Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rape and Probability Theory

As in this comment thread over at Alas, some people keep insisting that women lie about being raped while insisting that men don't lie about rape.

[Update (12/17): Per Daran's request I am clarifying that my use of "insisting that men don't lie about rape" incorrectly labels his words on the linked thread. If I understand his correction what he continues to assert is that it hasn't been proven that men lie about rape.

I see that as playing word games. He disagrees.

Here is his own explanation of his position:
Feminist cannot object to the statement "Women do (sometimes) lie about rape-and men don’t". Because:
1. Construing "lie about rape" to mean "falsely report to the police that they were raped", the statement is true, or at least, feminists cannot show that it is false.
2. Feminists cannot object to that construction, because they were the ones who used that construction in the first place when they circulated the 2% false accusation myth.
Edited to add:
3. While it is debatable to what extent individual feminists can be held responsible for the actions of other feminists, feminists who make generalised group-based complaints about the actions of non-feminists, cannot object when they are hoist on that petard.

end update]

If challenged, they will explain that by denying that men lie about rape, they are referring only to a very specific scenario where the man is the alleged victim who filed a police report.

It's a very useful redefinition for alleged rapists and those who want to dismiss the pervasiveness of sexual violence against girls and women.

I've been thinking about how this dual "statement of facts" creates an unfair bias against female alleged rape victims.

What "women lie about rape, men don't" does is plant the idea that when a rape case comes up where a woman is the alleged victim she must be treated with open skepticism. Can't take her word for what happened because she's female and girls and women lie about being raped. If there is anything about her that people won't like or won't trust then it can seem like she must be lying about being raped.

However, if a rape case comes up where the man is the alleged victim he must be treated as a real victim. Heck, there's no need for the word alleged. He's simply a victim. No criminal trial needed to know who is innocent and who is guilty. All he has to do is self-identify as a sexual assault/abuse victim and everyone must believe him even if he makes that claim during a crank and obscene call to a rape crisis line.

"Women lie about rape, men don't" also plants the idea that when it comes to a particular sex crime case where a key part of the evidence is testimony, men are always honest while women will resort to lies for a whole list of reasons.

This implication of male honesty vs. female dishonesty is nonsense, but because it is supposedly based on solid research many people never question it and let it color their perception of what they hear.

This is an attempt to misuse probability theory both in the determination of probability statistics and the use of those statistics. The probability when flipping a balanced coin is 50:50 that it will be heads. But that probability does not predict the outcome of the next flip of the coin.

What the "men don't lie about rape" statement does is make people assume that statistics on false accusations predicts who you should believe in so-called "he said, she said" rape cases.

Unlike the probability of a flipped coin, accurate statistics of convictions for false accusations are not the same as accurate statistics for false accusations. Just as some of those convicted of rape are later cleared through evidence such as DNA mismatches, some who are convicted or charged with fabricating a charge of rape are proved to be innocent or are convicted based on judgments about the alleged victim's character and honesty. She seems like someone who would lie therefore she's judged as a liar.

I can almost hear the men who say, "men don't lie about rape" screaming that I'm supporting their view that alleged rape victims should be assumed to be dishonest. If any women have lied about being raped then we must assume that this rape victim is a liar until there is enough evidence to prove she's telling the truth. We can't use the claim that only 2% of rape claims are false to show anything about this alleged victim.

What they want is a starting belief of, "she's lying." I not only don't want this, I will show that this belief impedes justice. Instead, I believe there should be a starting assumption of credibility.

My support for the assumption of credibility in the report of a crime is not based on statistics. It is based on how assumptions impact the collection of evidence. Once investigators assume the alleged victim is no victim at all, they may feel justified in interrogating a real rape victim until she decides she won't get justice and abandons her case or until she is treated so abusively that she breaks and tells her interrogators whatever they want to hear. Either way, the outcome is the illusion that the negative assumption has been proven to be fact. These cases are then classified as unfounded or false.

This injustice then reinforces the case being made by those who say that huge numbers of girls and women lie about being raped.

For rapists, this is a good thing since it increases the odds that they will get away with their crimes without being charged with even a misdemeanor.

When the assumption about the alleged victim is credibility (untainted by the "women lie about rape" bias) that allows for the ethical collection and evaluation of evidence, including testimony from the alleged victim. Sometimes there will be enough evidence to bring charges and sometimes there won't be. With the assumption of credibility the mere lack of evidence doesn't get twisted into confirmation of a lie.

For rapists, this is a bad thing since it increases the odds that they will be charged for their crimes and that they will be convicted and it reduces the odds that their victims will be labeled liars and criminals.

Despite what many people claim, assuming an allegation is credible and working from there does not doom innocent men to false convictions.

For rapists, busting the myth that "women lie about rape, men don't" is a bad thing. They are counting on the power of this myth and the fear innocent men have of false rape convictions to keep rape laws from being enforced.

Technorati tags:
Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:06 AM   4 comments links to this post


At December 14, 2006 1:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's stop the lies. Men can abuse almost any child the wish, espcialy if it is their own. In this society children are property, to be exploited by the person with the larger pocket book or education. No matter how many times a child complains, reports to authorities and cries out for help, the system will return the child to his abuser and panelies his protectors. The laws against child abuse are there. BUT THE COURTS ARE NOT ENFORCING THEM.

At December 16, 2006 4:00 AM, Anonymous Daran said...

This is in response to two of Marcella's comments in the Rape and Probability Theory Thread on Alas. I've been trying to post this on Alas since yesterday, but I keep getting disconnects. (I have no problem reading pages.) I am posting it on my blog and also as a comment on hers, and I request that she copy it to the thread on Alas where it can be read by the same people who read her comments.


Nor was I even arguing in favour of the sentence ?men don?t lie about rape?, rather, I was arguing against the sentence "Men lie about rape".


Arguing the second implies the first, whether intentionally or accidentally.

No it doesn't. One could "argue[] the second" by asserting "It has not been proven that men lie about rape", which, in fact, is what I did argue.

This is why the burden of proof upon you if you wish to claim that "men lie about rape". I set the hurdle too low, when set it at one single verified false claim (I can't find the post where I did that). The claim, properly constructed, asserts that the number of false reports by men (or by women) is (or is not) de minimus, so you need statistical rather than anecdotal evidence to meet that burden of proof.

The antifems think they have that evidence in respect of "women lie about rape". I do not agree with them.

But this is an argument for another time.

* * *

Secondly, "arguing the second" is a reactive discoursive posture. One would not argue it, except in response to someone arguing in favour of "men lie about rape", which Q Grrl did, sorta, in the post that spawned the monster.

Your post implies that "some people" (in particular, me) were proactively arguing in favour of "men don't lie about rape". Not only does that misrepresent me, but as far as I can see, nobody is arguing proactively in favour of this. I did a reasonable search, which I documented in my rebuttal, but in any case, I think it should be for you to identify the "some people" you are referring to.

* * *

Marcella also said:

Many of those who demand gender neutrality when talking about sexual assault victims, drop the gender neutrality when they talk about who lies about rape. To them it isn’t that some alleged rape victims lie, it’s “women and girls lie about rape.”

She distinctly said "All", but that's a minor point. Q Grrl has also Clarified what she meant over on my blog. I'm not trying to drum up readers, (OK, I am really) but that has lead to one truly great comments thread. Go read it. :-)

Posted here on my blog, in currently in moderation on Marcella's, and hopefully sometime on Alas.

At December 16, 2006 8:23 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Daran, I didn't say you were doing anything proactively or reactively. You may find playing word games a fun hobby, but those word games have a real and damaging impact on the way female rape victims are treated inside and outside of the criminal justice system.

That's what I care about.

At December 18, 2006 10:38 AM, Anonymous Daran said...

(They just keep coming at you.)

In response to a harshly-worded update to an earlier post, and an email saying the same, Marcella has updated her post, (also here) which I accept as a sincere attempt to set the record straight. Therefore I have stricken the harsh words. Unfortunately she still continues to apparently misunderstand my position, and consequently to present it in a misleading way.

She quoted from my comment to a now blanked out post, which she describes as "[my] own explanation of [my] position". I blanked the original post because it was unclear, was being misunderstood, and was itself based on a misunderstanding. The comment was written before I did that, and, as I explained here, it was written with the intention of serving as a summary, a conceptual map if you like, of the logic of the argument I was making in that post. It was never intended to be read separately from that post.

In particular the sentence "Women do (sometimes) lie about rape-and men don’t" did not appear within the post with or without the "(sometimes)". Nor was there any sentence equivalent to it. The sentence was curiousgyrl's misunderstood version of my argument, which I accepted solely for the purpose of creating the summary conceptual map.

With the post blanked out, the map serves no purpose, and is misleading itself with respect to my views. In retrospect, I should have blanked it when I blanked the post. However, I think the time for that has now passed.

Marcella further characterises my view saying that I "continue[] to assert [...] that it hasn’t been proven that men lie about rape." In so far as "lie about rape" is construed to mean "falsely report to the police that they have been raped", and in so far as it makes a general rather than a universal claim (so that individual cases of men "lying about rape" are insufficient to refute it) then I consider the claim neither proven nor disproven. However I do not "continue[] to assert" this because I object to the "lie about rape" framing altogether, for reasons that ought, by now, to be obvious.

Putting those objections aside for the moment, I also consider the claim that "women lie about rape", similarly construed, to be neither proven nor disproven. The feminist 2% statistic is bogus, while the various statistical claims made by antifeminists appear to be all either unsupported by the sources they cite, (example), or are otherwise unconvincing. Likewise their anecdotal evidence is insufficient to support a general claim that false reporting by women is prevalent.

Finally, if "lie about rape" is construed, for example, to mean "falsely deny having committed rape", then of course I consider it proven that a significant proportion of rape denials by men are false.

Posted on my blog, shortly as a comment to Marcella's and on Alas.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home