There’s a rather disturbing case out of North Dakota involving a student at UND facing disciplinary action on a rape that the police actively believe did not occur. It’s not just that the police are failing to press charges, but rather, they are wanting to prosecute the accustor for giving a false statement.
Now men, broadly speaking, and often conservatives, will look at this case with due outrage. And, to be honest, they’re not all wrong here. The recent moves by the Obama Administration to needle schools into loosening the standards of evidence to make it easier for schools to take action make a lot of undesirable things possible.
On the other hand, we don’t know why the police are going after the woman, what lie they might have caught her in, and so on. It could be that the evidence against her is pretty thin. We shouldn’t necessarily assume otherwise. Horrifying accusations on overreaching retaliation against accusers has been known to happen.
Rape really is one of those cases where there is a zero-sum balance. Made more complicated by the disparity in gender between accusor and accused. As a man (in the United States, at any rate), it was never likely that I would be sexually assaulted. Likewise, it is unlikely that a woman would ever be falsely accused of rape. This always leads both sides to minimize the danger of the other. If you’re going to err in one direction or the other, err against them!
Our arguments are always buttressed by our perceptions of likelihood. One in four women are raped! Half of rape accusations are false! When, in reality, we just don’t know all that goes on. Both of these numbers are disturbing. Putting the thumb on the scales to “encourage women to come forward” by refusing to name them even in cases where they have long been discredited (Chrystal Mangum) may encourage rape victims to come forward, but it also provides protection for people who would make such accusations frivolously. And “but no woman would do that!” sounds pretty hollow. The person saying that wouldn’t do it, but there are some crazy women out there. Likewise, though, the one-in-four estimation is truly horrifying. And demands action. And our system has a horrible history of not taking claims of rape seriously.
The easiest way out of this mental logjam is, of course, to simply choose to disbelieve whichever statistics are inconvenient to your perspective. One in four women aren’t raped. They only think they were because they had sex they later regretted. Or the sampling is flawed. Half of rape accusations are not false, and here are the flaws with the study. And to be honest, I couldn’t begin to sort it all out. And since almost everybody has a vagina, and therefore is most likely to be a victim or rape than ever falsely accused of it, or a penis, and therefore is more likely to be falsely accused than raped, everyone has a skin in the game.
So. Err against them.