Sunday, March 09, 2008

What a false accusation really tells us

There's a story in the British papers of a 23-year-old Cambridge graduate, Jack Gillett, who was falsely accused of sexually assaulting (date raping) a fellow student.

Here's what happened. Two weeks before the incident, a 23-year-old woman had visited another male student, Phillip Morrell, in his rooms. They slept together, but didn't have sex, though she took off her top. He wrote her a letter saying he regretted they had slept together; she complained to a friend that he had molested her.

On June 4 last year, the woman visited Jack Gillett in his room. He had been drinking heavily. They kissed and she responded when he began to touch her. But when he tried to put his hand down her pants she resisted and he stopped. She left but later returned to his room. Two other students did not hear the woman call for help at any time even though the door to their adjoining room had been left ajar.

A friend of the woman later said "She didn't want him convicted. What she wanted was for police to give him a scare so he wouldn't do it again. She thought he had overstepped the mark and she wanted him to be made aware of that."

I find the case interesting, in part because it fits the description of date rape made by F. Roger Devlin in his essay Sexual Utopia in Power (see pp.14-18).

What seems extraordinary about the case is the whole culture of relationships between the sexes it exposes. Here we have a woman who casually visits (drunk) men in their bedrooms, lies with them in their beds, engages in a certain amount of foreplay, but then accuses them of sexual assault if she feels that they have "overstepped the mark".

There is both a lack of wordliness in the way she repeatedly places herself in situations with men that are likely to go wrong, alongside a distorted view of the role of the police in enforcing sexual morality. On this last point Devlin writes in his essay:

The demand that law rather than moral principle and common prudence should protect women in situations such as I have described could only be met by literally "putting a policeman in every bedroom".

What explains the lack of prudence shown by the young woman in this case? One problem, argues Devlin, is that girls are brought up with the modernist idea that there are no essential differences between men and women:

Teach her furthermore that the notion of natural differences between the sexes is a laughable superstition that our enlightened age is gradually overcoming- with the implication that men's sexual desires are no different from or more intense than her own.

Similarly, women have been brought up to believe that unimpeded choice is the path to individual happiness:

It was the male and female sexual utopians of the postwar period who said women should be allowed unlimited freedom to choose for themselves in such matters. Unfortunately, they did not lay much stress on the need to accept the consequences of poor choices. Instead, they treated the moral and social norms women in particular had traditionally used to guide themselves as wholly irrational barriers to pleasure. Under their influence, two generations of women have been led to believe that doing as they please should lead to happiness and involve no risk. Hence the moral sophistry of “I didn’t like it; ergo I didn’t want it; ergo it was against my will.”

If you think that autonomous choice is the great good in life, you are likely to assume that the world you inhabit is, or should be, an open one, in which it's possible to choose freely in any direction. Hence the "carelessness" of those who believe they inhabit such a world.

If, on the other hand, you believe that reality is marked by an essential nature, and that the aim is to reach toward what's best in this nature, then you are likely to seek knowledge of how best to navigate your way successfully through the world. Learning from experience, thinking ahead, cultivating wordly knowledge, and searching for the truth in moral traditions will all be important to you.

The trial of Jack Gillett tells us that we have become more naive than we ought to be.


  1. The feminists also downplay that the choice to have meaningless sex (or almost but not quite sex) carries social, emotional and spiritual consequences. They've got the physical consequences covered - use a condom or just abort!

    It is those sticky intangibles like loss of self-respect, loss of a strong moral compass to confusing relativism, loss of social status, regret, self loathing, that won't go away even after government intrusion into very personal details.

    How to avoid them? The answer is not to run to the police or create more laws to protect women from themselves. Rather, encourage people to reserve all(foreplay included) sexual behavior for an appropriate situation only. Restrictive indeed and such restrictions breed character.

    Ethics has been removed from sexuality but applied to such environmental actions as drinking from disposable bottles, driving a large vehicle etc. Why no radical autonomy when it comes to actions affecting the environment?


  2. Feel sorry for the guys.

    So much does this rape-accuser value her autonomy, she believes that men should be mind-readers concerning "how far" she is willing to go.

    And yet, she probably also is attracted to men who are assertive and "make the first moves".

    Can't win, can we?