Crying Rape, September 18, 2014
False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
By Cathy Young
In the emotionally charged conversation about rape, few topics are more fraught than that of false allegations. Consider some responses to the news that singer-songwriter Conor Oberst had been falsely accused of sexual assault. Last December a woman writing in the comments section of the website xoJane, going by the name Joanie Faircloth, claimed Oberst raped her when she was a teenager. The charge spread across the Internet; Oberst denied it and brought a libel suit against Faircloth when she refused to retract the story. In July she completely recanted, admitting that she had made it all up to get attention. Yet instead of showing sympathy for the ordeal of the musician—one known for being supportive of feminist issues—some chided him for taking legal action to defend himself against a false, career-damaging charge. In the Daily Dot, pop culture critic Chris Ostendorf decried the lawsuit, arguing that it could intimidate real victims of rape and that it promoted the idea of men as victims of false accusations—even though that’s exactly what Oberst was. After Oberst dropped the suit, Bustle’s Caroline Pate praised his decision and referred to the saga as “a roller-coaster for both parties”—treating the false accuser and the wrongly accused as morally equivalent—and called the revelation of Oberst’s innocence “crushingly disappointing.”
False rape accusations are a lightning rod for a variety of reasons. Rape is a repugnant crime—and one for which the evidence often relies on one person’s word against another’s. Moreover, in the not-so-distant past, the belief that women routinely make up rape charges often led to appalling treatment of victims. However, in challenging what author and law professor Susan Estrich has called “the myth of the lying woman,” feminists have been creating their own counter-myth: that of the woman who never lies.