Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Linda Fairstein: Cosmo Expert On Who Was Really Raped?

Here is a snippet of the response from Cosmo sent to one person who wrote in about the article about so-called gray rape:

Cosmopolitan has a long history of covering the topic of sexual assault and, more important, of being an advocate for victims. Linda Fairstein, a former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor of 25 years, is a regular contributor to our pages. She and other rape experts applaud Cosmopolitan’s efforts to keep our readers educated about such difficult issues as sexual assault.

There is a huge problem with a Cosmo editor citing Linda Fairstein as their main expert on an article that discusses who is and isn't a true victim of rape since she is a favorite expert of those who respond to reports of rape with the stock "women lie about rape" line.

Here's one variation of Ms. Fairstein's opinion that the rape denialists repeat in numerous comments and which I've heard has even been quoted in a recent book:

Linda Fairstein, who heads the New York County District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit. Fairstein, the author of Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape, says, "there are about 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan. Of these, about 50% simply did not happen."

The problem here may be that she, like many other people only see rape as real rape when the charge makes them believe a crime occurred. I have not been able to find any reference to her saying that this quote is false or doesn't reflect her current beliefs. If that's the case she's done a lousy job educating the public about her true position on this issue.

For some people if there is no credible evidence which can be used to prove the charge in a court of law or if the victim can't or won't cooperate, the crime never happened. For others if they don't feel empathy for the "rape victim" for whatever reason (she should have known what would happen when she trusted that jerk, she was drunk, she didn't resist enough, etc) then that person isn't a real rape victim.

Sex crimes -- in reality -- simply don't work that way.

Many rape victims know far too well that the reality behind the report and the reality according to the criminal justice system are not one and the same.

As far as I know Ms. Fairstein is not a statistical expert who can fully address systemic problems which could lead real rape victims to be classified as non-victims. If the 50% comes from how cases were tagged, then that only records the perception and limited options of the person or people doing the tagging, not the reality of whether or not a rape, or a reported unwanted sexual contact, occurred.

If a prosecutor doesn't believe a real rape victim that doesn't magically undo rape, yet many people who use that person's opinion as proof then turn around and act like it does in fact change reality.

Reports that are classified as unfounded can be overlooked warning signs of more serious criminal activity and intent. We are just beginning to acknowledge that abusive techniques can result in false confessions, but few people talk about even the possibility of false recanting of rape allegations. Serious crimes can be preceded by an initial consensual sex, but for many people any willingness to do anything that preceded rape makes the rape a non-crime. Men can send confessions to their victims yet be found not guilty by a jury.

For those who reject all that, this case out of Madison, Wisconsin will either shock you out of your denial or it will confirm that you are not interested in looking at when cops and prosecutors get it terribly wrong.

All these problems reinforce why this response from Cosmo is so troubling. The article in the Sept. issue doesn't educate anyone "about such difficult issues as sexual assault" it educates people to dismiss many rapes where consent was never given by calling those cases gray rape.

The natural confusion so many rape victims feel after rape is only made worse by this article and Cosmo's response to the backlash they are receiving.

If thinking about what you did wrong proves you weren't a crime victim then those who regretted not installing a monitored security system and those who forgot to set the alarm and those who discover someone they thought was a friend used their time together to plan a burglary all are NOT victims of real burglaries. Using the approach in September's Cosmo, they are instead in that gray area between giving their possessions away and having those items stolen.

Hopefully, we see this designation as nonsensical and supportive of burglars who become next to invisible.

What Cosmo and Laura Sessions Stepp can't seem to understand is that wanting to roll back the clock and avoid trauma is normal. This is true whether you date a man who turned out to be a rapist or whether you tell yourself that you should have noticed a knife-wielding rapist before the knife was at your throat or whether you wished you'd stayed home so you wouldn't have been on the freeway when a drunk driver going in the other direction crossed the median and hit you head on.

Update: For more info on the Linda Fairstein quote, read my later post, Oct 15 Protest Of Cosmo Panel On Definition Of Date Rape.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:16 PM   5 comments links to this post


At September 05, 2007 4:16 PM, Blogger UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

I got the same response. Thought they were being assholes. (
Now I see I was right. Thank you for being more educated on the issue than I am, Marcella.

At September 06, 2007 1:01 PM, Blogger Kaethe said...

I only find the "4,000 reports" quote listed on rape denialist sites. Contrariwise, I found this Village Voice article from 2001 saying she puts the false accusation rate at 8%.

I think the oft-cited quote is seriously wrong or misleading (although I can't prove it without a copy of the book itself). Do you think it's possible she doesn't know about the quote? No one brought it up in any interviews I've seen transcripts of.

At September 06, 2007 2:19 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Kaethe, I can't imagine that Ms. Fairstein doesn't know about the quote attributed to her and how that quote is being used since it gets circulated repeatedly.

At December 05, 2008 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am doing research on the topic of false rape allegations. I just stumbled upon that 50% quote somewhere else, and I of course wanted to know the real context. The first search result I looked at said she denied saying that.
Fairstein's quote, which has been repeatedly endlessly throughout the blogosphere, holds that half of the rapes annually reported in Manhattan "did not happen." RADAR and others attribute this quote to Fairstein's 1993 book, Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape.

But Fairstein disclaims the quote: "I don't believe that and don't know where they got it." Recently, in connection with the Duke case, Fairstein said prosecutors "have to acknowledge that false accusations do happen, though they are less than 10% of reported rapes."

At December 06, 2008 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Additionally, RADAR, which had relied on the quote, retracted it upon not being able to find the quotation in the alleged source.


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