False Accusers Cause Pain Too

Sexual assault protest sign

Accused lacrosse players of Duke in 2006, with signs both protesting and supporting them
One of the earliest fables I recall from my childhood was about the boy who cried wolf. The story goes that a shepherd boy kept crying wolf when there was no wolf. Eventually the villagers got tired of being pranked with false alarms, so one day when a real wolf actually appeared, the boy cried for help, and no one came to the rescue. According to the Greek version, the boy and the sheep were killed by the wolf, prompting this lesson: “Even if liars tell the truth, no one will believe them.”

Today we are inundated with reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, but the problem is, in many cases, we have no way of knowing whether the accused is lying, or if the accuser is crying wolf. Writing for SLATE.com, Cathy Young cited women’s activist Jessica Valenti as saying that we should, “believe victims en masse.” Valenti’s comments echoed those of attorney Catherine MacKinnon who, some three decades ago, wrote, “feminism is built on believing women’s accounts of sexual use and abuse by men.” But, says Ms. Young, “de facto presumption of guilt in alleged sexual offenses is as dangerous as a presumption of guilt in any case.”

Young’s warning makes sense. On the one hand we might logically conclude that a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens or even scores of women, is probably guilty of at least some of the charges. We might also conclude that he is probably a sleazy, sexist pervert. On the other hand, we must be careful not to accept every accusation as fact until they are proven to be so.

Earlier this month while Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Al Franken, John Conyers, and Charlie Rose were scrambling to defend themselves against a spate of assault charges, a woman called the Daily Mail to report that, in the Summer of 1986, Sylvester Stallone raped her in his Las Vegas hotel room. The woman, who was 16 years old at the time of the alleged assault, was very detailed in her description of the time and place. But a few days later, Stallone’s ex-wife, Brigette Nielsen, came forward and shot a big hole in the woman’s story. During the Summer in question, Sly was in Vegas filming Over the Top and also enjoying a honeymoon with Ms. Nielsen who said, “The incident did not occur. Most of the day I watched him film, then we’d have dinner and go to our room. No other person was in the room with him but me.” Nielsen went on to say that she and Sly were together 24/7. So much for the rape accusation. Perhaps the woman who lied about Stallone just wanted a big financial settlement or a book deal, nevertheless, false reports like hers are happening more frequently these days, and they don’t just involve celebrities.

Several years ago I wrote about a male teacher at Wiley Middle School in Winston-Salem who was suspended after three of his female students accused him of sexually assaulting them. Weeks later the girls confessed that they had fabricated the assault incident because they were angry that the teacher had given them a bad grade. Eventually the teacher was reinstated and received a cash settlement from the school system, but his reputation was permanently stained. History repeated itself last month when two local high school girls accused their male teacher of sexual assault. When news spread of the assault, protests and violence broke out at the school. Days later, the girls admitted they had lied. They made up the assault story because of their dislike for the teacher. Another reputation ruined.

Sadly, it’s not just reputations and careers that are damaged by false claims of sexual misconduct. In 2005, a male teacher in Roanoke, Virginia was accused of sexually assaulting a female student. The local prosecutor went after the teacher hard and was determined to make an example of him. After all was said and done, the girl admitted to lying, but the truth came too late. The teacher had committed suicide just prior to his exoneration.

And who can forget the woman who brought down the entire Duke University lacrosse team when she accused them of gang rape. Her accusations were later proved to be false, but not before the student athletes’ reputations were irreparably harmed, and their college lacrosse careers ended. And what about California high school football star Brian Banks who was sent to prison in 2007 for raping a female student. He was released five years later when the woman apologized for having made up the rape story. In a similar case, James Grissom spent ten years in a Michigan prison for raping a woman. He was released in 2012 after her story was proven to be a lie.

In the past few years women have cried wolf in Las Vegas, Winston-Salem, Durham, Roanoke, Detroit, and many other cities, resulting in great pain to innocent men and their families. In fact, some studies, such as one conducted by psychologist David Lisak, suggest that as many as 8% of all sexual assault claims are false, and another 50% never go to trial because of insufficient evidence. Thus, McKinnon and Valenti’s position that all female accusers must be believed, is clearly flawed, and quantifiably damaging.

Sexual assault is a serious crime and men who are guilty of it, especially those who prey on young girls and female employees, are despicable human beings, who should do hard time in prison if proven guilty. But girls and women who make false accusations should also be punished, first for ruining the lives and reputations of innocent men, and second, for making it more difficult for real victims of sexual assault to come forward and seek justice.

There are plenty of wolves out there, and we should all come running whenever there’s a cry for help. We just need to be sure who we’re attacking: the real wolf, or the one in sheep’s clothing.

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