Perception of rape accusations blurs truth


By Emma Dantas ’21


Years ago when I played soccer, I showed up to school on Monday eager to recap the weekend’s game with friends at lunch. We would go around the table, raucously cutting each other off and interjecting with our takes on controversial plays and calls by the referee. A common discussion that took place when we had won was about who had scored the winning goal. Every sixth grade girl longed to be the hero of the game, and because of this we all jumped at the opportunity to prove “it was me.” These battles went on endlessly since, clearly, everyone had a different memory of the game.

The “he said, she said,” nature of sexual harassment and assault is like a revolving door: it goes round and round. Today’s increase in sexual assault crime accusations have created social movements that spread rapidly because of social media’s reach in current day. Additionally, false accusations can sprout from the blinders men and women wear when reporting the problem. Because the accuser and the accused have a different perception of the incident, the way they tell the story impacts what others believe to be true and can lead to “false” rape accusations.

According to TheWrap there have been 379 high-profile accusations of rape since the #MeToo movement began following accusations involving Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein. This positive correlation can most likely be attributed to the fact that the accusers felt comfortable believing a large group of women would now support them. Women felt safer as part of a movement, where they weren’t seen as an individual victim. This is a positive change that has brought sexual harassment cases into the public eye and has finally given women a voice against unwanted advances that have been part of our culture for many decades.

However, FBI Statistics show why there are also many questions that still surround accusers who come forward. While false accusations for murder, arson and burglary is around 2 percent, false rape accusations have risen to just over 8 percent, nearly four-fold other crimes. Since the #MeToo movement and the increase in rape cases brought to light, even women are beginning to worry about the validity of each new case. In a survey conducted by Vox, 27 percent of women are concerned about men being falsely accused of sexual harassment and assault in today’s climate. They are concerned because they feel with increases in false accusations, there may be backlash against women. Specifically, concerns regarding a decline in female employment and promotion of women have intensified, since men may not want to risk being in the same workplace due to potential false accusations.

The most public accusation at this time is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that President Trump’s Supreme Court judicial nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, sexually assaulted her when they were teens. Many people are speculating whether this claim is true, but it is simply not that black and white; there is a larger, grayer area surrounding it. Because the incident happened many years ago, the way Ford remembers the interactions will be different from the way Kavanaugh remembers them.

The details that each remembers has to do with perception: Ford is going to remember what was scary, nerve wracking or important to her, the same way Kavanaugh is going to remember important moments that highlight his interpretation of the encounter. This is because memory is both personal and ever-changing by nature. Details shift, things are filtered by our worldviews and personal experiences. In short, we all remember selectively, in the same way my friends have different memories of who the hero of last night’s soccer game was. When other influences, such as political parties, or social movements try to co-opt individual situations, it can become even harder to sort through an accusation.

In the end, it is through factually provided information that the public is able to mold their own opinion. Even so, we need to remember that the public opinion is not true or false; it is merely perception. The best way to sort through these accusations and potential falsifications is through our court system, which was designed to bring justice to both the accused and accuser. If we trust one thing, it should not be a movement, a political party or even our friends’ memories; it should be our judicial system. Every accusation should be sorted through meticulously and substantiated with facts.