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Why “False Accusations” Are A Distraction And A Derailing Tactic

Posted in Editorials on June 20th, 2012

A few weeks ago I responded to a question on Reddit’s Ask Feminists board. The question was “How do we know when equality has been achieved, and feminism has accomplished its goals?

One of the things I listed in my answer was “Rape would would be seen as an atrocity of the past like witch burning or slavery.” Two commenters took issue with this. They seemed to think I was proposing some kind of fascist state. I wasn’t. I was saying that in a feminist utopia, rape would not be commonplace. This could be due to several factors, but mainly I was thinking of better sexuality education and changes in cultural mores.

One commenter persisted.

It might be valid to say right now, the rights of the accused are given too much weight compared to the rights of the victim. But, if the goal is “no rapes” with no mention of the rights of the accused, the result may be problematic also. Some women will take advantage of any such system (very few, but not all sociopaths are male) and bring sympathy back to the accused. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if rape is eradicated at the cost of justice in the criminal court system (more innocents being convicted) that result is not an equilibrium that society will accept in the long run.

When feminist ethics says only one of those parties matters (the victim of rape, not the accused) then their analysis is incomplete.

Do you see how that works? In his mind, wanting to eradicate rape means wanting to get rid of the rights of the accused. I don’t see the connection, at all.

I responded

The point is that when feminists talk about rape, they are talking about rape. Not false reports of rape.

Talking about the rights of the accused, so as to prevent the punishment of an innocent individual is important. But it should not take the spotlight in discussions of rape.

Person A: Rape victims….

Person B: But what about the rights of the accused?

Person A: Rapists….

Person B: Don’t you mean alleged rapists?

This conversation goes nowhere. It’s as if feminists cannot address rapes that actually occur or talk about a hypothetical situation where a rape actually has occurred without always also addressing a parallel situation that was either just a big misunderstanding or where the woman was blatantly lying.

And yet he persisted.

The problem is, how do you distinguish between the two? Ultimately it comes down to a decision by some people with imperfect knowledge of what exactly occurred.

Do you see what he did there? I said that feminists need to be able to talk about rapes that occur. He insisted that we cannot, because even in hypothetical rapes of feminists own construction, they must consider that women are liars.

As frustrated as I was, I had a moment of clarity. I had always accepted arguments about “false accusations” in good faith. I thought that it was just simple misogyny that some people could not sympathize with a rape victim, but only with her attacker. Or possibly they are brought up by a person who was so repulsed by the idea of rape that they let themselves believe it was extremely rare as a way to comfort themselves.

But as the conversation above shows, it’s not just about those things. When someone enters a conversation about rape, and the only thing they want to talk about is the possibility that the victim is lying, they don’t want you to be talking about rape. They want to talk about how women are liars. Does any other conversation happen this way? When the Clean Water Act was proposed, did its opponents say that perhaps Federal Regulators, communities or private property owners would lie that their waterways were being polluted? (Hint: No.)

It’s no longer acceptable to suggest that rapists shouldn’t be punished or that their crimes aren’t a big deal. And so the conversation tactic of anti-feminists has shifted. Instead of denying that a rapist causes harm, deny that he exists at all in the first place.

10 Responses to “Why “False Accusations” Are A Distraction And A Derailing Tactic”

  1. Lordx87 Says:

    You’re taking it from a more extreme angle.

    It’s not that “women are liars” it’s that “People are liars.”
    False rape accusations are a REAL problem, and they’ve been popping up in the news more and more.

    Rape culture is a REAL problem too.

    We have to address both. If you’re accused of rape you deserve all the same protections under the law as anyone else, including being innocent until proven guilty. Unlike the current system which slathers your face all over town with the word “Rapist”

    We also need to expand education about healthy sexual choices/activities, so “Casual” rape no longer happens.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    I’m not saying that no one can ever talk about false accusations or why they occur. I’m pointing out that almost every time feminists want to talk about rape or rape culture someone tries to derail the discussion by changing the topic to false accusations.

    And I’m not the only one who noticed this, there’s a post over at Freethought Blogs, today making the exact same point. That every. single. time a rape is discussed, there is always someone calling the victim a liar.

  3. kmeisthax Says:


    The problem with talking about false rape accusations is that everybody talks about false rape accusations disproportionately to how often it occurs. It’s a derailing tactic – even if you don’t intend it to be a derailing tactic. Remember, in actual human conversation, intent is meaningless.

    I’ll give you an example: Republicans like to talk about three things: The economy, taxes, and debt. The first one is to put more pressure on voters. The focus on taxes and debt is to derail the conversation away from things which would fix the economy. Republicans don’t want the economy fixed until they get elected; so they use taxes and debt to make sure you aren’t thinking about how the economy can be fixed as much as you are thinking about how bad the economy is and how the opposition party is making it worse.

  4. Hammie Says:

    To chime in here- Any given man can control whether he becomes a rapist. Not everyone does, unfortunately, but if you’re having this discussion, I’m going to assume anyone who *has* raped has also likely tuned out pretty quickly. So while I can control if I have raped someone, I cannot control if they report a rape- and that’s scary as shit. I’m guessing a lot of those arguments are coming from guys, and we’re seeing that because *it’s something guys are legitimately afraid of.* No other category of convict has the same ongoing monitoring and intrusiveness after the fact, and fewer witnesses, and (potentially) fewer forms of objective information.

    While false rape accusations aren’t as common as rapes, when you’re talking to guys, that’s one of the concerns you’re going to get, because it’s what is going to affect guys more directly.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    Hammie- You just compared being falsely accused of rape to actually having been raped. This is a perfect example of how to derail a discussion. Cheers.

  6. Hammie Says:

    Elizabeth- You started discussion on false accusations of rape- that I’m responding on the subject is hardly derailing. The closest I came to comparing rape and false allegations was to compare how each gender is especially aware of what feels more viscerally threatening.

    I’m really not trying to troll, and I’m not so blind as to equate the two, but if you want to know why otherwise conscientious male allies are bringing this up, consider that aspect of it.

    That’s not to dismiss the many times it is thrown up as a red herring, or in an effort to derail the discussion, but hopefully to provide some insight into some of the purer motives for bringing it up. It is undoubtedly an effort to derail, but I don’t know that you’ve acknowledged the other circle in the venn diagram.

  7. Hammie Says:

    That last sentence should read “it is undoubtedly *frequently* an effort to derail, but…”

  8. Elizabeth Says:

    You did compare the two. In saying that everyone can control if they become a rapist, but no one can control if they are a rape victim or falsely accused of rape you drew a direct comparison – not only of rape victims and people falsely accused of rape, but also of rapists and people who lie about rape.

    And no, this is not a post about false accusations. This is a meta discussion about how that topic – false accusations – is often used to derail discussions about rape. I did list a few reasons why that might be so without it being a red herring: inability to empathize with rape victims, and abject horror leading to denial.

    I understand that you think there are genuinely nice men out there who are otherwise feminist allies, but on this one issue just really feel in their hearts that they are at risk of being falsely accused of rape so much that they just can’t help bring it up. That smacks of concern trolling to me. But if such men exist, they need to better educate themselves because the position is quite naive. The risk is so incredibly remote of being falsely accused of rape – they stand a much better chance of triggering or silencing any actual rape victims that may be participating in the conversation, or let any rapists reading along think that they have an ally.

  9. Palaverer Says:

    I’m confused, If the feminist utopia means the eradication of all rape, wouldn’t that indicate the eradication of rape reporting? How would complaining about false accusations even be relevant?

    Oh, I guess that was your point.

  10. Elizabeth Says:

    Excellent summation, thank you!

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