False rape charges: a feminist responds

Recently, Jeff Goldstein challenged feminist bloggers to respond to a bizarre California story about a false accusation of rape that was disproved only by the existence of a videotape, and to the fact that such charges — which can potentially lead to years of imprisonment for the falsely accused — are generally treated lightly by the legal system. I responded to the story here.

Now, Jill at Feministe — one of the bloggers Jeff addressed — has a response of her own. Jill points to an absolutely horrible story from Iran, involving a teenage girl named Naznin, who has been sentenced to death by hanging for stabbing a man to death when he and two other men tried to rape her and her niece in a park after chasing away their male companions by pelting them with stones.

Jill then comments:

There isn’t much else to say about this one, is there? It’s disgusting beyond words.

But of course, I shouldn’t take this girl’s word on its face. I mean, we all know that women lie about rape for fun and no one lies about other crimes, and this girl especially had something to gain. Perhaps we should consider a higher legal bar in evaluating rape charges. Right?

Of course, if a male blogger posted some terrible story about an innocent man being lynched on a false accusation of rape, and then added a snarky aside along the lines of, “I mean, we all know that women never lie about rape and we should just believe the women,” then we’d all know he was a misogynist… right?

I’ve seen Jill’s posts before, at Feministe and on others blogs. I’ve often disagreed with her, but she always struck me as someone willing, at least, to engage in an honest exchange of ideas. But now, confronted with an open-and-shut case of a woman lying about rape — a lie that could have sent six men to prison for many years — she can do no better than to use Nazanin’s tragic story to try to score a cheap rhetorical point.

Disappointing, to say the least.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “False rape charges: a feminist responds

  1. jw

    Cathy: I’ve long thought that there is a quasi-religious faith based factor to “feminism.” I’m not talking about the ordinary version here, rather the true believer.

    There are a great many out there who believe so strongly in the tenets of the faith “feminism” that there is no possibility of discussion. It is like trying to talk about about Abrahamic religions with an uneducated bible-thumper …

    For too many people what-I-believe is set in stone: There is no possibility of a real answer to the question “why do I believe as I believe?”

    My greatest problem with this is the number of people who take what a faith-based feminist says at face value; who believe because she/he said it. This spawns more problems.

  2. Cathy Young

    I like the “faith-based feminist” line, jw!

  3. Anonymous

    As a criminal defense lawyer I can tell you that while false accusations are probably rare, they certainly occur. Further, because most cases are settled by guilty pleas, as you would expect the proportion of false accusations is much greater for those few cases that actually go to trial. Therefore, I believe that each and every case must be considered based on its own facts. In criminal court–where the only question is what is going to happen to the defendant–our constitution properly requires juries to apply the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. For other purposes, a less stringent standard of proof is and most certainly should be applied. The problem, as I see it, is that far too many people have ideological blinders on that prevent them from considering each case on its own merits.

  4. mythago

    A rhetorical point is “cheap” if you don’t agree with it, you mean? I guess it’s not “cheap” to assume that the legal system (every aspect of it) treats false accusations of crime “lightly” because the penalties for false reporting of any crime are not, in your opinion, high enough.

    Jill’s point was to show what happens in places that have very high legal standards for rape accusations.

  5. EricP

    BTW, Jill did indicate that conflating the two was done out of anger and offered to remove the text if Jeff wanted. He never said either way.

    I read through all the comments at Feministe and I’ve rarely seen so much effort at arguing against what someone wrote by building strawmen (there were several separate efforts going on!).

  6. Cathy Young

    mythago: I think a rhetorical point is “cheap” if it uses an extreme situation, and an extreme leap of logic, to invalidate valid concerns about a problem.

    Just because, in another culture, disbelief toward a woman’s claim of rape has resulted in a horrible tragedy does not mean that there are no false charges of rape, or that an overly unskeptical attitude toward such charges cannot result in monstrous injustice as well.

    Incidentally, in the case in Iran, the young woman’s claim seemed to have ample corroboration — I assume from her cousin and from the two young men who had been out walking wtih them. In any case, if we were talking about American legal standards, the young woman in this case should have been entitled to the benefit of the doubt, since she’s the defendant.

    EricP: Who’s building strawmen, Jill or her commenters? (I haven’t read the comments thread over there.) Personally, I think Jill ought to remove this comment regardless of what Jeff says or doesn’t say, because it makes her look bad.

  7. Synova

    Is it possible to ignore individual justice and succeed in gaining victory over a larger injustice?

    I had an interesting (but brief) exchange concerning the allegation that female Soldiers in Iraq are dying from dehydration because they don’t dare go to the latrine at night for fear of being raped by male Soldiers. Pointing out factual errors in the charges was percieved as outright hostility toward women because even if *all* the facts were provably wrong, there *were* rape victims and questioning this truth was pretty much spitting on them.

    Yeah, this is definately “faith based” feminism.

    Truth matters. It’s every bit as bad for the cause of justice to err on the side of believing charges without question as it is to dismiss them. And believing a lie doesn’t serve a purpose for those “unknown” victims that must exist.

    What I sometimes wonder… don’t any of these people have SONS?

  8. EricP

    Who’s building strawmen, Jill or her commenters?

    It is the commenters. It is some of the regular posters who can be pretty smart in most cases but are going out of their way not to look at Jeff’s point directly in this case. I don’t think that this is an active decision, I just think that they have drunk so much of the coolaid that they can’t see their own assumptions.

  9. The Navigator

    Cathy,
    I think many feminists would note that women’s reactions to sexual assault can vary, and that sometimes women who feel deeply threatened will act as if they are going along with an assault and even act as if they’re enjoying it, in hopes of placating the attackers and avoiding the beating that might result if they resisted.

    I’m not saying that happened in this case – wasn’t there, haven’t seen the tape, have no idea of the truth – but it doesn’t seem all that implausible that a woman, finding herself surrounded by six men who were intent on having sex with her, would act in a way calculated to avoid being viciously assaulted.

    Having said that, I’d think that feminists wouldn’t have a problem with higher penalties for false accusations – after all, they don’t think there are any false accusations, and, at least when it comes to rape trials, they appear to believe that people alleged to have committed a crime must always be convicted of that crime.

  10. mythago

    Back in the mid-90s we used to have pretty reasonable discussions about gender politics on Usenet and the e-mail lists

    This was in Bizarro-World mid-90s, right?

  11. Anonymous

    Cathy: I have been reading a lot about the issues you discuss in particular the mine field of “False Rape Accusation”. The topic is sadly polarised and riddled with the misuse of statistics.

    Your articles and the comments of the readers gives one of the very few quality spaces on the web I have found. I disagree with enough to realise I am not just reading to reinforce my opinions and agree with enough to feel this is a reasoned place. I shall be visiting again.

    Gwyn

    (ps. Gwyn is a male name in Europe which is where I am from)

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