The Message Sent To The False Accuser

If the false accuser were a jailhouse snitch, it’s highly unlikely anyone would come to his defense and manufacture a narrative where he was merely the victim of an oppressive system. It’s not that a credible argument couldn’t be made. It could quite easily, but there is no constituency for “Believe the Snitch” outside of the prosecutors’ office, and only then when the snitch is useful.

The same can’t be said for false rape accusers.

But Tricia Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project, said very few wrongful convictions come from false reporting. They are more likely to come from inaccurate eyewitness accounts.

“If the concern is that a false report could lead to a false conviction, that’s just wrong,” she said.

This is an understandable, but deeply flawed, assertion. The Innocence Project focuses on cases where there is evidence to disprove an allegation, such as DNA showing the person convicted was not the person who committed the rape. It’s a different scenario than the false accuser, where the accused was the person who had sex with the accuser, but the sex was consensual.

As false rape accusations stats suggest, there may only be 5.9% of accusations that are provably false, the sort of accusations that the Innocence Project deals with, but the next 58.8% are inconclusive, so they may be true or false. While these don’t make it onto the Innocence Project’s radar, nearly 60% of rape accusations are potentially false. It’s a huge concern, even if the “Believe the Woman” constituency does everything within its power to deny its existence.

But what should be done when accusations are found to be false?

Prosecutors have dropped false reporting charges against two more women who reported being sexually assaulted in Lawrence, as questions swirl around the handling of such investigations in the college town.

The cases involve one woman who said she was raped and another who said she was the victim of domestic violence, The Kansas City Star reports. The newspaper inquired about false reporting charges after Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson dropped charges in October against another woman, a University of Kansas student, who said she had been raped by a friend of her ex-boyfriend.

The question of appropriate sentence for false accusers doesn’t come into play if false accusers aren’t being prosecuted. Clearly, false accusations do enormous harm, from the accused being expelled from college to being arrested and jailed. Their names, published in bold face while their accusers’ names are concealed, are tainted in perpetuity as rapists. And, of course, there is the possibility that the falsely accused will be convicted and spend years, even decades, in prison for a crime that never occurred.

So why not send a message? Well, they are doing exactly that, except a different message.

Branson noted that he feared publicity surrounding the October case could discourage sexual assault victims from coming forward.

The message here is tolerance of false accusations of rape, born of vengeful or embarrassed women who can sanitize their actions and shed any responsibility for their choices by pointing their finger and shouting “j’accuse!” But the fear is that if the message is sent that false accusations will result in prosecution, then women might be fearful that their accusations, which they believe to be true, to come forward.

There is, of course, a simple framing of the problem, that the only women who should be afraid are the women who falsely accuse, and that women making true accusations have no reason to fear. But given the squishiness of what’s currently promoted as a rape, and given the broadly bad “advice” many women are given by others that any sex act they wish hadn’t happened is transformed, after the fact, into a sexual assault, there’s a fairly strong possibility that women who sincerely believe they’ve been raped, even though they haven’t, except in their own imaginations, will not come forward.

Essentially, the conundrum is a product of the untethering of the word rape from any cognizable definition such that a sincere accuser can simultaneously be a false accuser, not because of nefarious motives but rather the overwhelming misinformation and promotion of false narratives that no woman who was drunk, but not incapacitated, is capable of the enthusiastic consent they willingly gave.

University of Kansas law professor Suzanne Valdez, who is also president of the University Senate and a special prosecutor in Wyandotte County, said she does not believe there is a safe place in Lawrence where she can send students who come to her reporting assault.

“Women aren’t safe here,” Valdez said. “Police aren’t protecting women, the DA’s not protecting women.”

The irrationality of Valdez’s statement is easily seen if one substitutes “white people” for “women.” It is not the job of the police, the DA or, indeed, the University of Kansas, to protect “women” when women are committing the crime of falsely reporting. The idea, coming from a law professor of all people, that there should be a “safe place” to falsely accuse an innocent male student of rape is ludicrous. Unfortunately, it’s also a pervasive delusion, because unlike jailhouse snitches, there is no shortage of advocates for women’s right to accuse men of rape, whether true, false or imagined.

By dropping the charges, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson bought himself some small solace from the “Believe the Woman” crowd, though likely not much as reflected by Valdez’s complaint that if he’s not prosecuting accused men, even if falsely accused, he’s still failing women. From the perspective of the unduly passionate, there is no accusation that’s so false as to be unworthy of prosecution, no male student too innocent that he shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of women’s feelings about sexual irresponsibility.

The message is falsely accuse and the worst that can happen is that the man won’t end up convicted. But neither will the false accuser.

12 thoughts on “The Message Sent To The False Accuser

  1. Chen

    You come *pretty* close here to saying that prosecutors only prosecute guilty people.

    You say that the only ones who should fear prosecution for false accusation are those that make false accusations, to include those who only “imagin[e]” they were raped. “Women making [actually] true accusations have no reason to fear.”

    *OR* maybe women who were actually raped — not in their imagination — could fear that police and prosecutors would disbelieve them and *think* they made false accusations. Case in point: [Ed. Note: link deleted, per rules.]
    You’re usually far more skeptical of claims of the prosecution’s infallible judgment, no?

    1. SHG Post author

      The post speaks to the concept of “sending messages,” not to prosecuting any individual case or variation on an obvious theme. As should require no evidence, it’s always possible that an innocent person can prosecuted, whether it be for rape, falsely reporting or any other crime. The point is to reduce its likelihood, which in this scenario would suggest not encouraging false accusations without consequence, not indulging chaos theory as to the infinite permutations of prosecutorial errors.

      1. Chen

        The counterpoint — which I thought you were attempting to address in the relevant portion of the post — is that prosecuting false accusations of rape in less than the most extreme circumstances would further intimidate the already intimidated rape victims. You can certainly argue that this is not a sufficient reason to preclude or almost preclude prosecutions of false accusations. But the passage I referenced seemed to suggest that true rape victims should not be deterred by prosecutions of false accusations. With that I strongly disagree. If you’re not actually saying that, then we are in agreement.

        1. SHG Post author

          The portion you referenced was about framing the general message, nothing more. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone here (without a hyper-partisan perspective) would impute a motive to me to prosecute any dubious accusation, so I saw no reason to Gertrude it. Having reread what I wrote, I still don’t.

          That said, whether we agree or not may be more meaningful to you than me.

          1. Chen

            Indeed no one here imputed a motive to you to prosecute any dubious accusation, nor do I see a reflection of any hyper-partisan perspective here. If you say my reading was way off, then I guess it was.

            And whether we agree or not is probably equally nonmeaningful to both of us. I was using agreement as a shorthand to convey my opinion, based on reasons I had already expressed, and it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would construe it as an assertion of self-importance.

  2. Fubar

    The idea, coming from a law professor of all people, that there should be a “safe place” to falsely accuse an innocent male student of rape is ludicrous.

    Laughter’s far too polite, makes delicious
    That idea so inherently vicious.
    So, surprise I must voice
    At the adjective choice.
    Or did you just misspell “pernicious”?

  3. Erik H

    I don’t know why those folks keep writing layperson press releases which move “false” away from its normal use of “incorrect / wrong” and sticking in an added component of malice and intent. But politics aside I’m sure there is absolutely no intent to confuse or mislead people, and I eagerly await their adoption of a more precise and comprehensible term.

    “Mr. Brown was imprisoned on rape charges.”
    -“Were they false?”
    “No, they were merely the result of inaccurate eyewitness accounts.”
    -“So when Mr. Brown says he was falsely accused, you’re saying he’s wrong?”


  4. A lady's perspective

    Prosecuting false accusations could cut both ways. In some cases it could protect real victims by deterring false accusations. This can increase the credibility of actual rape victims. It also protects the victim of the false accusation (where police has zeroed in on a suspect) who has suffered a real harm. On the other hand it could be used against actual rape victims who are disadvantaged or where there is a power imbalance or where there is another agenda in play.
    Note that the risk of prosecution won’t deter all false accusations and it would embolden some who would use it as extra evidence to state that their accusation is true.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s unclear what you’re trying to say “on other hand.” Prosecuting any “actual rape victim” for a false accusation would be just as wrong as prosecuting a falsely accused innocent deft.

  5. Steve

    Why not, as a middle ground between prosecuting and not prosecuting false accusations, publish the name of the false accuser once the case is so resolved?

    1. SHG Post author

      There is no reason to conceal the name of a false accuser any more than anyone who has committed an offense. That said, bear in mind that just because someone’s accusation doesn’t pan out doesn’t make them a false accuser, which is an intentional wrong rather than a mistaken understanding of law.

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