lisak’s study needs to die a brutal painful death, and former prosecutors who want to get their names in the paper have to stop resurrecting it like the walking dead. Especially if they want to offer the exceedingly obvious notion of considering the facts before deciding whom to believe.