Forum

Benefits of starting dialogue about sexual assault outweigh risk of false allegations

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Although sexual misconduct is not a new topic, it is one that has generated many discussions recently. Brock Turner sparked national outrage after receiving a mere three months prison time for raping a woman and is again brought back by a criminology textbook that used him as the textbook definition of a rapist. Harvey Weinstein is now facing allegation after allegation, testimony after testimony. Now, Kevin Spacey, star of House of Cards, has found himself exposed for sexual misconduct, and the show will be canceled after the completion of this season.

What was once considered a relatively taboo topic is now discussed more, albeit still stigmatized to a significant degree. Social media platforms, most notably Twitter, saw an explosion of people tweeting "#MeToo"," indicating that they were victims of sexual misconduct. Although it is great that dialogue is continuing, there have been concerns that the extent of which it is being brought up is bringing a hysteria of rape cases and possibly creating false rape accusations.

Some are concerned that this will add to the rape culture hysteria. Although the “one in four” statistic has been shown to have been misleading and derived from a non-representative sample, this is still spread around and leads to even well-established news organizations such as The New York Times to use it in their headlines. Already, there are statistics that overestimate the prevalence of sexual misconduct; how would campaigns such as "#MeToo" affect our society? Could it possibly overestimate people’s perceptions of the likelihood of rape cases and thus lead to false reports?

It is naïve to believe that there will be no false rape accusations from this point forward in time, and frankly, no rational person would believe that the possibility of a false rape accusation does not exist. However, the chances of sexual misconduct going unreported appear to significantly supersede the probability of a false accusation. In 2015, just over two-thirds of rape cases were not reported to the police whereas the rate of a false rape allegation appears to be no higher than ten percent of all cases. Although the number of false rape accusations may go up in sheer numbers, the number of true rape accusations that actually go through the legal process will go up too, more likely at a faster rate. Of course, we need to ensure a just and fair trial for each case to ensure that the fewest true perpetrators possible are found innocent and the fewest false perpetrators are not punished, but it is worth noting that the likelihood of a case going unreported is far greater than that of a false case being filed.

Something to keep in mind is that a study conducted by social scientists who analyze crime records estimate that the rate of false rape allegations falls between two to ten percent of all cases made. There are clear flaws made within this study. The sample includes only female victims on a college campus, which is not the only population affected by sexual misconduct by a long shot. Additionally, the study ran from 1998 to 2007, running a great risk of possibly being outdated. Most of all, however, the definition of false rape allegation means that the allegation is provably false — meaning, there is either conclusive proof that the rape did not occur or the accuser recants. However, in this study, their definition also includes cases in which there is not enough evidence to conclude that the rape did or did not occur. Despite these flaws, however, it comes to show that the number of allegations that end up to be true significantly outnumbers the ones that are either inconclusive or false.

I was one of the thousands who posted "#MeToo" on their social media platforms, and as someone looking internally within, there are clear flaws with the movement. There are criticisms that claim that it can invade privacy or otherwise pressure people to publicly share their story even if they personally do not feel comfortable. Another possible criticism is that the campaign focuses predominately on cisgender women. Even though this is the demographic we often picture as victims of sexual misconduct, the statistics say that this is not inclusive. Transgender victims are often left out of the picture. A staggering number of cisgender males are also victims, yet the dialogue for sexual misconduct often does not include cases outside of the male-perpetrator-female-victim paradigm. Even researching online and looking through the methodology of the case studies reported, a significant portion of the studies conducted had a strictly cisgender female sample. Looking forward, we must continue maintaining dialogue and informing others so that they can get the help and justice that they deserve, but we must also do a better job at including a fairer sample that truly represents our diverse population, not just a segment.

Although we may not, unfortunately, be able to eliminate sexual misconduct, we can take measures to prevent it and better help victims. We can share resources, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline number at (800) 656-HOPE. We can encourage people to seek their nearest emergency room after the incident. We can continue to educate people on the meaning of consent (no, silence does not equal consent), and we can break the paradigm that the cases of sexual misconduct lie mainly in the male-perpetrator-female-victim pattern. We can demand a healthcare system that will give better access for victims to seek psychological and psychiatric treatment so that money will not hinder them from getting the help they need. Any of these things can increase the number of claims of sexual misconduct, which can possibly raise the number of false cases made. However, we cannot let the fear of a relatively small chance of a false claim being made stop us from reaching out to victims.