Catching up (3): Rape victim advocates and the presumption of innocence

Another thing I missed during my blogging hiatus: Ampersand (Barry) responds to my column and blogpost about the Duke University rape case.

In particular, he takes issue with this passage:

But even some people who applaud this change believe that in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far. Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply. Appearing on the Fox News show ‘’The O’Reilly Factor,” Monika Hostler of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault declared that her role was ‘’to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.”

To O’Reilly’s question, ‘’Even if they weren’t?” Hostler replied, ‘’I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t.”

Says Barry:

Cathy is conflating two things that should be kept separate: an individual citizen’s own opinion, and our Court system. Yes, agents of our Court system are required to presume innocence, but unless she’s sworn in on a jury, Ms. Hostler doesn’t share that requirement.

….

Cathy thinks that rape victims’ advocates should not assume that a rape happened until it’s been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. How, exactly, does Cathy imagine that would work? Victim advocates don’t have the resources or the training to conduct independent investigations. Courts can take years to reach a “guilty” verdict – assuming there’s ever a trail, which there isn’t for most rapes. Should advocates refuse to help victims (pardon me, alleged victims) until a “guilty” verdict is handed down?

Barry then gives his satirical version of how a conversation between a rape victim advocate and a caller to a rape crisis center would go in the world according to me:

ADVOCATE: (picks up phone) Hello, rape crisis hotline. How may I help you?

WOMAN: (Distraught) My… I… I think I’ve been raped. This guy I know, Edward, he held me down and forced….

ADVOCATE: (Interrupting) You mean he allegedly held you down and forced you.

WOMAN: What?

ADVOCATE: I have to presume Edward’s innocent until he’s been proved guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Please go on.

WOMAN: Okay… He, well, I kept saying “no, please don’t.” But he ignored what I said and ripped off my skirt -

ADVOCATE: You mean Edward allegedly ignored and allegedly ripped off your skirt. I’m keeping open to the possibility that you’re lying. Now, please hold, while I get Edward’s attorney on the line so he can cross-examine you. If your story remains credible after adversarial cross, then we can begin talking about dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

WOMAN: Umn… Could I talk to someone who’ll believe me?

ADVOCATE: Before a trial takes place? What do you think this is, Nazi Germany?

Barry then suggests that I misrepresented Hostler’s position:

Even if Cathy had fairly quoted Ms. Hostler, Cathy’s argument would be wrong, for the reasons given above. But as it happens, Ms. Hostler wasn’t quoted fairly (there’s a transcript of the interview here). Here’s the important bit:

O’REILLY: You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?

HOSTLER: Oh, absolutely. But my role in sexual assault is to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.

“Oh, absolutely” can be interpreted to mean “oh, absolutely, the courts shouldn’t presume the defendant is innocent. But my role is to support the victim.” That’s how Cathy seems to interpret it.

But if that’s what Hostler meant, why start the second sentence with the word “but”? A sentence starting with “but” usually contrasts with the previous sentence in some way – that’s what the word “but” means. But there’s no contrast here, so the “but” is out of place.

I think Hostler meant “oh, absolutely,” meaning “Oh, absolutely, defendants should get the presumption of innocence in court. But my role as an advocate is to support the victim.” If so, the word “but” makes much more sense, because there’s a contrast between the two sentences.

To back up his claim, Barry quotes another statement by Hostler in the interview:

HOSTLER: Bill, I wouldn’t say that I think that those particular boys are absolutely guilty. But what I do think is that woman was raped in that house on that night.

Says Barry:

It’s ironic that Cathy is criticizing Hostler for not giving the two accused rapists any benefit of the doubt. Ms. Hostler does give them the benefit of the doubt; it’s Cathy, assuming the worse of Ms. Hostler even though the interview as a whole doesn’t justify Cathy’s assumptions, who is unreasonably refusing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Wanting to remove all doubt, I emailed Ms. Hostler. She says “of course” she believes that courts should presume defendants innocent until proven guilty. With all due respect to Cathy, there was enough textual evidence in the interview itself to raise doubts about Cathy’s interpretation, and Cathy should have made that clear in her column. Not only did Cathy’s column fail to inform her readers of the presence of doubt; Cathy’s quotations omitted the elements of the original interview which would have enabled her readers to notice the ambiguity for themselves.

Although I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose, the effect is that Cathy has unfairly smeared Ms. Hostler before a national audience. I hope Cathy uses a future column to correct her distortions and apologize to Ms. Hostler.

Frankly, Barry’s claim of textual distortion on my part puzzles me. My column never even mentioned Hostler’s “Oh, absolutely” reply to O’Reilly’s question, “You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?” I understood it, in fact, in exactly the same way as Barry did: Ms. Hostler was saying that yes, the courts should absolutely give the defendants the presumption of innocence. However, I don’t think she would say the same of the court of public opinion. In fact, in the same interview, there was this exchange:

O’REILLY: All right, but you said, “Let’s be clear that we won’t know what — that they’re not guilty based on the outcome in court. That won’t tell us anything.”

JOHNSON-HOSTLER: Right.

Now, I will agree that in some cases it is entirely appropriate for the court of public opinion to find someone guilty before they have been found guilty in a court of law: for instance, if there is such clear evidence of guilt that conviction is only a matter of time. And I think there are cases in which there is so obvious a miscarriage of justice that there is nothing wrong with holding someone guilty in the court of public opinion *cough cough* O.J. Simpson *cough cough* despite a “not guilty” verdict.

However, Hostler seems to be saying that even if the Duke lacrosse players are acquitted in a case where the evidence is very much in dispute, the shadow of guilt in the court of public opinion should linger over them.

Note, too, that while she says the particular individuals who are accused may not be guilty of rape, someone in the house unquestionably is. This despite the fact that according to the police report, the woman initially said she was only groped, not raped.

As for the advocate’s role: yes, of course sexual assault victim advocates should provide support and aid to anyone who reports a rape. But should they continue to back a woman’s claims unconditionally even if emerging facts and details cast very serious doubt on her credibility? Should they support a woman who calls herself a rape victim because she had sex with her boyfriend after he threatened to break up with her? or because, after she told her date early in the evening that she didn’t want to have sex, she got tipsy and they started making out and one thing led to another? Should they denounced the “abusive” tactics of a defense attorney who brings up the complainant’s history of false reports of rape? Should they write letters to the editor complaining about the overly prominent coverage given a false accusation? Should they, when a woman recants a story of being raped, argue — with no evidence — that she may have been raped after all and may have recanted under pressure or out of fear? Should they go on national TV and make the claim that they have never seen a woman who said she was raped but really hadn’t been?

My answer to all of the above would be “no.”

And, while I certainly agree that rape crisis counselors should not be skeptical toward those seeking help, I don’t think it would hurt for them to develop some guidelines to help identify false allegations. In many cases, the women who make such allegations are not malicious but deeply troubled individuals who need help — just not the kind of help that includes complete support for their claims.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Catching up (3): Rape victim advocates and the presumption of innocence

  1. The Navigator

    Cathy,
    I reread your original blogpost, and I think you were a little bit unfair to Hostler. You wrote:
    even some people who applaud this change believe that in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far. Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply. Appearing on the Fox News show ”The O’Reilly Factor,” Monika Johnson-Hostler of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault declared that her role was ”to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.”

    To O’Reilly’s question, ”Even if they weren’t?” Johnson-Hostler replied, ”I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t.” Feminist pundits discussing this case, such as Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law, exude an overwhelming presumption of guilt.

    In the specific words you quoted, Johnson-Hostler isn’t actually talking about either how the courts ought to rule or how she herself views the actual defendants. She simply says that her own role is to support the alleged victim, and that she’s never personally seen a false report. Neither of those comments implies that courts ought not to grant rape defendants a presumption of innocence – but your column made it sound like Hostler was saying that, by putting her words in between your comment about the “presumption of innocence,” which to most people suggests a formal court proceeding, and something that a feminist law professor apparently said.

    I understand your point in this post about the court of public opinion, but in my view 1. your column, when read quickly, implied that Hostler was specifically referring to formal courts of law, and 2. the specific words you quote don’t necessarily suggest that Hostler thinks accused rapists should automatically be condemned in the court of public opinion. She seems to be describing only her own role as an advocate, not what she thinks the whole world should do. She didn’t, after all, say “no woman ever falsly reports rape,” she simply said that she personally hadn’t seen such a case.

    Now, perhaps Hostler said more on the show which you didn’t have room to quote – maybe she made it clear that “support[ing] a woman or any victim who comes forward” really means, in her view, condemning the accused and implicitly asking the community to join her in treating them as criminal outcasts. But that’s not evident from the column – and Barry’s comments make it sound like that’s not the case.

  2. The Navigator

    I’d say even your second quote from O’Reilly doesn’t really support that interpretation – she’s still not saying “we should just assume they’re guilty” – she’s merely saying that a not guilty verdict shouldn’t be taken as proof positive of innocence. Skepticism about court verdicts is not the same thing as a presumption of guilt in the court of public opinion.

    By the way, is Hostler guilty of any of the things you list in your third-to-last paragraph – aside from saying that she’s never personally encountered a false rape claim, which really doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing to say?

  3. Betty Friedman

    I agree with Cathy, and she is courageous for speaking reason in a sea of irrational feminist who care nothing of hurting the innocent men falsely accused of rape.

    In the recent decades over 33% of convicted rapist have been exhonorated by DNA testing that found that they were not involved in the rape (which totally blows the feminist “only-2%-of-rape-claims-are-false” myth away).

    In many messy divorce proceedings the accusations of abuse, rape, and molestation has risen so bad that one Florida judge stated that fathers should avoid all contact with their children just incase a divorce may occur.

    • According to the FBI, one of every 12 claims of rape filed in the United States are later deemed ‘unfounded,’ meaning the case was closed because the alleged victim recanted or because investigators found no evidence of a crime.
    • Howard County Police classified one out of every four rape allegations as unfounded in 1990-91.
    • The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers says around 600 teachers a year are falsely accused – a trebling since the 1989 Children’s Act.
    • Citing a recent USA Today article, discussing the miracle of DNA and FBI studies of sexual assault suspects, DNA testing exonerated about 30% to 35% of the more than 4,000 sexual assault suspects on whom the FBI had conducted DNA testing over the past three years.
    • Purdue sociologist Eugene J. Kanin, in over 40% of the cases reviewed, the complainants eventually admitted that no rape had occurred (Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994).
    • 1985 the Air Force conducted a study of 556 rape accusations. Over 25% of the accusers admitted, either just before they took a lie detector test or after they had failed it, that no rape occurred.
    • 1996 Department of Justice Report, of the roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases analyzed with DNA evidence over the previous seven years, 2,000 excluded the primary suspect, and another 2,000 were inconclusive.
    • Linda Fairstein, who heads the New York County District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit. Fairstein, the author of Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape, says, “there are about 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan. Of these, about 50% simply did not happen.”
    • Craig Silverman, a former Colorado prosecutor known for his zealous prosecution of rapists during his 16-year career, says that false rape accusations occur with “scary frequency.” As a regular commentator on the Bryant trial for Denver’s ABC affiliate, Silverman noted that “any honest veteran sex assault investigator will tell you that rape is one of the most falsely reported crimes.” According to Silverman, a Denver sex-assault unit commander estimates that nearly 50% of all reported rape claims are false.

    What modern-day misandry feminist want is a new age spanish inquisition or Salem witch hunt where all you need is only the word of one person to sentence to death an entire village while making it a sin for these innocent victims to stand up and defend against the crimes claimed against them.

    Cathy is brave to make such a stand with so many feminist out there standing ready to pounce on anyone who has the adacity to tell a radical misandry feminist on a rant, “wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense.”

  4. Betty Friedman

    A good letter I found in one of the newspapers

    Why is it that “Rape Shield Laws” are allowed to further slant things in favor of protecting the “accuser” and more easily convicting the “accused”. Why aren’t more men speaking out!

    I’m thinking that it’s because men are made to feel guilty of gender social roles prior to the 1970s.

    Well speaking from a generation where girls weren’t denied anything, I hope my generation will recognize feminist hypocrisy in selectively using sexist stereotypes in marketing all women as “victims” and all men as “villains” to gain billions in tax dollars in federal and state funds to be used for only female interest and women’s issues, and while many men and boys suffer from many of these concerns, the needs of anyone male is ignored.

    We can’t continue to let “gender issues” be represented by “feminist” for they have strayed far from the noble goals of equality and mutual respect in becoming a manipulative sexist organization who promote women as underdogs who are morally superior and that all men who are privileged and morally corrupt.

    I hope this Duke Rape Case is a wake up call for all fair-minded people in realizing that individuals don’t represent an entire gender.

    The Duke lacrosse stripper’s story is as flawed as her integrity and character. It has nothing to do with her being a stripper, a female, black, a convict, etc… It’s because it apparently seems that she lied, but it’s the lives of the 47 innocent boys who have had their reputations destroyed and lives dragged through the mud.

  5. Betty Friedman

    Another letter I found. It seems men are finally standing up for themselves.

    Rape shields were created in the 1970s to protect the alleged “victim” from having her reputation ruined by baseless assumptions, unfair judgments, public humiliation, and character assassinations, but any of this could describe what’s happening to every member of the lacrosse team.

    Irresponsible “special interest groups” have held protests everyday holding the name and pictures of anyone on the lacrosse team, to having their pictures and hate slogans pasted all over school. The actions of these groups against these men are nothing short of harassment and unfair character assassination.

    Media hungry District Attorney Mike Nifong stated he is positive a rape has occurred, but he isn’t sure if it’s by the members of the lacrosse team, yet he obtained an order to get DNA samples from only the members of the team, then he stated on a national news program that the lacrosse team has a “rowdy” reputation on campus – obviously playing up to sexist stereotyping of jocks to further play his case for the media. As Nifong continues to publicly massacre the characters out his case for public consumption, he claims that the team is “stonewalling the investigation” because they claim not to have any knowledge of what transpired, but is Nifong now believing the men to be telling the truth as he recently changed his tune stating that even if the DNA evidence clears these boys that he’ll have other evidence.

    Opportunistic political groups have descended on Duke’s campus using unscrupulous methods to get media attention at the expense of innocent young men who happen to be on the lacrosse team. Young men who were too recently, only boys not yet ready to handle this ugly side of the world. In today’s climate, we need the rape shield laws extended to protect all the innocent, including those who just happen to get in the way of media hungry district attorneys and opportunistic political groups.

  6. Revenant

    Should they denounce the “abusive” tactics of a defense attorney who brings up the complainant’s history of false reports of rape?

    Anyone who considers it “abusive” to point out that an accuser has a history of making false accusations has forfeited any right to have their opinions considered.

  7. mythago

    Now, I will agree that in some cases it is entirely appropriate for the court of public opinion to find someone guilty before they have been found guilty in a court of law: for instance, if there is such clear evidence of guilt that conviction is only a matter of time.

    In other words, when Cathy Young is convinced that the person is guilty, we can say they’re guilty, regardless of what happened in a court of law; but if Cathy Young thinks that the Duke lacrosse players have some evidence on their side, it would be unfair for the public to think them guilty if they are acquitted.

    And really, Cathy, it’s tiring to see an otherwise thoughtful person pulling the “Gosh, who, innocent little me?” act when somebody takes the insinuations you make and drags them out into the open, which is what Ampersand did.

  8. MikeinSC

    I’ll say this much. Since false accusations of rape diminish the outrage for legitimate victims of rape, “advocates” for women who who claim they’ve been sexually asaulted should be MORE outraged than anybody else at women who lie about it.
    -=Mike

  9. Daran

    Betty Friedman said:

    In the recent decades over 33% of convicted rapist have been exhonorated by DNA testing that found that they were not involved in the rape (which totally blows the feminist “only-2%-of-rape-claims-are-false” myth away).

    This is simply false. See my blog post here.

  10. Anonymous

    Shorther Mythago:

    “Cathy’s notions are unscrupulous. So let us return to the important business of declaring the Duke LAX team guilty whatever the evidence.”

  11. Revenant

    if Cathy Young thinks that the Duke lacrosse players have some evidence on their side, it would be unfair for the public to think them guilty if they are acquitted.

    That’s a really silly misreading of Cathy’s point.

    What she’s saying is that it is possible for publically available evidence to make it possible to find a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the eyes of the public, as happened with OJ, various Kennedys, Saddam Hussein, etc.

    Thus far, there IS no publically available evidence that the lacrosse players committed a crime. There is only an accusation — and an inconsistent one at that — made by a drug user with a criminal record. The most we can say about her claim, based on the available evidence, is that it is possible she was raped by somebody. There are billions of somebodies out there, and most of them aren’t on the Duke lacrosse team.

    So there’s no hypocrisy or double standard here. Cathy is simply being reasonable with regard to the evidence before her. You and Ampersand might give it a try someday.

  12. mythago

    LAX? Isn’t that an airport?

    What she’s saying is that it is possible for publically available evidence to make it possible to find a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the eyes of the public

    Juries or judges find people “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”. Public opinion isn’t required to be based on facts, reliability or a neutral perspective, and is highly subject to bias. That’s why it’s ridiculous to say that it’s sometimes OK for us to decide who’s really really guilty and sometimes not.

    It’s especially ridiculous in the case of the Duke lacrosse players, who haven’t been convicted of anything at all, and where we can’t tell what all the evidence is because there hasn’t even been a trial.

  13. Cathy Young

    mythago: first of all, the lacrosse players were until recently penalized without any trial by being suspended.

    Secondly: I think the objections of the rape victim advocates, in this case, are to the woman’s credibility being publicly questioned.

  14. Anonymous

    Hands up if you’ve been called a ‘rape apologist’ or ‘mysoginist’ by a feminist for daring to defend the presumption of innocence.

    Or perhaps more easily, hands up if you haven’t.

  15. Jack Roy

    Hey Cathy,

    Well reasoned and well argued as ever, however I gotta say this: It seems a little shifty to argue that in at least some circumstances even rape counselors should be skeptical of dubious accusations, when the original debate was whether it was whether you had fairly represented Hostler’s position. This in particular:

    Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply.

    Seems to demand more support than you’ve given it. (For the record, I can imagine a few half-baked feminists, not the real grownup kind, whom I believe this describes unfortunately well.)

  16. mythago

    first of all, the lacrosse players were until recently penalized without any trial by being suspended

    Because they have a history of bad behavior (some of the players have criminal records) and had a drunken party where they hired strippers. Witnesses who didn’t know a thing about the rape allegations at the time reported that when the strippers left the party, attendees were shouting racist slurs. Of course the allegations spurred the university to finally crack down, but let’s not pretend that there was nothing else going on.

    Referring to your original post, Cathy, again: you’re not a dumb person, and so when you play rhetorical tricks like conflating a counselor’s experience with rape victims and the legal ‘presumption of innocence,’ it’s reasonable to figure you’re acting out of malice rather than ignorance.

    Hm, I guess I have to put my hand up, as I’ve defended the presumption of innocence for those accused of rape plenty of times (yes, including the lacrosse players) and have never been called names.

  17. James

    Hey Cathy, Remember me? I did 10 years in an Oregon Prison on a false accusation. We are in a big fight out here in CA. They want to pass Jessica’s Law that will force me to wear a GPS tracking device on my ankle for LIFE! Damn nightmare never ends. Check out http://www.nojessicaslaw.org/ Take care.

  18. byrdeye

    Yup, RAPE & DV PARANOIA are the “WMD/Al Qeda” of feminism.

    A fear-based mirage designed to keep people in perpetual fear & loathing of men…and thus feminist funding & support perpetually rolling in. It's a nice 2-pronged fork that simultaneously smears men while raising funds.

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