Monday, August 15, 2011

The myth about false rape reports

I really enjoyed the last book I read (title omitted to prevent spoilers, but feel free to ask for it in the comments or email me if you want to know) until I got to the "girl who cried wolf" part. In a nutshell, a lust-driven 15-year-old girl chases after a married man, who turns her down appropriately, and then she (falsely) accuses him of being involved with her, i.e. statutory rape.

I'm really, really tired of the false rape cliche in literature and film. In this case, her motives were essentially revenge. It comes up all the time-- a female is rejected/scorned/broken up with and so she decides to get back by falsely accusing the male of rape, or the female and male have sex and she regrets it later so she calls it rape. False rape really doesn't happen as often as so many people think it does. Studies conducted worldwide (and summarized in this issue of The Voice, a publication by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women) point to a figure of 2-8%.

That's it. It's not 41%, as suggested by the severely flawed yet often cited Kanin (1994) study. Additionally, false reports almost always fit the stereotype of a sexual assault, the kind in which a victim can remain most "blameless" under society's flawed notions of what is considered sexual assault. False reports are almost never allegations against someone the victim knows, almost never "date rape" stories that are so often dismissed as acts of vengeance or regret. Actual false rape reports read along the lines of a "classic" (and actually very rare) scenario, involving a stranger or vaguely described acquaintance who is never named and use of a weapon and/or serious physical injury. The "assault" will only have included penile-vaginal penetration and the victim will say she struggled and physically resisted to the utmost. Essentially, the story painted will cast the "victim" in the most best light possible, with the least blame placed upon her by society. False rape reports are made mostly by mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals.

So this whole "women cry rape for revenge all the time" thing is complete and utter nonsense, yet people continue to perpetuate this harmful myth. When someone (a very brave someone) comes forth to report sexual assault by someone they know, one of the most common reactions is to doubt it, to look for other possible motives the victim might have to lie. Why? When someone reports being mugged, most people assume s/he is being truthful. What makes sexual assault so different?

The prevalence of false rape stories in literature and the media serves to keep this myth alive. It is always severely disappointing to me when "the girl who cried wolf" is used as a cheap plot point. False rape reports are not as widespread as most people believe, and they are almost never the ones people think are false (i.e. acquaintance rapes).

PS- The article I linked to above is a very good, worthwhile read.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding the fine line between respecting a victim's autonomy and a dangerous hands-off approach

[Possible domestic violence trigger in linked posts.]

I received an email from a friend two days ago that said my posts on abusive relationships had made her think. There were some people she knew that she was worried about, she said. What did I think?

I told her what I've always told people-- that it's better to talk to someone and offer support than keep quiet, even if you think they might lash out angrily or defensively. I have mentioned, in previous posts (here, here, and here), that I feel like I am in the minority when I say that. Much of the advice I have heard recommends that friends just watch and keep quiet, or make subtle inquiries, at most. A different (perhaps slightly cynical?) friend I spoke to hypothesized that this might be because most people can't be trusted not to say something rash or judgmental or make the situation worse (e.g. by saying something in front of the abuser or in a way that gets back to the abuser). But I think maybe we should give people more credit than that, especially if they're aware enough to notice and concerned enough to consider approaching a friend they worry about.

So it was very good timing that today I found two posts that discuss this situation very well. One is a post by a feminist who herself was in a violently abusive relationship. She talks about how the illusion of self-sufficiency can keep well-educated, independent, articulate women in an abusive relationship because they think they can handle it. She mentions how she said "I can handle it" to herself and to other people who cared enough to ask. And then she says she wished people knew not to trust her answers because relationship violence had changed her, affected her. This is important, so I'll say it again: abuse really does affect people physically and mentally (there is scientific proof of these biological changes), so while someone may be a perfectly smart, capable person otherwise, they may legitimately need help now, with this one situation. It doesn't reflect poorly in any way on their self-sufficiency in other situations.

This section of the post particularly resonated with me:

I needed the people around me to be more alert than I was capable of being. I needed them to not rely on my cues; I needed them to not take me at my word; I needed them to not treat me as though I were functioning at my best, fullest, most autonomous self. There’s a sentiment within the abuse-prevention community—- and the feminist community—- that we must respect victims’ autonomy, and it’s a necessary point when coupled with a solid understanding of abuse. But without that fuller understanding, respecting autonomy can too easily lapse into a hands-off approach. Which, when you’re concerned for someone who is in the fog of abuse, can lapse into the realm of danger.

I have personally experienced the hands-off approach, and I can say with certainty that it sucked. I spent months wishing that someone might notice, might care, might show they cared by approaching me.

The post also links to another article in Glamour that does a great job of approaching the topic of relationship violence as well. One thing I wanted to pull out from that article and state here is from the section called "Here's What You Can Say." Two simple phrases can do a whole heck of a lot.

  • "I am afraid for you."
This is a gentle, non-judgmental way to tell someone that the situation they are in is not okay, but that it is not their fault, and that you are listening and you are there for them. If the person has already had doubts of their own, it is validating, and if it hasn't quite occurred to them yet that they are in a harmful situation, it may get them to think without raising the defensive hackles that might come from a more pointed statement about them or their abusive partner.

  • "I am proud of you."
Leaving an abusive relationship can be really difficult, even when logic dictates otherwise. Support is of the essence. This phrase goes beyond support and also conveys your conviction that they have done the right thing. It's something I wanted and needed to hear every day after I left my abusive relationships and as I was recovering from sexual assault. It's a powerful phrase-- don't assume that the survivor knows it already, because even if (s)he does, it's still indescribably rewarding to hear.

One last thing I wanted to end this post with: I wanted to reiterate that an abusive relationship does not have to involve physical violence to be abusive. Both the articles I linked to dealt with physical violence, but physical violence is just one of many criteria for an abusive relationship-- when a victim is already plagued by doubt, the last thing (s)he needs is to read something about relationship abuse and come away with the idea that it has to be physically violent to be considered abuse. Abuse can be emotionally or psychological as well. Threats, isolation, intimidation, and control are all signs of an unhealthy relationship. If it doesn't feel right, listen to your gut.

Friday, August 5, 2011

One Day, One Room

Some of you House fans might recognize this as the title of the twelfth episode of season 3. I don't think it's really a spoiler just to say that House has a clinic patient who was raped. A lot of the episode consists of philosophical discussion about religion and abortion. I've already talked about my views on abortion here and here. What was more interesting to me from this episode was when the patient (who insisted on House as her doctor) and House talk about the "why?" of the event and the "why?" of the universe: why the Event happened to her, why things happen.

It made me think about my own situation and if I ever came to terms with why it happened-- or if I even cared. I don't know, truthfully. My parents, being some corrupt version of Buddhist, decided it was fate. They said they were told by a monk or a fortuneteller-like person that something bad was going to happen to me (because of something I did in a past life), and that this was it and they were glad it wasn't worse. That went in one ear and out the other; once I stopped living with them, I stopped having to put up with their version of religion. I would rather believe that bad things happen at random or because of my own bad choices than accept that my "past lives" dictate much of what I experience this time around.

After rejecting the "Buddhism" I grew up with, I don't think I ever came up with my own belief system, though. I still don't know if I'm atheistic or agnostic. I don't know if I believe in Fate. After the Event happened, it didn't occur to me to ask about why it happened when I was more worried about how I was going to get through the day or if there was anything worth getting through the day for.

If I hadn't seen this episode of House, maybe I never would have really thought about this at all. It's not a question that really bothers me. It happened. It wasn't the first time, but hopefully it will be the last. Why did all of it happen? *shrug* Therapy says the easier, or better, question to ask is if anything good came out of it. I suppose so. The event my senior year pushed me to get therapy for it and all the other previous events that I never talked about. The gravity and reality of mental illness finally touched my parents' consciousness, penetrated the Great [Asian] Wall of Denial and Disbelief, and they let me see a therapist and take medication. After the event happened, I turned into someone who lived day-by-day, which gave me a better appreciation of the little things in life once I could start to appreciate anything at all. I found purpose. I found an issue I really cared about, and I became an activist for women's rights and an advocate for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. When therapy helped me see that I didn't have to let being raped affect my whole life in order to validate my experience, I decided to become a veterinarian instead of a human-doctor because I finally saw how much animals meant to me, how much they helped me, and how much I wanted to help them. A lot of things happened because of what happened in the early, early hours of March 26, 2008. Some of them were even good. Does this mean the Event happened for a reason? Can I actually answer the question of why it happened to me? *sigh* Even after my rambling, I'm still left where I began. Uncertain about the answer, and unsure I even care.

It was part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program D* and I did at the VA Hospital. The last unit wanted me to make meaning of the trauma. I guess when I was still deeply entrenched in the aftermath, I did spend some particularly bad times asking "why me?" out of bitterness and pain and despair. I didn't expect an answer then, nor do I think an answer would have helped. Come to think of it, maybe it was a rhetorical question for me, just an outlet for pain and self-pity.

I've always had some version of the Just World fallacy in my head, where good people always act good, good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people. I still blamed myself then for what happened, even though I wanted to believe that it wasn't my fault. I thought since I wanted to believe it, it must not have been true. It doesn't make sense to actually wonder why something happened when you think it's your fault. Therefore, I must not have really been asking why it happened, and so my question was rhetorical.


I feel like I've rambled myself in circles and not really come up or come out with much. Maybe I just needed to write something because the TV episode numbed me and I wanted myself back. Maybe the numbness explains why I don't actually care about why it happened and why I'm not really emotionally connected to this post. I wanted an epiphany, but either I couldn't find it because Fate says it wasn't meant to be, I couldn't find it because I'm not good enough, or I couldn't find it because it's not there to begin with. Regardless of why, I still don't have an epiphany.

I think the conclusion I've been able to reach is that the concept of Fate confuses me. The alternatives are believing that my actions determine my life or that events happen randomly. If I believe the former, then how do I reconcile that with believing the rapes weren't my fault? Does this mean that I have to believe I have no free will in order to exonerate myself from my trauma?

Also, is it weird that I can write all this yet not really... care? Maybe it's just the numbness. I don't know. It's a little unnerving to have written a whole blog post yet not really feel any emotional involvement at all.


So far today I have had edamame for breakfast, watched House, and hugged cats. I think it's time to reboot my day and start over.