[content note: sexual violence]
I want to preface today’s post with a few things: first, I’m going to be talking about my own personal experiences online and off, and I’m not going to be arguing about absolutes, or saying that what I’ve observed is the way it always is with no exceptions. However, I’ve noticed a pattern, and I think it’s happened often enough that it warrants a post.
Also, I have been the victim of a false accusation. My accuser did not go to the police to file a report; instead, he convinced many people– all of whom I had considered friends– that I was an abuser and a rapist, which made my life hellishly difficult. It was miserable– and one of the worst periods in my life for a variety of reasons; being ostracized by people I had once trusted was excruciating. So I do understand the pain this causes. I’ve been there. It should never happen to anyone, and I understand that.
I also want to make it abundantly clear that I am not talking about those who have been falsely convicted of rape, which is completely and totally different.
All of that being said, I’ve noticed a few things when I’ve talked to men about being “falsely accused.”
The first time I noticed this was a little over a year ago. At that point I was still really new to feminist conversations about rape culture and I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the data, and was sharing what I’d been learning. He brought up how he’d been “falsely accused” of raping a woman he’d been dating for a short time, and I did my best to not minimize what I saw as legitimate pain.
But, the conversation continued, and as he kept talking I realized something: the “false accusation” he felt so victimized by wasn’t actually false. In this particular case she hadn’t actually said he’d raped her, but that he’d assaulted her– and he had, by his own admission to me. He didn’t see it as assault; to him it was a small thing that he described with phrases like “being a little pushy.”
I didn’t have the chutzpah at the time to call him on it, but that conversation stuck with me.
Since then, I’ve noticed that when men bring up their personal experience with “false accusations,” they tend to be exaggerating, or omitting the fact that they’ve been accused of assault, not rape. In those particular cases, when I’ve been able to hear “their side of the story,” so far without exception they actually have assaulted a woman, but they’re such magnificent douchebags that they refuse to even recognize that’s what they’ve done. Instead they go on gigantic screeds about how much they’ve suffered. And, trust me, I know what it’s like to have people think that you’re capable of assault or rape. It’s worse than unpleasant.
However, most of the time, the only consequences these men have suffered is losing access to some of their victim’s friends. Their employment is completely unaffected. Most of the people in their friend groups support them. Their “suffering” is usually limited to not being able to bang a few women who’ve decided they’re a jerk– almost always because they are.
In the cases when they actually have been accused of rape, it’s unusual for their victim to have gone to the police and for them to have been investigated, much less charged with anything. These men—who have not been investigated, charged, tried, or convicted– go on and on about how much their lives have been destroyed and ruined, and I’m left scratching my head because I’ve been through this. I know what it’s like to have most of the people around you believe that you’re a rapist. It’s horrible in a way that few things in my life have been, and I’ve been through some tough shit.
But life-destroying? How about no.
I graduated. I got a job as a graduate assistant. I got a Master’s degree. I’m now happily married to one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. My family supports me. I have a few very good friends. Despite the hundreds of people who still believe I’m a rapist, I have a just-beginning-t0-bud career as a writer and activist. My life, overall, is pretty sweet. It hurts when I think that some of the people I thought were my friend believe me capable of rape, and I would do anything to help an innocent person escape that same burden– but my life is anything but ruined.
What I am not saying is that being falsely accused is something to laugh at or no big deal. However, from personal experience I know that the typical rhetoric surrounding “false accusations” is more than just a little overblown. I have had men look me in the eye and tell me that being falsely accused is worse than being raped, and in my experience that is ridiculously untrue. Even being a convicted rapist doesn’t necessarily result in having their lives destroyed: look no further than Ma’lik Richmond, one of the Stuebenville rapists, who got right back on the football team after serving out his sentence.
It’s also usually played out that these men who are talking about being “falsely accused” of rape actually are rapists. They have a lot of justifications for why what they did wasn’t rape, I’ve found out. There are multiple communities dedicated to convincing men that forcing a woman who is saying “no” isn’t actually rape, it’s just them “asserting their male dominance” and other such bullshit. I’ve had posts and articles mailed to me by MRAs who believe all of that to their core. I’ve talked to people that see no means yes and yes means anal as a legitimate statement. There are so many places online that are filled to the eyeballs-floating-in-shit brim with rape myths– they preach tactics like “those bitches actually do want your cock, you just have to convince them by giving it to them.”
We see these sorts of rape myths played out on a daily basis in our popular culture– Cersei and Jaime Lannister, for example. What many people saw as a “gray area” or “dubious consent” was actually just a rape myth. Cersei said “No” seven times, but Jaime assaulted her into shutting up and then raped her until she gave up being such a bitch and just admitted she actually did want it.
These are the sorts of things the men I’ve talked to who say they’ve been “falsely accused” tend to believe. There are victims of false accusations– I’m one of them. It should never happen to anyone.
However, I have yet to speak to a rapist– not even once– who see that what they did was rape. They are delusional, but they have huge communities backing them up online, telling them all of the things they want to hear. It wasn’t rape– it was rough sex. It wasn’t rape– I just knew that she didn’t actually mean “no.” It wasn’t rape– I just got her drunk enough. It wasn’t rape– she was just unresponsive. It wasn’t rape– she was just crying because she was a virgin.
And on and on it goes.
So, basically, anytime a man says “I’ve been falsely accused,” I give them the side-eye accompanied by a heavy dose of skepticism, because every single rapist who’s been accused is going to say the same exact thing. I believe in the prudence of trusting victims—and I can say that, because I’m in the somewhat unique position of being both a rape victim and being falsely accused. But it’s important to highlight the fact that believing victims comes with the flipside of understanding that rapists will lie.
We can’t afford to take “I’ve been falsely accused” at face value.
edit 11/25/14: For those who are new here, please read my comment policy. I especially do not tolerate rape apologia– and if you make any sort of statement or argument that defends rapists or blames victims or in any way minimizes rape, your comment will not published and you will be immediately banned.
edit 12/9/14: this post has been changed slightly for clarity.