Men don’t want to admit that men regularly rape women. To the men who have never raped a woman (as well as to those men who tell themselves that time they had sex with a barely coherent drunk girl wasn’t rape), rape is not a normal thing; it’s abhorrent behaviour that only really fucked up men do. So when accusations of rape outnumber a man’s perception of the number of victims there should be he has to do something to explain that higher number. So he decides the women must be making it up. And, really, don’t all women exaggerate everything?
There is no realm of our world that features more victim blaming than rape accusations and the attempt to prosecution alleged rapists. Victim blaming is so pervasive in North American society that women (and many men) now feel as though they must believe 100% of rape accusations to compensate for centuries (millennia, really) of blaming rape victims. There is a strong feeling that the presumption of innocence can effectively no longer apply in rape cases, because that presumption of innocence, combined with unrelenting victim blaming, has led to the vast majority of rape accusations being withdrawn and the vast majority of rapes not being reported, with those that are reported being withdrawn more often than not.
Now I, for one, do not want to see the presumption of innocence disappear. But I sympathize (as much as I can, being male) with women who think it’s time for a correction. The blaming of rape victims is one of the weirdest constants in human history. (Perhaps even more weird than the constant of rape in human history.) The idea that a woman has something to gain by making up a rape accusation is just as bizarre. Why are women responsible for their own rapes? And why do so many men (and an alarming number of women) believe that women would fabricate rape accusations for their own self-interest? What self-interest is there in a rape accusation? What self-interest does the woman Brock Turner assaulted have to claim he did not have consent? As you list off all the reasons you believe women make up rape accusations, it is worth thinking about about why these rationalizations are necessary in the first place.
Why it’s so easy to blame rape victims
Men rape, women do not. Not only is it much harder for a woman to rape a man or another woman (though not impossible), it’s a historical fact that men (straight, gay, bi) rape both women and men. This is true throughout history, in all societies and cultures. It’s in our biology. There are very, very few incidences of women raping other women, or raping men, compared to the unrelenting regularity of men raping women and men over and over and over again. 1
So, if rape is such a regular occurrence, why do we have such a hard time believing that rape occurs? It’s a bit like prostitution: prostitution has existed even since humans had currency – even before that, no doubt – and yet we try to pretend we can create a society without prostitution by banning it, or by deregulating it in a specific area, somewhere us upstanding people can avoid. Rape is obviously a significantly worse social ill, but the response is much the same. We not only try to pretend it doesn’t exist (either by legally allowing some forms of rape or by ignoring rape when it happens) but, when it is brought to our attention, we do everything we can to demonstrate that the raped woman (or man) deserved to be raped. In some cases, this is actually enshrined into law, such as in the countries where a married woman who has been raped by a man other than her husband is deemed to have committed the crime of adultery.
The reason we blame rape victims for getting raped because we all secretly believe the world is fair. That may sound paradoxical but I assure you it is not. Every single one of us (at least in the West) has a subconscious but powerful belief in the Justice of the Universe; that we all get what we deserve. When a woman says she has been raped – or worse, can prove she has been raped – we need to figure out how a Just World could allow such a terrible thing. So we decide she deserved it. She was a slut. She was dressed too provocatively. She did something to provoke the man. She was drunk and it wasn’t really rape. She likes it rough and how could the man know where that line is? Etc.
Why Men Believe Women Lie About Rape
Think about a few paragraphs ago when I said there was no self-interest in rape allegations. Your mind immediately came up with some. Immediately. That’s what I’m talking about. This belief in a Just World is so ingrained in us that we don’t even know we’re doing it most of the time. We are not even aware when our deeply held, albeit subconscious, conviction that the world is fair causes our brains to create elaborate explanations as to why it was in the woman’s interest to lie. Because, of course, she can’t possibly have been raped. She’s too ugly. Or she’s too fat. Or she’s too butch. I wouldn’t rape her.
Many years ago I lived with a roommate who did not have a lot of respect for women. He cheated on his long-distance girlfriend (his high school sweetheart) more times than I could count; frankly it felt like once a week, at minimum. One day, he developed a coke habit 2 to go along with his copious consumption of alcohol (which was normal for all of us). His new drug habit only added to our personality clash, and I had a few blow ups with him which were as big as any I’ve had with any roommate, or other person, really. It’s safe to say that, with or without the coke habit, we should not have been roommates.
So when he raped a woman, naturally I defended him.
I took what I thought was the moral high ground: I could not possibly know what happened in that room between those two people and so I could not say whether or not he is guilty. This is technically true and should be the ideal position of a neutral observer.
You may not feel like that was defending him. But it was. The “neural” state supposedly investigates rape accusations with fairness and without bias, and yet rape is about the least successfully prosecuted serious crime. The accused is always given the benefit of the doubt (at least in court), as he should be, but the victim never is. The cumulative result of this happening thousands of times is that victims don’t come forward or, if they do, they withdraw their accusations or change their stories. We all know this happens. We hear about it all the time with celebrity rape cases. It’s only recently that some of these men are actually being forced to stand trial.
I was hardly a neutral observer. I wasn’t law enforcement or the Crown. I knew this guy. And he was a giant dick who was using coke on a regular basis. I can’t say for certain that he was high on coke this particular night, but 100% he was drunk. As was she. The latter should not matter one iota, though it is always brought up in these situations, as if getting drunk and getting raped were a crime as much of a crime as raping someone.
He and his victim had an off-again on-again kind of thing; they were literally fucking around, always while drunk. This was my justification as to why she might have made it up, I guess. It’s stuff like this that’s always the justification for the males who won’t believe the rape victim. Somehow I decided that she could conceivably be trying to get back at him for…oh I don’t know. I guess maybe I decided she wanted a more serious relationship (he had a girlfriend back home) or that she was mad at him. I don’t remember any more and it doesn’t matter what I thought; the issue is that I thought it at all. The problem isn’t with the particular justification, it’s with the fact that I decided that I couldn’t possibly know what this cokehead did in the privacy of his own room and that I would take his side of the story – the side of a serial womanizer – over this woman, who I had nothing against and who was in my circle of friends.
I took his side because I believed the world was fair and, moreover, if it wasn’t exactly fair then I still had to treat it as fair. He deserved his fair shake. She didn’t. He might not have done it. (That is a true statement.) She might have made it up. (That is a heaping pile of bullshit.) I believed that the university we all then attended, and the police, would sort it out.
Of course, that is not what happened. She dropped the accusation and dropped out of school.
Do I know he raped her? Of course I do not know what happened. I was not there. But I’m quite sure he did. This was not someone who treated women well. Hell, he didn’t treat his male roommates well. This is someone I could easily imagine being drunk and high on coke and being unable to hear “No” when she told him. Not only that, I can imagine him being unable or unwilling to hear “No” while sober. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the first time, nor the last. It would come as no surprise whatsoever if, were he a famous celebrity and she publicly accused him today of raping her, that more women would come forward. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I cannot say for certain that he raped her, but the point is that I should have taken her word for it. She had no reason to make it up. And I had all sorts of reasons to believe he raped her. But I didn’t.
Why would she lie? What could she possibly have to gain? There are people who lie serially. I had another roommate who did (and likely continues to do so). Not only did I catch him in his lies – frankly, nearly everyone did at some point, he was bad at it – but I witnessed him doing it. I once watched him tell one of his girlfriends over the phone that we had one fridge when we had two. He lied about our fridge situation to gain sympathy. (I am not making this up.) But pathological liars are rare. They are not common.
Think about the people you know – how many of them lie all the time for no reason like this former roommate of mine? How many more of them lie only for personal gain? Come up with a number. And be fair about it. Now, think about the number of women who have accused men of raping them who have been accused of either being pathological liars or of lying for gain. Those two numbers don’t add up, do they?
They don’t add up because the number of women who are raped by men is an extremely large number, a number we can due to the under-reporting of rape in our society. Whereas the number of actual pathological liars in the world is minuscule. And the number of Machiavellian liars for gain is also minuscule.
I have lived with one of these pathological liars, but I have never known one of these Machiavellian liars that our pop culture tells us are so prevalent. I haven’t even met one, to my knowledge. Not once. I think they probably exist, as I have read psychological studies about people like this – who are a tiny minority, according to all the research – but I have never met one. 3
And yet, in taking his side, I decided that she was lying for gain. And in taking the side of the accused in any rape case, that’s what we, the public, are saying: that the woman is lying for gain. We believe this happens all the time. We believe it because, in our pop culture, these Machiavellian liars are everywhere. And we like that. We believe it to be true. We believe Machiavellian liars exist because it makes us feel like the world is fair. The world is a fair place that is only unfair because of these Machiavellian liars who are everywhere, but who are certainly not me or mine. They ruin the fair world for the rest of us.
Rape accusations attack this view of the world. They undermine it. They make us feel like the world might not be fair and so we do the only thing we know how to do under the circumstances: we decide that every rape victim who does not have documentary evidence of their rape is lying for their own personal gain. Sometimes we even do it when we know the victim, when we should be doing everything we can to help the victim. Like I did.
This is The Just World Fallacy. It is the reason why we will never be able to bring justice to victims, because we are too busy blaming them.
- There are complicated reasons for this, but the short version is that men want to dominate and women want to nurture, even when they kill, more often than not. ↩
- Yes, that is indeed what happened. He participated in a “Kokanee” party (get it?) and, unlike the other participants, did not stop using it the next day. ↩
- It’s entirely possible that the pathological liar and the Machiavellian liar are one and the same – that it is only our belief that separates one from the other, one who lies for no reason and one who lies effectively. It’s possible that there really isn’t anyone who can only lie effectively and that the Machiavellian liar is completely a creation of the human imagination. ↩