The Junk Science Of The “Rape Myth” Narrative

One of the great curiosities is how the same folks who are outraged by junk science in the courtroom when applied to certain cases, certain crimes, “bite mark” analysis for example, or “bullet lead” analysis, aren’t perturbed at all about the testimony of someone like “forensic psychologist” Barbara Ziv.

Ziv, a professor at Temple University, may be remembered from her testimony against Bill Cosby. Her putative “expertise” is in dispelling “rape myths.” To put it differently, she’s an expert in promoting the #MeToo narrative, the litany of excuses for why anything a self-identified victim does proves their truth. Remember everything? Guilty. Remember nothing? Guilty. Remember some but not all? Guilty. Ziv gives the excuse for why, no matter what the case, it proves guilt. And she’s quite good at it.

But unlike hard science, which can be tested and retested with the results proving or disproving its efficacy, assuming the testing is done for the legitimate purpose of determining an accurate outcome rather than validating “duct tape” analysis on behalf of the Forensic Duct Tape Experts of America Association, there is no science behind Ziv’s expertise. And to the extent there is any doubt that her “expert” testimony is fallacious, this is the sort of stuff to which Ziv testifies.

While being cross-examined, Ziv testified that no more than 7 per cent of sexual assault allegations are false, and she thinks the number could actually be as low as 2 per cent.

This, as discussed here many times before, is not merely untrue, but outrageously false. The study upon which this was based had not only been debunked, in itself, but showed that 5.9% of allegations were provably false, notably hard given the problems with proving a negative, with the next 58.8% being inconclusive, which obviously means some or all are also false. Even the 35.3% that are deemed true may not be, as subsequent DNA testing and false confessions have revealed that the proven rape convictions turn out to be wrong sometimes.

Yet, this is what Ziv, the expert, the person permitted to testify as an expert in court, to give her opinion, to “educate” the jury as to “rape myths,” testifies under oath to be true. And judges let her, because she does a damn good job of bolstering the prosecution’s argument that all the flaws in its case aren’t flaws, but “rape myths.” “Ah,” says the jurors. “Rape myths.”

Ziv is back.

A forensic psychiatrist with expertise in rape trauma took the stand as a prosecution witness at former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s Manhattan rape trial on Friday, explaining why some sexual assault victims do not report attacks or avoid their abusers.

Is there such a thing as “expertise in rape trauma”? It begs the question of there being “rape trauma” at all, but that’s the narrative, hauled out when it’s convenient and decried as bunk when it’s not.

Ziv said most victims of rapes and sexual assaults know their attackers, do not fight back during the attacks, and maintain contact with their attackers. She also said some resist coming forward promptly because they feel ashamed or fear retribution.

Most? That’s dubious itself, but nonetheless, depends entirely on how one defines “rape,” whether it’s substantively non-consensual, if not forcible, or post-hoc regret.

Cheronis also asked Ziv if a woman could view a consensual encounter years later as nonconsensual because she had come to regret it.

“Anything is possible,” Ziv answered. “It’s not usual.”

Cite? Ziv says so, and that’s good enough for testimony by an “expert in rape trauma” in a court of law when the defendant is hated.

To be sure, there are rapes, and they are heinous crimes. There are women who are raped, come forward immediately, tell the police, go to the hospital where a rape kit is created to be tested to learn or prove the identity of their rapist. They are, too often, treated like dirt by callous cops, their rape kits abandoned for years, their perpetrators allowed to walk the streets and, perhaps, rape again.

Nobody needs an “expert in rape trauma” like Ziv to make excuses for them. But worse, and more ironically, few in the #MeToo movement give these women a second thought, care a whit about the fact (note the word “fact” here) that these women didn’t hide behind excuses for their decades-later claim of rape, but cried rape immediately, loud and clear, remembered exactly what happened to them and weren’t “afraid” to do something about it.

The cops failed them. Prosecutors failed them. The #MeToo choir failed them. Ziv didn’t fail them, but only because they had no use for an apologist like Ziv.

Barbara Ziv has now firmly established her bona fides as an expert it “educating” juries on the narrative to explain away all the problems with rape accusations, the “myth” that all the indicia of false accusations doesn’t apply when someone claims to be a rape victim. Her testimony helped to take down Cosby. Her testimony may help to take down Weinstein, or at least that’s why the People of the State of New York are paying her. The expert in high profile cases gets to enjoy the reputation of being the “go-to” person for such services, and her testimony in Weinstein solidifies her gig as the person to pay when you need someone to put lipstick on the pig of excuses.

But it does something more, beyond Ziv’s making money off her side gig. It establishes the existence of such a thing as an “expert in rape trauma,” the prosecution’s justification for calling an expert to educate jurors on “rape myths” based on the trauma of victims. And if victims of “violence” suffer trauma that impairs the ability to do all the things expected of a victim, like accurately recall what happened, accurately identify the perpetrator, come forward when it happened rather than years later when it’s at the height of fashion, the same will be true for every victim, whether a mugging, robbery, burglary, whatever. No matter what happened, what was said, what was remembered, it will always prove the same thing: the defendant is guilty.

24 thoughts on “The Junk Science Of The “Rape Myth” Narrative

  1. B. McLeod

    I watched a part of this testimony on Court TV, and it really is complete voodoo. No attempt to develop any foundation, even as to the initial premise that the beliefs Kiv terms “rape myths” are commonly held in our society. Then, as she went on to testify that all those beliefs are false, it became obvious that all of her conclusions there were based on surveys of people accepted as “victims” because they claim to be. There is no science there to be found.

    Still and nevertheless, every defense objection was overruled by the court with a single word and a tone of rueful boredom.

    1. SHG Post author

      The underside of “empiricism” in social science is that it’s remarkably easy to create the results you want, whereupon you can claim it’s real because, well, that’s what you want it to be. Daubert, anyone?

      1. El_Suerte

        Interestingly enough, some training materials put out by rape advocacy groups have sections on getting this kind of evidence admitted as other than expert testimony so that they don’t have to worry about meeting the Daubert standard.

      1. B. McLeod

        Yet, at the same time, defendants such as Cosby and Weinstein can’t get the voodoo excluded, because of the MeToo political environment. It obviously follows that if these ultra-wealthy targets can’t get a fair trial, Joe Sixpack on the street is buggered from the get-go. These are basically political show-trials, where the rules are going to be disregarded as necessary to put away the accused, because the mob demands it.

        Note that in substantially every media story for the last two years, Weinstein’s name is preceded by his new political title, “The Disgraced.”

  2. Fubar

    Cite? Ziv says so, and that’s good enough for testimony by an “expert in rape trauma” in a court of law when the defendant is hated.

    Today it’s “rape trauma” experts testifying that decades old consensual acts were actually rapes. Thirty years ago, it was “recovered memory therapy” experts proving “satanic ritual abuse”.

  3. El_Suerte

    Too bad that people can’t recognize that rape myths can simultaneously be true (sometimes, partially, but that’s a longer conversation) and credibility eroding.

    This is definitely part of a broader trend where concepts and stances from therapy bleed into areas where they aren’t appropriate.

    If you need me, I’ll be throwing things at the TV while I watch Law and Order SVU.

    PS Does that show make it harder to successfully defend clients? I’ve always wondered if it comes up during voir dire.

    1. SHG Post author

      All TV shows that valorize cops (and prosecutors) as being invariably truthful and brilliant saviors are a problem, but that’s life.

  4. Carl

    Ziv did not say any reaction proves guilt, but that “the notion that one can determine whether somebody has been raped by their behavior” is a myth.

    Don’t let ideology obscure facts

    You also conflated wrongful convictions involving misidentifications with false accusations in which a rape never happened

    1. SHG Post author

      First, you don’t get to make up quotes.

      Second, Ziv’s given a great deal of testimony, and that’s exactly what her testimony contends. One sentence fragment does not make her thousands of other words disappear.

      Third, the point isn’t that misidentification is conflated with rapes that never happened, but that the “believe the woman because she’s traumatized” testimony was false. Regardless of why doesn’t mean much to the guy wrongfully convicted and in prison for 30, or the accuser wasn’t raped. We don’t know which, but we know the testimony was false and the claimed trauma-informed reliability is bullshit.

      1. Carl

        Daily beast quoted her as saying that, not me

        “Even the 35.3% that are deemed true may not be, as subsequent DNA testing and false confessions have revealed that the proven rape convictions turn out to be wrong sometimes”

        That reads as conflating wrongful id with false accusations, rape allegations exist outside of the criminal legal system

        Wrongful id/conviction cases don’t mean a stereotypical “lying woman” made up a rape, which is what those stats are trying to debunk

        1. SHG Post author

          I assume that most people here don’t need me to explain the obvious in excruciating detail, but it’s Saturday, I’ve got a minute and you apparently do. The “true” category is made of convictions, whether by plea or trial, except they aren’t necessarily true. We know this certainty because of the rare instances where a convicted deft can subsequently prove innocence.

          But if there are “true” cases, based on convictions, that turn out not to be true, it may be that there are convictions but are not for the full panoply of reasons. It’s not to say that the 35.3% are false, but while they are in the “true” category, it remains uncertain that they are, without question, true. Let me know if I need to use smaller words.

          1. Carl

            Yes and you are still conflating wrongful prosecutions with false accusations. If someone gets convicted and later proves there innocence based on dna, that doesn’t mean there was a lying whore to blame, but the system. The difference between the central park 5 and Duke lacrosse is that in one of these cases rape happened. So the statistics would count the report as true. Assault, sexual or otherwise, is a public health problem and the truth of claims can’t and shouldn’t be measured solely by convictions. Many true claims are never prosecuted, many victims choose to do nothing or to sue instead of calling police.

            1. SHG Post author

              Your point wasn’t hard to understand, and aren’t any stronger by repeating. I posted your comments for what they’re worth.

            2. Solon

              For what it is worth, I think the difference in your interpretation of the statistics is based on your focus. Carl focuses on the idea that a woman was sexually assaulted (it doesn’t matter by whom), so that the fact that the wrong man was convicted does not change the “true” statistics. You (SHG) focus on the fact that the accused was not guilty, which, since it is ultimately the basis for the “true” statistic, impacts negatively upon that statistic. I note that since your focus has always been the accused (because that’s what you choose to write about, and what this post is about (that and the “science” used to convict him)), while Carl wants to talk about the “victim” (noting the presumptive nature of that term), you are not talking about the same thing.
              It may not be worth much, but I thought it worth noting.

            3. SHG Post author

              Carl’s point about DNA exonerations is understood, that it doesn’t mean there was no rape, but that the rapist was not the deft. Where we separate is that I use these examples not to argue that no rape occurred, but that the metric for “true” isn’t itself conclusive, but that defts convicted based on false accusations where no rape occurred have no ability to disprove their conviction as do those who can point to DNA exoneration.

              Carl locks onto the examples I gave to argue that they don’t prove that the “true” category includes false rape convictions (he’s right, they don’t “prove” that), but I extrapolate from the “true isn’t necessarily true” category to include other wrongful convictions that can’t be so easily disproven. He’s wrong that it’s conflation, as my purpose was only to show that calling accusations “true” doesn’t mean they are, without doubt, true.

  5. Bob

    Sounds like child sex abuse prosecutions, where (in my state at least) supposed experts are permitted to testify whether something an alleged child victim does or says is “consistent with child sexual abuse.”

    Did she report it immediately? Consistent with her being a child sex abuse victim. Did she never disclose it? Consistent. Did she tell the same story every time? Consistent. Did she tell a different story to everyone she talked to? Consistent. Did she use age appropriate words? Consistent. Not age appropriate? Consistent. Etc., etc. It turns out that literally anything a child does or says is consistent with her having been sexually abused.

    In the good old days this evidence would have been refused on the theory that it’s not helpful to the jury, who is supposed to the judge of the credibility of witnesses. But child sex abuse victims are “special”; how else are you going to convict in he said, she said cases where the victim is a child? We couldn’t let the guys get away with it just because their guilt can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt…

    It doesn’t surprise me that it’s creeping into more and more prosecutions involving “special” victims.

    1. El_Suerte

      Child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome turned into a really scary thing! Even recantations were treated as proof.

      The tragic thing is that, at it’s original core, CSAAS fairly described the experiences of sexual abuse victims. However, it’s entirely non probative, and shouldn’t have been used in court.

  6. Nobody

    So you’re saying if a rape victim doesn’t go to the police immediately, that proves she’s lying?

    1. SHG Post author

      Not at all. It means she can explain why, the prosecution can make its arguments as to credibility, the defense can make its arguments against credibility, and the jury will decide credibility, just as they would in every other case where an expert doesn’t “educate” the jury as to how they are to decide the credibility of this “special” accuser.

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