Sunday, September 17, 2006

Is a woman's word enough?

Should a woman's testimony alone be sufficient to convict a man she accuses of rape or domestic violence?

Most of us would answer no, as there is a possibility that the woman might be making a false accusation.

Back in 1994, though, when third wave feminism was at a peak, it wasn't so easy to raise this objection. There was an idea around that women never lied about such attacks and that it was sexist to assert that they might do so.

It was in this climate that California began to require jurors to be instructed that a rape conviction could be based on the accuser's testimony alone, without corroboration. Similarly, in some cities in the US "excited utterances" by a woman alleging an assault were considered proof of the attack: for example, in 1994 Jennifer Mantz, head of the Seattle domestic violence unit, told reporters:

If the officer describes the victim as so agitated she can hardly speak, then she's considered too upset to have made up a story.

As it turns out, a surprisingly high percentage of allegations of assault are unfounded. In 1984, a research team studied 556 rape allegations. When using the most strict criteria to judge allegations as false (an admission by the accuser and polygraph testing) 27% of the allegations were found to be false. When, in follow-up research, three reviewers were asked to judge according to a set of criteria whether the allegations were false, in 60% of cases all three found the allegation to be false.

Similarly, a survey in Washington D.C. revealed that 24% of rape charges were unfounded; a 1994 study by a researcher at Purdue University concluded that "false rape allegations constitute 41% of the total forcible rape cases reported during this period"; and studies at two large Midwestern state universities covering the period 1985 to 1988 found that 50% of the 64 reported rapes were false.

Which brings us to some recently reported news items. A Melbourne court has been told that a woman who claimed to have been kidnapped and threated with rape was attempting to extort money from her parents to pay off a drug debt ("Kidnap was a con" Herald Sun 14/09/2006 - note, though, that this is an allegation by the defence.)

In English news, a woman has admitted making up a horrific story about how she was brutally raped on an Oxfordshire road. This follows the jailing of two Bicester 16-year-olds in November for falsely claiming they were abducted and raped.

Last week also saw the acquital of an English man, Warren Blackwell, of a conviction for rape (after he had already served his prison sentence). The police appear to have brought the rape case against Mr Blackwell, despite being aware that the woman accusing him had a history of psychiatric problems, had convictions for dishonesty and had made similar allegations against a series of men.

Mr Blackwell's accuser made her first allegation of rape when she was only 14. The 16-year-old boy she had accused was exonerated when a police investigation found she was still a virgin.

So false allegations against men remain a real problem. Some thought will need to go into measures to better protect men within the legal system from being falsely accused.


  1. The problem with a crime like rape is even if there is forensic evidence of sexual activity .it still comes down to he said she said. And to a difference in the way that two individuals may have seen the encounter.
    I really hate those "Australia says no to domestic violence” ads on the TV because they are totally un real and paint men as the villains as you have discussed before this is not always the case.

  2. Iain, agreed.

    BTW, there's been yet another false rape accusation in Britain.

    In this case a young woman drank too much, did some things she wouldn't normally have done, and then accused the men involved with rape. She withdrew the accusation after some footage of her behaviour surfaced.

    This case shows with particular clarity that traditional ideas of morality weren't as irrational as is sometimes claimed.

    When you get a free for all, in which women are told that it's liberating to act like "ladettes" and men are told that acting protectively toward women (and not taking advantage of them) is sexist or outmoded, then cases like this one will surely multiply.

  3. We appear to have the worst of both worlds.

    Rape is being under-reported, simply because there are too many false accusations.

    Innocent men continue to get convicted and labelled Sex Offenders because of women "bearing false witness". Unlike convictions for, say, burglary, this will blight their lives forever.

    If I had my way, possession of Rohypnol or other "date rape" drugs should be regarded as presumption of guilt. Sorry, I've seen too many cases of women being drugged this way. Maybe 4 for every case of violent assault.

    I know of a case where a whole table of girls were drugged, and then the prettiest chosen. The others were left zombified for hours. The Victim got a 6 hour experience she's still trying to come to terms with. Internal injuries too, requiring surgical reconstruction.

    It was reported, but the rapists still haven't been charged.

    Any suggestions on how to stop this, and also stop innocent guys lives - and those of their families - being ruined by malicious and false accusations?

  4. Zoe, thanks for your comment.

    I'd rather someone working in the field make suggestions about how to fix the problems.

    However, some things to consider might include:

    1) Heavier penalties for women making false accusations.

    2) Heavier penalties for the worst kind of rapists, especially repeat offenders (we had a shocking case here in Victoria recently where a criminal with repeat offences was let out of jail and then immediately kidnapped and raped yet another woman.)

    3) A registry of women found to have made false accusations against men (to be used only by the police and legal system).

    4) Lawyers to be allowed to cross examine women not so much on their sexual history or reputation, but specifically on whether they have made previous accusations against other men.

    5) Anonymity for men accused of rape until after a verdict is passed? (I don't really know the implications of this though, so I suggest it tentatively).

    6) Some refinement in the political messages sent to police and prosecutors, i.e. so that they are aware of the need to treat rape victims sensitively, but are also aware of the problem of false accusations.

    As for the rape drugs, I wonder if there are some creative solutions. Perhaps drugs like rohypnol could be manufactured so that they contained a strong colour or flavour which would be obvious when mixed with a drink.

    Apart from this the only other idea I have are for closed circuit camera systems to be placed in nightclubs and pubs so that after such a case like the one you mention the tapes could be scanned to look for anyone acting suspiciously around the girls' drinks.

  5. Although this case exposes the outlandish miscarriage of justice towards the wrongly accused in the UK, we wish this were an isolated incident. The fact is, even in the United States, restitution for those incarcerated is certainly not guaranteed.

    In fact, in many states, there are more government resources for those released on parole than there are for those who have been wrongly incarcerated and later exonerated and released.

    Currently, an overwhelming number of people who have been exonerated of a crime are not compensated for the toll the incarceration took on their lives socially and economically.

    Thus far, only 22 states in the US have laws in place to provide some level of compensation for those who were wrongly convicted. This means a majority of those who went back to court and proved their innocence are then required to sue for this compensation.

    This process utilizes significant resources that a recently released inmate typically does not have. For those who do have the knowledge or financial ability to bring a case, the enormous cost of the additional legal wrangling involved may soak up much of the payout. Many victims of this outrageous process are handed the more daunting challenge of simply restoring their name, let alone consideration of a lawsuit that may or may not result in restitution for the time that has been lost.

    What's more, the payout often times received is meager in comparison to what is usually lost. Marty Tankleff for example was sentenced to a New York state prison after being wrongly convicted of killing his parents. Although his case was recently overturned, Marty just recently visited his parent's graves for the first time since their deaths.

    Ronnie Taylor, a Houston man who was recently exonerated of a crime he didn't commit was engaged to be married before his arrest in 1993. DNA testing proved his innocence 14 years later - allowing him to finally marry his bride Jeanette Brown. (source)

    The Innocence Protect, one organization established in 1992 utilizes DNA testing as a means to force new hearings for those who are wrongly accused. It's website lists hundreds of cases of wrongly convicted individuals who's cases were overturned after a conviction.

    While the Weekly Vice does not subscribe to every point of view of the Project's mission statement, one has to wonder where our culture would be without such advocates. Many wrongfully accused individuals have languished in prison for decades before their faulty convictions were tossed out.

    Here are a few more examples of justice gone horribly wrong:

    Dennis Brown from Louisiana was convicted of a 1984 rape and spent 19 years in prison before DNA testing confirmed that he could not have been the rapist.

    Marvin Anderson became the ninety-ninth person in the US to be exonerated of a crime due to post-conviction DNA testing. Even when another individual confessed to the crime Lamont was accused of, the Judge upheld the conviction until DNA evidence finally confirmed Lamont's innocence. He wasn't exonerated until 1992, nearly 20 years after his arrest.

    Orlando Boquete's wrongful conviction of attempted sexual battery was vacated a staggering 24 years after his arrest back in 1982.

    Robert Clark, wrongly convicted of rape, kidnapping and armed robbery in 1982, languished in prison primarily by mistaken eyewitness. Mistaken identity seems to be a common theme with the cases that later get overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. Clark was finally vindicated 24 years later.

    Luis Diaz was wrongly convicted in 1980 as the 'Bird Road Rapist', where 25 women were attacked, many of them sexually assaulted. Diaz was convicted for 8 of them. His case was overturned 25 years later in 2005.


    These are only a handful of the cases you can view HERE, however they are a sampling of the many instances where our legal system goes horribly wrong to such degree that compensation for one's life cannot be calculated as a mere loss of wages as most restitution awarding states provide.

    The Weekly Vice supports tough sentencing guidelines for all sexual assault cases, particularly those of minor children. We also believe however, that states should be equally aggressive with some level of state subsidy, restitution or other adjudged compensation that is deemed appropriate for each individual case. A dismal 22 states is not a goodwill showing for a nation who prides itself on a Justice For All philosophy.

    Danny Vice
    The Weekly Vice