The ‘my site’ information, which WordPress so helpfully provides, tells me that readership of my site has finally dropped into single figures. I think I can claim the credit for this: irregular and infrequent updates, combined with a conscientious adherence to topics which offer no popular interest. It’s a harsh environment for readers, and only the fittest survive. In one sense, it might be discouraging: as a wise and valued old friend remarked recently, if nobody is there to hear the tree falling, why bother felling it? For me, though, it is predominantly liberating: I can say whatever I think, without fear of censure, vilification, sacking, or even prosecution. This has ceased to be the case in real life, where the wrong word (yes, even a single word) at the wrong time can lead to all of those things.
Today, I indulge that freedom with a recollection of an event which I promised myself I would never talk about. I figure that with names, places, and times changed, and with a tiny readership with no chance of intersection with the real third parties in the story, what the hell?
The memory of the event was dredged up by a discussion of my latest Euston experience with the ‘other mothers’ at school pick-up time, which inevitably led to a discussion of the Kavanaugh debacle. Among these ladies, the consensus (which I did not dare dispute – on pain of social suicide for my daughter) was that it was shocking that Kavanaugh was allowed to proceed, in spite of his heinous crimes. Masking my question as naïve ignorance of current affairs, I asked if any evidence had surfaced to confirm his crime. There seemed to be no problem with a unanimously negative answer to this question: this apparently was not logically inconsistent with their view. I wondered (silently) whether these mothers (some with sons) really wanted a world where the mere accusation of a crime (from 36 years ago) should be enough to finish somebody’s career, and it was shocking if it didn’t.
“I mean, who did you believe?”
I found this question somewhat worrying. In a criminal court, a jury is not asked to decide whom they believe. They are asked to decide if the case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. You may not believe the alleged murderer, on balance of probabilities. But without convincing proof, you must let him go free. At what point did this cease to be the case?
Some ranting ensued about men (there was some touching of my lapel to assuage any accusations which may have splashed onto me) and their irrational worry about being falsely accused of rape. This idea was roundly scoffed.
“I mean that just isn’t a thing.” One of them had a ‘statistic’ to hand that only 2% of rape accusations were false. This had been reported in one of the tabloid newspapers. Instantly, the rest of them ‘knew’ this too. I kept my counsel. I knew this statistic to be complete garbage. Some years ago, I made a thorough review of the literature on that particular subject, because of the incident I will now describe.
An unspecified number of years ago, I was a Senior Lecturer in Somethingology at the University of Somewhere in the southeast of England. The team I worked on had recently completed an interesting study, and the papers were being presented at a prestigious international symposium in a very pleasant city in the French Riviera. The head of department, Gustav, decided to treat he event as an excuse for a big departmental jolly, and the entire team went to attend the symposium while my colleague Tyrone and I presented the papers. The legation consisted of Gustav, Tyrone, me, and two research assistants: Hilda and Jasmeet. All the authors, effectively.
We all checked into the same hotel, the afternoon before our presentations; a fairly tatty place in the backstreets. Gustav had booked a table for us all at a restaurant round the corner, and we had a great evening eating Steak Tartare and knocking back rash quantities of vin rouge.
After the meal, Gustav and Jasmeet decided to minimise the damage, and headed back to the hotel. Tyrone, Hilda, and I less wisely hit the bars for a few more rounds of drinks.
She began to get amorous after the second bar. We took it in jest, but both Tyrone and I gently and repeatedly rebuffed her advances. All three of us were married. She was a work colleague. Walking arm-in arm as a drunken threesome between bars singing songs about Tipperary was one thing. Her climbing onto your lap in the bar was something else. We decided to call it a night, and went back to the hotel.
Tyrone and I were both on the same floor, and his room was a couple of doors down from me. He couldn’t get his electronic key-card to work. I went over and tried to help him out, but it didn’t work for me either. In those days, sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. I suggested he went back to reception and got them to burn him another key.
“I’m really busting for a piss, D.” Mind if I use yours?
When he had finished, I needed one too. By the time I came out of the ensuite, Tyrone was passed out on my bed, snoring. I didn’t have the heart to shift him. I looked at my watch, and saw that was the wee small hours. I got my laptop out, and sat at the desk. I could put a couple of unnecessary hours into sorting out my presentation, and then see if I was tired enough to perch on the other end of the bed.
That time never came. At 4:00AM, with Tyrone still snoring, there was a rap on my door.
I opened the door a crack, because by this point I was shirtless, and stuck my head out. There was Hilda, in floods of tears. She said that Tyrone had raped her. She said that he had knocked on her door, and she had invited him in. Then, despite her protests, he had had sex with her. I asked when this was, and she told me that it was just in the last half hour. Was she sure? Yes, of course she was fucking sure. I told her to wait while I got a shirt on, then went back to the door.
“You’d better come in.”
She saw Tyrone snoring on the bed, and she looked like a rabbit blinded in headlights.
“Hilda, he’s been here all night, right under my nose.”
“Shit.” She didn’t have anything else to say.
Things got even more interesting shortly. Jasmeet, fully clothed (presumably she had been getting dressed while the advance party knocked at my door) arrived. Apparently she could confirm Hilda’s story: she had seen Tyrone leaving Hilda’s room half an hour previously. She had been walking down the corridor looking for the ice machine. Hilda, looking like a woman hunted, gesticulated wildly at Jasmeet to stop, shaking her head vigorously. Jasmeet looked curiously at Tyrone, still comatose.
“Forget it Jasmeet. Just forget it.” Hilda sounded desperate.
“Jasmeet. Hilda.” I measured my words. “I guess you know the corridors have CCTV here? If we look at the CCTV, are we going to see Tyrone coming out of your room, and Jasmeet in the corridor?”
Hilda looked at her feet, but Jasmeet looked furious.
I read the situation. Jasmeet had been Hilda’s first stop. Without the benefit of a snoring Tyrone, she naturally believed Hilda’s story. Now, like a good friend, she was doing what she could to make it stick. And I was impeding her in that noble cause.
The two of them left, Jasmeet ushering and cradling Hilda like an invalid. As they left, I checked up and down the corridor. Ironically: no CCTV.
I don’t think Hilda ever told Jasmeet the truth. My guess is that the story she gave was that she didn’t want to go through the trauma of pursuing a complaint, and just wanted to forget about it. I know that Jasmeet asked to be switched away from Tyrone as her PhD supervisor. Ironically, Gustav asked me if I would take over. I respectfully declined. Too many alarm bells going off there.
The event left me with lots of questions: how often does this shit happen? Why? What is the redress? How can one protect oneself? Hence the review of the literature, which I referred to earlier.
The 2% figure is a grossly misleading manipulation of the truth. It goes something like this:
For every 100 rapes initially reported to the police, approximately 20 get through an initial sorting. As with all criminal offenses, a prosecution will not normally be pursued unless there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. Again, as with all offenses, this excludes early on not only those complaints for which there is no evidence, but also those which initial investigations reveal to be false. Of the cases which eventually get prosecuted, 12 remain ‘unproven’ (resulting in a not guilty verdict), 6 result in a guilty verdict, and the conviction of the rapist, and 2 result in the prosecution of the accuser for false allegations. To report this as “2% of allegations are false” is misleading in several different ways. Firstly, it presumes that those allegations which are demonstrably false (to the level of proof required to pursue a prosecution against the accuser) are the only false allegations. Of the 12 ‘unproven’ allegations, who can know which were true, and which were false? Furthermore, it ignores the 80 allegations which were not deemed worthy of pursuit at the first sifting. How many of those were false? It would be reasonable to suppose a higher percentage than those which had passed the early tests of being sound.
A few pretty rigorous studies have been conducted (and are publicly available) to establish not only what the genuine percentage of false rape allegations is, but why they are made:
Kanin EJ False rape allegations, Archives of Sexual Behavior Vol 23,1,1994
Gibbon KL False allegations of rape in adults Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine Vol 5, Issue 4, 1998, Pages 195-198
McDowell CP False Allegations (From Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation, P275-299, 1987, Robert R Hazelwood and Ann Wolbert Burgess, eds. – See NCJ-105948)
The best guess is that somewhere between 40% and 45% of rape allegations are false. It’s a figure that staggered me when I saw it, and then every time saw it reliably confirmed. Quite simply, the truth is so different not only from what we commonly hear, but from what we are allowed to say in public. But one has to bear in mind that it only has to be a tiny percentage of the population who are crazy enough to make these false accusations, for it to form a substantial proportion of the rape data. After all, rapists are also a tiny proportion of the population (despite recent frequent assertions to the contrary).
Why do they do it? Historically, the motive seems to have fallen into 3 broad categories, according to the psychologists: Revenge, Alibi, or Attention. The revenge motive may commonly be to punish rejection, or a perceived injustice at work. The Alibi is frequently to excuse a sexual encounter. For example, a woman fears her husband will find out about an infidelity, so she excuses herself by claiming to have been raped. In the case of the attention motive, women are frequently able to generate a huge amount of sympathy and support by claiming to have been raped. Today, I worry that we may have to add a fourth motive to the mix: Me Too. Will we get to the point where a woman feels a bit left out if she can’t join in with the accusations? Will these accusations become some kind of credentials for being taken seriously? Is this really good for them? I watch the Zeitgeist with some unease.