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On #MooreandMe, Pt. I: How the Rhetorical “Rape Card” Silences Women

On December 15, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown launched #Mooreandme, the Twitter hashtag protest designed to call out progressive icon Michael Moore, and while Moore has since clarified his views and voiced an apology to Doyle, the #MooreandMe tag lives on.

Jockeying over the legitimacy of the accusations against Assange has metastasized into wider debate about the nature of rape allegations everywhere, whether accusers/accused should be shielded behind anonymity, and whether women have an ace in the hole in the form of the so-called “rape card.”

A brief background for those who didn’t closely follow #MooreandMe: Michael Moore voiced the belief, on popular, liberal punditry hour Countdown with Keith Olbermann no less, that the rape allegations directed at Wikileaks’ founder/spokesmodel Julian Assange were “a lie and smear.” Moore contended that the charges were little more than politicking on the part of the U.S., which was recently embarrassed by Wikileaks’ release of U.S. diplomatic cables, and urged viewers to “never, ever believe the “˜official story,’” presumably of a world power or an alleged rape victim.

Olbermann not only condoned and expressed tacit agreement with Moore’s opinion, but he re-tweeted misinformation in the form of a link to a specious, baseless blog post claiming ties between one of Assange’s accusers and the CIA. (Kate Harding’s swift debunking of the “Assange’s accuser is a CIA plant!!” meme is a great read, btw).

In the wake of #MooreandMe, Michael Moore has managed to restore some of the sheen to his progressive credibility, Keith Olbermann has deleted his Twitter in a flounce reminiscent of the first grade sandbox, and the rest of the blogosphere remains alive with the hum of two-bit bloggers railing against “radical gender feminists” who “accrue power through perpetual victimhood.”

The above, head-scratch-inducing quotes are from a blog titled “American Power,” which I stumbled across in a recent foray into #MooreandMe. The post is titled “The Gender Feminist “˜Rape Card’” and author Donald Douglas states that,

“¦allegations of rape are essentially the new racism. To even analyze claims of rape is to be attacked as “˜misogynist.’

Let’s just ignore the the funny non sequitur that people who allege rape are racist. Also, let’s set aside the fact that the only people who should be publicly analyzing rape allegations are the police. Instead, let’s focus on Douglas’ insistence that women enjoy power because of their ability to cry “Rape!,” which is a dangerous, misleading, patently false assertion that is already widespread in the U.S.

Remember Lizzy Seeberg, the Notre Dame freshman who committed suicide after her sexual assault allegations against a football player went virtually ignored by campus police? The same Lizzy Seeberg who received harassing texts from a fellow student who told her “Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea”?

When that story first broke, I cannot tell you the number of asinine comments I ran across on popular news venues, from “Catholic girl probably just felt guilty about what she did” to “Remember Duke lacrosse? Stop making assumptions!”

It is a given that we should assume that the accused are innocent until proven guilty–Sady Doyle and other feminist activists have made a point of never calling Assange a rapist, but merely maintaining that the allegations against him should be treated seriously, an investigation allowed to proceed, and his accusers afforded respect and privacy.

There’s something very twisted about the fact that Lizzy Seeberg’s family only found out about her sexual assault allegations after she committed suicide, that Notre Dame continued to allow a football player charged with a serious crime to play ball, and that Notre Dame has not yet “˜fessed up to mishandling the case. That is what the news coverage of the Seeberg case has been about, not whether the accused player actually assaulted Seeberg–that we’ll never know for sure.

So why the kneejerk defenses of the player and Alamo-esque calls to “Remember Duke Lacrosse”? Are false rape accusations so rampant that we need to question the validity of every rape claim that makes the 6:00 news?

An article at Slate attempts to answer this very question, and comes to the conclusion that the most reliable studies pinpoint false rape accusations at about 8% of reported rapes. I admit that figure is disturbing: my heart goes out to falsely-accused defendants who find their personal lives in turmoil and their reputations tarnished.

However, in a country where 15 of 16 rapists go free (due in part to only a 40% reporting rate and 50% arrest rate), I’m finding it difficult to muster up any sense of power in the knowledge that I can, supposedly, waltz right down to my local precinct and accuse someone of rape whenever I damn well feel like it.

That’s because the reality is that prosecuting alleged rapists is very difficult and police, lawyers, judges, and juries all maintain a healthy attitude of skepticism towards rape accusers. Army attorney Steve Cullen explains how false rape accusations and the media-hype surrounding them breed the mindset that, despite the fact that at least 92% of rape accusers are telling the truth, the burden is on the victim to prove the alleged rapist is not-innocent:

Police treat sexual assault accusers badly–much worse than the lawyers do–much worse than the courtroom does. Forget what you see on “Law and Order SVU,” the police end absolutely discourages victims from reporting. Why is this so? Because cops suspect just about every victim is another false accuser, because either he/she has personally dealt with such a problem, or has heard stories from his or her cop buddies to this effect (and yes, in my experience female cops can be even worse offenders). This police behavior is bad, and counterproductive–but it’s real. Putting a real stigma on false reports might combat this a bit–and make it a little easier for actual victims at the police station.

False reports also have a disproportionate impact on juries. How I’d hate to be prosecuting a sexual assault right now. Often in sexual assault prosecutions there’s no debate as to the sex, but everything falls on proving lack of consent–and can only be proven through a convincing and persuasive victim’s testimony. Often, that victim’s testimony has to overcome some less than ideal circumstances–she was drinking, people observed her flirting with the perpetrator etc. That’s something she can own up to, and overcome on her own. What she can’t do on her own is extinguish jury members’ memory of reading of some spectacular false accusation case in the newspaper last month. Every false accusation that makes it into the news makes it that much harder for the real victims to receive justice.

So no, Donald Douglas, I don’t carry any “rape card” in my back pocket, I don’t assume that my word will stand up against any man’s (because I know my claims be will heavily vetted, at best, and mocked, at worst), and while I feel sorry for the Duke lacrosse players and others falsely accused, for every one of them there are at least a dozen women who have been raped and whose rapists will never be brought to justice.

Every time a famous figure is accused of rape and the conversation immediately swings to how his accusers might by making it all up for publicity or revenge or because they’re part of some secret cache of U.S. spies in Sweden, it discredits the woman in your town or city who reports a rape to her local chief of police. It places a seed of doubt in the minds of the public and the minds of the officials whose duty it is to prosecute those claims to their utmost ability. It convinces wronged women that they should remain silent, because no one will believe them if they tell the truth.

There’s no angle for rape accusers to exploit, no power to be derived from being female and capable of posting a false rape accusation.

Tomorrow, On #MooreandMe, Pt. II will take a look at Naomi Wolf’s argument that rape accusers should no longer be granted anonymity.

4 replies on “On #MooreandMe, Pt. I: How the Rhetorical “Rape Card” Silences Women”

The FBI estimates that 8% of rape accusations are unfounded, which does not mean that they are false. Wikipedia quotes Bruce Gross of the Forensic Examiner on this:

“This statistic is almost meaningless, as many of the jurisdictions from which the FBI collects data on crime use different definitions of, or criteria for, “unfounded.” That is, a report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship. Similarly, a report might be deemed unfounded if there is no physical evidence or too many inconsistencies between the accuser’s statement and what evidence does exist. As such, although some unfounded cases of rape may be false or fabricated, not all unfounded cases are false.”

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