He said/She said and Why I'm a feminist

There’s an interesting debate going on over at Amp’s place about the he said/she said nature of rape investigations, and why it does not occur in other trials where there is a conflict of testimony between two principle witnesses. Amp uses the example of a defendant who claims that drugs found on his person were planted there by a police officer—since only the defendant and the officer know what really happened, there should be some controversy over whose word to believe. But, overwhelmingly, there is not. Juries are socially conditioned to believe an authority figure over a defendant, and therefore, the case is likely to result in a conviction with little debate over the relative credibility of the witnesses. Certainly society never states that since none of us were in the room when the drug deal went down, we cannot prosecute based on the mere testimony of one person over the other.

But, when confronted with sexual assault, suddenly the testimonial controversy is paramount. Since lack of consent is difficult to prove after the fact (all physical evidence can be used as an affirmative defense of consensual rough sex), the tendency is to assume that women who allege rape are liars. It’s not uncommon for people to argue that there is a high false-accusation rate for sexual assault. Of course, this isn’t true: false claims of rape are roughly 2% of the total accusations—the same percentage for all violent crimes. I know it’s obvious, but I’m going to spell it out anyway—that means that a man who claims to have been mugged is just as likely to be lying as a woman who claims to have been raped, yet I can’t recall a single instance wherein society has come to the immediate and vociferous defense of all accused muggers in the court of public opinion. But time and again we are admonished to remember that rape is a charge “easily to be made and hard to be proved.”

So, why the disconnect? Why don’t we hold all crime victims to the same impossible standard—prove a negative, and while doing so, please refrain from having a past that in anyway indicates that you may have given money or a gift or a black eye to anyone in the past because this would seriously negate your ability to claim to the be the victim of theft or assault in the future. If I gave Ian $20 three weeks ago ‘cause he was low on cash and needed to eat does that mean that he can take another $20 three days from now because I said yes in the past? Does that negate my claim of theft? What if I had given Rich the $20, but Ian was just as hungry and felt that he had as much of a claim to my money? Does my generosity paint me with the same degree of skepticism as a non-virginal rape victim? What if that $20 was pinned to the front of my jacket, tempting Ian and Rich with its seductive availability? Do I bear responsibility when one or the both of them forcibly removes the bill because if I didn’t want to give it up I wouldn’t have been dressed like that anyway?

It seems that for crimes where women are the primary victims—rape, domestic violence—there is a greater burden of proof placed on the victim to prove that the crime even took place. Women who are raped are asked to account for every minor action that might have “incited” men to rape. Women in abusive relationships are asked “Well, if it was so bad why didn’t you leave?” Women’s actions in the face of violence are called into question at all turns in a way that would be shocking and offensive if turned on other crime victims. And even more insulting, when women fight back from abuse they are punished more severely than their attackers—up to 90% of women in prison for homicide killed the men who battered them, even though only 4% of male murder victims are killed by current or former intimate partners (compared to one-third of women) and murder is still the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States.

And that is why I’m a feminist. Not because I want to form some kind of gynocentric enclave or forcibly castrate men in retaliation for my lack of phallic power (stupid Freud), but because I believe women. I believe women because 98% of the time we are not lying. And I know that the only thing that separates me from a rape victim or battered wife is dumb fucking luck. Nothing I have done in my life in has anyway protected me from sexualized violence because there is nothing I can do to protect myself in a society that fails to recognize women’s inherent humanity. And I am simply not willing to sit back and rely on something as fickle as luck when it comes to protecting half of the planet from harm.


annamaria at 2:00 PM

3 spoke


at Friday, April 14, 2006 9:27:00 AM Blogger Wake of the Flood said...

Ok, you put up another serious post so I'll have to comment. (then again, you and I seem to be the only ones who respond to our serious posts...)

Though we don't do it anywhere near to the degree we do it in cases involving sexual violence against women, in much of our societal response to crime we look at the circumstances and the victim's past history in judging the merits of the case. Example: I give you my debit card and pin and have you take money out of my account for something you need and then a week later you go back and take more. Is the second instance theft or consensual. I say I didn't give you permission the second time, you say I did. The case hinges on the credibility of the witnesses.

Where I join with you is in wondering how it is that almost always it is the woman's credibility that is questioned by so many people in sex cases. Not all people, but enough people that the victim's history becomes more important than that of the accused. But painting the picture in black and white terms will not solve this problem. Let's make sure this issue stays in the public eye and on the table, but to demonize all males and the whole of society simply invites people to ignore the validity of the argument and dismiss the problem along with dismissing the messenger.

You've conflated rape and abusive relationships, especially when you say that the only thing separating you from being the victim of either is luck. Rape, yes. Abusive relationships, no. The victim is not to blame for rape. No way, no how! And no one deserves to be abused by another -- physically or emotionally. We may not deserve something, but we can contribute to the circumstances that create it. There is a huge difference between entering into dysfunctional relationships as a contributing factor and the idea that just because a woman was dressed "slutty" she was asking to be raped. But let me repeat: though entering into that relationship is a contributing factor it in no way implies that the person DESERVES to be be abused.

at Monday, April 17, 2006 7:16:00 PM Anonymous Gillie said...

For some reason your post made a connection for me that I'd never thought of. The fact that anit-abortionists say that pregnancy is safe and that the leading cause of death for pregnant women is murder. Now I'm going to have to think about that for a while.

Thanks for the connection.

And I came from Alas's Link Farm post.

at Monday, April 17, 2006 10:35:00 PM Blogger Mickle said...

"since only the defendant and the officer know what really happened, there should be some controversy over whose word to believe. But...Juries are socially conditioned to believe an authority figure over a defendant..."

" But...the tendency is to assume that women who allege rape are liars."

Well, that would be because "men" are the authority figures - figuratively and literaly.


Sorry, but if I must blame someone, I blame the 30-something who got drunk at a bar over the 20-something with kids who can't figure out how to leave her abusive husband/boyfriend. Of course, I don't blame either.

And yes, it's luck. It's luck that I had good parents, it's "luck" that I don't enter into intense relationships easily, it's luck that I've managed to avoid having an abusive romantic relationship. It's bad luck that my cousin wasn't able to (good luck she was able to leave as easily and quickly as she did) and it's bad luck that I didn't manage to avoid having some very unhealthy friendships throughout my life.

Yes, I've made choices, good and bad, that have had an impact. But I can make good and bad choices while gambling too, luck is still a huge factor. In a world where men are the authority and women are often barely human, luck has a lot to do with any woman avoiding violence by men.

(and how can you distinguish "blame" and "deserves" - I have no idea)


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