WotW-Gate: Why are We So Quick to Call Rape Victims “Liars?”

Unless your mind is unconsciously, or consciously for some reason, choosing to ignore reality, you have probably noticed that practically every rape case covered in the media includes some element insinuating, if not outright declaring, that the victim is lying about the crime in question.  In fact, if you were to form an opinion only from the information presented in the media, you could be forgiven for assuming that the United States was experiencing an avalanche of false rape accusations.  And yes, people do lie about being raped.  People have been known to lie about being the victims of just about every crime short of murder, and I’m sure a few enterprising liars figured out ways to claim they were murdered as well.  But the idea that we are experiencing an epidemic of false rape allegations would be laughable if it didn’t make it more difficult for the victims to get justice.

How many rape victims are lying?  The truth is, sadly, that we don’t know.  A quick spin at Google University  gives numbers ranging from 2% or 8% on the low end to 25% or 40% on the misogynist MRA end.  Megan McArdle  at Bloomberg View tried to make sense of it in 2014, yet, in my opinion at least, fell victim to her ideology filter, quickly dismissing the 2% number:

Here’s what we do know: The 2 percent number is very bad and should never be cited. It apparently traces its lineage back to Susan Brownmiller’s legendary “Against Our Will,” and her citation for this figure is a single speech by an appellate judge before a small group of lawyers. His source for this statistic was a single area of New York that started having policewomen conduct all rape interviews. This is not data. It is an anecdote about an anecdote.

In the very next line she goes on to praise a study MRA sites point to that sets the number at 41%, although to her credit she does point out that study’s incredibly small sample size.  (Small like the average penis size of MRAs.)  She then dismisses the 8% statistic as well as just about every other statistic, citing the ideology of the study’s author.

This number should be used only with grave caution.

But so should any other numbers, such as the 8 percent figure that is commonly attributed to the FBI. When you dig into the research itself, you find it is often heavily inflected with the authors’ prior beliefs about what constitutes the “real problem”: unreported cases of rape or false reports?

I agree with her to a certain extent.  Statistics can be made to say just about anything you want them to, and the higher percentages cited almost certainly owe much to author bias.  The problem, however, is that there are some good studies out there, and she seems to flippantly dismiss the lower numbers, especially the 2% number, which I have a hard time believing only comes from an old, minor speech.  The truth is probably somewhere in the 2% to 8% range, which is where most studies I have seen seem to put it.  I tend to think it is higher than 2%, not because women be lying, but because the vast majority of rapes go unreported, which I think would skew the data a bit.

From a South African site:

MYTH: Women say they have been raped to get revenge on a man.

The truth is that women very rarely do this, as reporting rape to the authorities and going through a rape trial are very traumatic. It takes a lot of courage to report a rape and go through with a rape trial. Other people often make rape victims feel ashamed or guilty about the rape, which makes it even less likely that a woman would lie about rape. Statistics show that number of false reports of rape is the same as any other crime.

TRUTH: People lie about all crimes, not just rape. The number of people that lie about being the victim of a crime is very small.

From a feminism 101 site:

For those who stubbornly wish to believe that bitches be lyin’, I can point them at studies. I have before and will again. But in the future, I will first make them chew on this “false” rape allegation statistic until their teeth break.

CONTENT NOTE FOR ABOVE LINK: Massive trigger warning for graphic description of violent sexual assault and horrific treatment by law enforcement

Now, some of them will spit out that report along with their shattered teeth and flap their bleeding gums at me: “That’s just an anecdote.” And that is true. It is just one data point behind the 2-8%. Since we are Good Skeptics™, we know to look beyond anecdotes.

So let me add in a study of police attitudes toward rape victims. It would seem EEB isn’t alone, then. And if we could factor in the victims who never reported at all because of shit like this, that “false” rape allegation statistic would drop like a rock. Since they don’t, the statistics are skewed, making “false” allegations look more prevalent.

Now add the horrific treatment victims experience from defense attorneys who believe they’re scum. I can tell you from experience this can be worse than the rape. It can be a form of torture, and like torture victims, some rape victims will recant just to make the pain stop. Magically, their allegation is now “false.” But they’re no less raped, and the rapist is no less a sexual predator.

Add in the fact that some rapists have the lock on society, and can crush their victims. If their victims had the courage to report, they’ve soon got their buddies to sweep the crime under the rug. And another several ticks are added in the “false” rape allegation column.

Add in children who receive such a terrifying reaction to their attack that they recant just to protect themselves. More “false” rape allegations.

What about victims who aren’t supported by friends and family because many cultures make it easier to believe the victims are filthy, disgusting, crazy liars rather than people suffering from sexual assault? I think you know what happens to the statistics by now.

Add in the fact that some police departments don’t make a distinction between “reports that are actually, genuinely, provably false” and “reports that can’t be prosecuted due to statute of limitations, lack of evidence, or some other reason, but no doubt the victim was assaulted.” Both numbers end up counting under “false” allegations, although a sizable percentage weren’t false at all.

Back in 2014, after the Rolling Stone rape article debacle, a graphic was making the Twitter rounds that claimed to visually show rapes, false accusations, trials and convictions.  While popular (no, I’m not posting it because it is huge and I’ve already taken up a lot of space for this post.  You can see it at the upcoming link.), it received 3 Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s fact check site, which claimed that it was misleading and contained incorrect data.  I bring this up not because of the infographic itself, but rather this quote the Washington Post made while slamming the chart: (bolding by me)

False reporting is a difficult number to measure. The Enliven Project uses 2 percent of “falsely accused” cases, out of the 100 reported cases of rape. There is an important distinction that must be made here, between accusations and reports. “Accusations” may refer to claims that were not made in official police reports, whereas “reports” generally refer to cases that were filed with law enforcement.

That, again, seems to be the lower end of the estimate range. The “Making a Difference” Project, which used data collected by law enforcement agencies over 18 to 24 months, found 7 percent of cases that were classified as false. That study is the “only research conducted in the U.S. to evaluate the percentage of false reports made to law enforcement,” according to the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women. Other studies also estimate somewhere between 2 and 10 percent.

It’s quotes like that that convince me the truth is far closer to the 2% to 8% range than the MRA nightmare numbers.  Unless you called the police to report that your illegal drugs were stolen, I have a hard time imagining a crime where the victim is treated as poorly as we treat rape victims.  Even then, they wouldn’t ask you what you were wearing or if you asked the thief to steal your drugs then changed your mind.  Honestly, knowing the way victims are blamed, questioned, looked at, and outcast in many cases, along with the incredible likely hood that the rapist is going to get away with it anyway, I’m surprised the number of rapes reported isn’t, sadly, even lower.

When someone reports a burglary, we do not immediately assume the victim trashed their own house and hid the valuables in order to commit insurance fraud.  When someone is hit by a hit and run driver, we don’t immediately jump in with the thought that maybe they wrecked their car and injured themselves in an attempt at claiming disability.  When a store says they are having problems with shoplifters, we don’t assume they are lying so they have an excuse to raise prices.

Yet every single rape case that is covered by the media, I have to listen to someone accuse the victim of lying.  The women who are accusing Cosby?  They all just want money apparently.  Jameis Winston and Ben Roethlisberger?  Innocent little angels who almost fell victim to evil gold-digging whores.  It doesn’t matter what the facts are of the case, someone will claim the victim is lying.  Did a 14 year old girl get filmed being raped while passed out by three members of the high school football team?  (Hypothetical case here, not making mistakes about Steubenville)  Oh, that girl was a slut who consented before she passed out and just doesn’t remember.  And this isn’t only an issue with women victims, either.  Every time a new priest is accused of sexually assaulting a child in the past, the victim is accused of only wanting to cash in on the molestation gravy train.  Living as close to State College as I do, where Joe Paterno was treated at the minimum as a minor deity, I heard claims about the men accusing Jerry Sandusky ranging from the usual “they just want money” to the batshit tinfoil insane “they were paid by a shadowy Penn State booster who realized the team could never be great again with Paterno as coach to start a scandal that would force PSU to fire him, an act most locals considered unthinkable. Hell, it may even have been Penn State’s own athletic director!”

Even if the rape is believed, or in the cases where there is undeniable proof, the rapist can receive more sympathy than the victim.  I’ve heard very little sympathy for Jerry Sandusky after the facts of the case all came out, although it sadly still exists, but as a cultural Catholic I have heard many justifications for the child molesting priests, which, anecdotally of course, seem to mainly consist of “yeah, he made a mistake, but look at all the good he has done!  Doesn’t that kind of even it out?  And I’m sure he confessed his sins to God and was forgiven, so who are we to judge.”  And how can anyone forget this quote out of the Steubenville case?  (Hopefully no one can, and if they can, I will do my part in reminding people of it when I can.  Seriously, was CNN channeling their inner Fox News?

During the course of the delinquent verdict on March 17, 2013, CNN’s Poppy Harlow stated that it was “Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart…when that sentence came down, [Ma’lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney…He said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.'”

Aw.  Were their promising little futures all derailed?  O M G, we are so mean to convicted rapists, seriously!

How did we get to this point?  What can we do about it? WTF is WotW-gate anyway?

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that HBO’s Game of Thrones is based on.  I was a huge fan of the show as well, and I am not ashamed to admit that I only found the books through the show.  WotW-gate is just a fandom kerfluffle that, to be quite honest, is probably meaningless to most of my readers.  But I did want to touch on it mainly because of this “trend” our culture seems to be following now of insinuating that rape victims, even non-pregnant ones who are not seeking an abortion, are lying about the rape.  I want to be clear that I do not know any of the people involved.  I have had a few quick conversations (and even calling them that is a stretch) with the blogger at GoTgifsandmusings about other subjects, have had even shorter conversations with the blogger at The Cultural Vaccum, and started to get my news about Game of Thrones exclusively from Watchers on the Wall once they broke away from Winter is Coming, although my visits to WotW have shrunk significantly since the horror that was Season Five.  (WotW is way too show apologetic for my tastes, so I mainly avoid it now.  I don’t blame them for that though, if my actual job was running a GoTs fan site, I wouldn’t chase away my traffic by harshly criticizing the show either.  I’d like to say that I would quit instead, but that is an easy claim to make when you have no skin in the game.)  While I find myself occasionally enjoying a tweet from AngryGoTfan, we are pretty much opposites politically and have never communicated.  I also do not know the author of A Rape Victim Speaks Out on the Sansa Scene, which is the post that started WotW-gate.  Never met her, never talked to her, and have no idea as to her identity.  What I am saying is that I do not have proof to rub in anyone’s face over this idiocy.

Here’s the story in a nutshell.  (You can find much more information on it at GoTgifsandmusings, I am just giving the bare bones of the situation.)

  • The “Let’s rape Sansa Stark for no real reason” episode of GoT’s aired, causing several members of the fandom to give up on the show.
  • AngryGoTfan published an anonymous, long post from a rape survivor detailing the emotions watching that scene caused her to have.
  • Some show apologists in the fandom responded to this post in several ways, including comments like “shut up,” “nuh uh,” “people get raped in the books, why doesn’t that make you cry,” “grow a thicker skin,” and “wow, you are lying about getting raped to critique my show?  I call foul!”
  • A conspiracy theory evolves that states the whole 6500 word article was actually written by AngryGoTfan, sock-puppetting as a rape victim so he can…..? Continue bitching about a show he was already bitching about?
  • WotW’s Editor-in-Chief Sue the Fury decides that the above conspiracy theory is the truth and claims to have proof that AngryGoTfan is the author.
  • The author of the post, who has been in internet contact with GoTsgifsandmusing for a while now, attempts to convince Sue the Fury that she actually exists.  She is instead blocked on Twitter.
  • The author reaches out to GoTgifsandmusings, who attempts to contact Sue the Fury and is blocked.
  • Sue the Fury states these people are all AngryGoTfan’s minions sent to attack her.
  • The author of the article continues feeling marginalized and victimized, and now can’t even seem to convince people of her existence without outing herself on the internet or giving her personal information to someone she obviously can’t trust not to reveal that information.

Now I will admit that it is possible that Sue the Fury, and the conspiracy theory are correct.  But read that 6500 word post and ask yourself if it sounds like the words of a rape victim, or a conservative male pretending to be a rape victim.  If that is really AngryGoTfan, then I am impressed.  Disgusted of course, but impressed as well, because to me, it sounds legitimate.

So yeah, it is possible that Angry wrote that post just to add on to his criticism of the show, and I suppose it is possible that he then opened up a conversation with GoTgifsandmusing and convinced her, through in depth written conversations, that he was actually a woman who was raped in the past.  I just don’t think it’s very likely.  Criticism of season five wasn’t exactly hard to come up with.  Why take the risk of sock-puppetting the tale of a rape survivor?

But what really confuses me in this case, honestly, is Sue the Fury’s response.  The post wasn’t going to hurt Game of Thrones and then trickle down into hurting WotW’s page views.  Not only has the show survived criticism over rape in the past, but it remains the darling of critics.  Those of us book readers who feel the show jumped the shark are an extreme minority when compared to the massive audience that watches the show, legally and illegally.  I don’t see why this got a response from Sue in the first place.  Sure, if she really hated AngryGoTfan that much, if she had proof that he wrote the post and released it she could single-handedly  strip his site of all credibility,  but that proof hasn’t been posted, just the accusation.

And without that proof, I just do not see an upside for Sue, in a sea of possible land mines.

But that’s the rape culture we apparently live in, where every rape victim is a liar until proven honest.

Sigh.

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