The myth of ‘false accusations’ of sexual assault
Women falsely accuse men of sex crimes. That’s why it’s a “very scary time for young men in America,” President Trump has said.
Women misidentify the men who attack them. So said Senators Joe Manchin, Lindsey Graham, and Susan Collins as they tried to have it both ways: claiming they believed Christine Blasey Ford was assaulted — but certainly not by Brett Kavanaugh, the man their votes put on the Supreme Court.
Before we normalize this confirmation, or move on to the next Trumpian crisis, or Trump gets another Supreme Court pick, it matters to understand: The above assertions are rarely true, despite politicians’ dishonest spin.
“I don’t think I ever had a case where I even suspected a woman was making a false accusation,” said former Suffolk County sheriff and prosecutor Andrea Cabral.
According to Suffolk County District Attorney John P. Pappas, the problem with sexual assaults is underreporting, “because victims fear they won’t be believed. The overwhelming majority of such allegations are grounded in truth.”
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said, “There may be a variety of legal reasons our office cannot proceed with prosecution; that does not mean the allegation is false.”
False accusations do in fact happen, but again, rarely. Various studies estimate between 2 percent and 10 percent nationwide.
But since only rapes reported to police can be deemed false, some analysts put the number much lower and say that a “false” accusation may actually be a true one recanted because a survivor doesn’t want a trial.
As for the “mistaken identity” line? Trauma experts watched it “spread through the Senate this month with a sense of stunned dismay,” reported The Washington Post. You don’t mistake identity when you know the name and face of the man attacking you, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Richard Huganir told the paper. He and his colleagues don’t even debate it.
When sexual assault victims do misidentify attackers, it almost always involves identifying strangers. And not only did Ford know Kavanaugh, so did his second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who said a drunken Kavanaugh thrust his penis into her face.
Bottom line: There’s no epidemic of false charges or mistaken identities but, rather, of attacks on women. Just in the few days surrounding the Kavanaugh hearings, the Globe reported on a Harvard diving coach allegedly sending pictures of his penis to female athletes; a Salisbury man accused of raping and plotting to murder two teenage girls; an Acton man arrested for stabbing his girlfriend and killing his father when he tried to intervene; and an Allston man held for choking and attempting to rape a woman he dragged into a Brookline alley.
Yet somehow, Houdini-like, the president has turned all this on its head and made the victims here men like him: those accused by multiple women of sexual misdeeds. Nearly 90 percent of Republicans support Kavanaugh. Many conservative women do too.
Let’s hope his two daughters never know the reality millions of American women know too well.
Sometimes it begins when you’re still tiny, and a once-trusted adult touches where he shouldn’t. Sometimes it starts in middle school, when schoolyard boys snap your bra. Maybe in college some frat boy uses liquor as an excuse for grinding against you, or worse. Maybe your first boss stands over your computer and squeezes your shoulder, or worse. Coming home at night, you walk in the middle of the street, your jagged-edged keys between your fingers, a weapon, just in case. Maybe one night, you need one. But if you tell, will they turn it all on its head and accuse you for walking home alone after dark?
If all that sounds familiar to you, the story of Christine Blasey Ford probably sounded familiar as well. So too the raging, red-faced denials of Justice Brett Kavanaugh of the United States Supreme Court.
Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” Her column appears regularly in the Globe.
Correction: A previous version of this column misstated the number of Donald Trump Jr.’s sons and daughters.