by Kat Kelley
No more than 2-8% of sexual assaults reported to the police are false. That means at least 92% of reports are true.
Kat Kelley here, a campus based Sexual Assault Peer Educator. Our programming is discussion based- we aim to meet participants where they are, and discuss the issues and nuances of interest to them. However, there are two issues that always come up- alcohol and “gray areas,” which students often struggle with, and which new peer educators often fear. However, to me, these aren’t “hard questions.” They are key questions. Students need to break down their own barriers and assumptions, and have a safe space to ask these questions, in order to fully support the movement. So this, is generally how the “hard” questions go:
Well what about false reporting? And then someone inevitably adds: “My brother’s friend goes to Ole Miss and he was accused of sexual assault, but he definitely didn’t rape her, but he had to drop out so they would’t expel him, and blah blah blah she ruined his life.”
Personally, I’m a little more worried about the one in four women and one in thirty three men who experience sexual assault, than the fraction of a percent of males who are falsely accused of rape, however… While I cannot speak on the case of your brother’s friend, and I’m sorry he experienced that, false reporting is rare. According to the Department of Justice, an estimated 2-8% of sexual assault reports are false. That means at least 92% are true. And, of cases not reported, but shared with the public, or within a friend group, fabrications are even lower. There is no incentive to false report- survivors are victim blamed and slut shamed (links), their stories are denied and invalidated. Survivors often feel re-victimized by the reporting process. The only benefits to reporting are justice, and holding perpetrators accountable. So while false reporting is already highly dis-incentivized, false stories are even more so.
There is no underground feminist business in false reporting. Women aren’t regretting hook ups or trying to get revenge. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had regrettable hook ups, but being embarrassed and pretending to be texting when I walk past my booty call in red square, is completely different from feeling afraid, traumatized, as though my control, my agency, my power was taken from me. Additionally, when people hear that a survivor “drops charges” they often understand that as “it was a false report.” Those are not the same. Survivors frequently drop charges because of low rates of prosecution, or because they don’t want to have to tell their story another 30 times to audiences interrogating them, regarding them with suspicion and accusation, forcing them to relive the trauma- only to invalidate their story, and tell them they don’t have a case because they had slept with their perpetrator in the past or because they were wearing tight jeans and must have been complicit in their removal.
Well what about alcohol? I feel like that is a total gray area, because if drunk sex is rape then well everyone on campus is a rapist, aren’t they? And what if both people are drunk, how can they rape each other?
Legally, someone cannot consent while drunk, however no one actually thinks that drunk sex is inherently rape. Such rigorous laws are merely giving legitimacy to survivors, they are not tools to entrap the innocent. For example, in the Steubenville trials, the defense attorneys attempted to prove that the victim had been coherent- she had been able to voice her desire to return to a different party, and had been standing at some points. This was an attempt to prove the innocence of the perpetrators. Fortunately, rigorous laws ensured that her ability to stand and speak, despite her incredible level of intoxication, did not undermine her case. Alcohol is used intentionally by perpetrators to facilitate sexual assault. Now, I’m not saying that anyone who has ever bought someone a drink is a potential perpetrator. Perpetrators understand our rape culture and the way we view sexual assault. Perpetrators know what they can get away with. And so they use our sexual assault myths against us. “Taking advantage” of someone (which I am of course not condoning) is using alcohol to facilitate consent- getting people to have “consensual” sex because they are drunk. Sexual assault involves intentionally using alcohol to weaken the defenses, or to discredit their target. It is the different from facilitating consent vs. facilitating sex regardless of consent. There seems to be a widespread fear of “accidental rape,” which further perpetuates the myth of false reporting. This is a complete misunderstanding of sexual assault. Sexual acts and sexual assault aren’t separated by a fine line or a gray area. Sexual assault isn’t a hook up gone wrong or a misunderstanding. It is an intentional crime, motivated by power. Sexual assault is not an innocent person forgetting to ask for consent, and somehow not realizing that the other person is terrified, uncomfortable, and not participating. Sexual assault is disregarding someone else’s desires, and using force, coercion, power, or fear to engage in sexual acts with them. Gray areas do not exist. Consensual is consent. Sexual assault is sexual assault. If consent exists in a “gray area,” it is inherently not consent.
If you find this post in any way triggering, please know that a wide range of resources are available.