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The Ignoble Lie: Weekly Standard Style

In college a naive but well-intentioned fellow student asked a history professor why alternative theories on the Holocaust weren’t at least presented in classes on the subject. She made it clear she didn’t believe the deniers’ arguments, but didn’t understand how a university could willfully ignore alternative theories (even offensive ones) on a subject if they were based on some methodological gathering of evidence. The professor shrugged and answered her directly.  “That’s easy,” he said. “Theories put forth by Holocaust deniers aren’t based on anything remotely reliable. Forgot how offensive they are. They simply don’t deserve academic attention.”

The good prof could have added a few other things, such as how cruel bias and rank antisemitism also lurk behind the “debate” regarding the Shoah, thus making denial arguments less legitimate still. But what he said was enough on its face. Theories about how Nazi Germany had no established policy on extermination, or that estimates of the murdered are grossly exaggerated- even when adopted by people with no antisemitic bent whatsoever- are based on incredibly faulty “research.”  They fly in the face of mountains of demographic, eye-witness and documentary evidence. They’re just foolish to believe, period.

To be abundantly clear: I am not about to draw an exact parallel between Holocaust deniers and perpetuators of flawed research “demonstrating” that women lie about sexual assault frequently, particularly in relation to other crimes. I’m also absolutely not inferring that the perpetuators have anything in common with Nazi sympathizers or antisemitic thinkers.

That being said, perpetuating baseless claims predicated on demonstrably flawed research and badly interpreted statistics in ways that perpetuate injustice deserves redress.  The continued victimization of millions of women and men who are sexually assaulted every day, cloaked and devalued by this nonsensical line of opinion also deserves redress.  So it’s time to call out the writers, journalists, attorneys, “activists” and others— whether they have an axe to grind or not— who still cite risibly flawed “research” and inappropriately extrapolated anecdotes to support claims that women lie about being sexually assaulted more than anyone else lies about any other crime. Cathy Young is one such writer.

In “The Noble Lie, Feminist Style,” Ms Young, earlier this month in the Weekly Standard, offers a piece that is provocative, but absurdly ill-researched and offensively inaccurate. Her use of readily identifiable bad “evidence” might be quaint if she were arguing an alternative theory on, say, the mating habits of lemurs. But she’s not. She’s making assertions that directly and negatively impact the lives of millions of women hoping against hope for a rational, competent and decent response to being made to suffer one of the ugliest crimes imaginable.

As for why she’s doing so, it seems that she is challenging some aspects of feminism she finds irritating or unsatisfying- apparently that’s what Ms.Young does. That’s fine, but it doesn’t give her license to push on her readers myths and innuendo that amount to nothing—and ultimately cause harm to those affected by her proliferation of nonsense.

As usual, she evokes straw-man “orthodox feminists” who “grudgingly admit” that women sometimes lie about being raped. Really? I am personally acquainted with dozens of feminists, consider myself to be one as well, and am familiar with most of the leaders of the feminist movement in this country where the issue of sexual violence is concerned. I’ve yet to meet a single person in this movement who will resist acknowledging that women and men sometimes lie about being sexually assaulted. It happens— no one disputes that. What educated and informed people do dispute, whether feminists or not, is the idea that women lie about sexual assault any more than anyone else lies about any other crime.

That’s because they don’t.

Young’s statement, “the fact remains that women do lie about rape much more often than the feminist party line allows” is based first on an assumption that there is a “feminist party line” at all (she cites nothing here in support of such a thing). From there she cites three things in support of her position: A misunderstood classification by the FBI, incredibly faulty research by a retired sociologist, and a brief series of anecdotes. The first two are easily debunked (the sociologist’s “research,” in particular, here). But serious analysis is not what Ms. Young wants, as it would belie her preconceived notions and agenda.  Her last attempt at making her point (the brief series of examples) perhaps serves to titillate, but says nothing about the reality of sexual violence.

False reports are both horrific and criminal. People who make them should be dealt with harshly unless serious mental illness was at play in making the report. This, despite anything Young’s article will tell you, is exactly what happened in the infamous Duke Lacrosse case. The accused players were actually declared— in an extremely rare move— “innocent” rather than just “not guilty” by the Attorney General of North Carolina. But that same authority never sought to prosecute the woman who made the false claim.  Why? Because, in the opinion of AG Roy Cooper, she was extremely mentally ill, and might actually have believed her own account of events. So lo and behold, the supposedly evil woman that the rape-denial crowd would love to elevate to poster-child for all that “average Joes” have to fear in the complex world of dating and mating is frankly crazy. Her actions in March of 2006, like her life in general, constitute a tragedy, but not a crime. She is a dangerous and deranged person, but not the cold, calculating psychopath that rape-deniers would have the world believe.

I am not suggesting that psychopathic or otherwise unscrupulous women and men do not exist and do not falsify accusations of sexual assault. It does happen. So does the falsification of burglaries and car theft for insurance payouts (at much higher rates, I suspect). Other than murder (where the victim can’t falsify personally) every crime imaginable has its fraudulent victims. But to suggest that women— in particular— lie about rape—  in particular— is simply baseless. Being thus, it should not be trumpeted as fact, or an educated suspicion, or a grounded theory, or anything else suggestive of serious consideration. It’s time to speak plainly. Enough is enough.


  1. It seems like you’re suggesting that mentally ill false accusers should be treated more leniently than other mentally ill criminals — such as mentally ill rapists. Is my impression correct and, if so, why?

  2. Andrew: From a prosecutorial standpoint, I would treat anyone suspected of committing a crime equally based on the level of mental illness they displayed.

    With regard to the Duke Lacrosse case: As I imagine you’re aware, the strict legal standard for insanity differs among states, but it’s generally something along the lines of the M’naghten Rule, stating that the accused must not understand the nature and character of his/her actions at the time of the offense, or at very least profoundly not understand the wrongfulness of them. AG Roy Cooper did not, to my knowledge, give full legal reasoning for why he didn’t press charges against the complainant in the Duke case, but did give a clue as to his reasoning when he stated that she might actually believe the false things she was saying. If she did honestly believe that the false accusation she was making was true as she was making it, that would qualify under M’naghten, which I believe is the rule in NC, although to be fair I’m unsure even though I went to law school there. So there would be no legal grounds to prosecute her under that strict standard. Of course, other things can and should go into a prosecutor’s calculus when it comes to determining whether to bring charges- the full discussion is a longer one, but I’m happy to have it. In terms of this particular case, though, it appears that, while her actions were deeply destructive and factually criminal, she was not considered to be an appropriate target for prosecution. Based on Cooper’s remarks, I’m assuming that was because she was more than “just” mentally ill- she was/is severely so, to the point perhaps of legal insanity.

    How would I act prosecutorially with regard to people who commit rape and are mentally ill? Again- it depends on the level of mental illness I can detect, hopefully with the aid of qualified examinations performed by experts brought by both the government and defense. If I determine that the accused is mentally ill but legally sane (a common scenario for many crimes), I’m likely to bring charges, all other things tending favorably toward that decision. If I believe him/her to be insane, I won’t bring criminal charges. Hopefully, I would apply the same standard to both a false accuser of a sexual assault and a perpetrator of one. I hope this response clarifies my position. As always, thanks for the comment.

  3. Well, if by “non-punitive remedies” you mean court-ordered hospitalization, the answer is probably ‘no.’ I doubt that I would seek to confine a legally insane, false accuser of rape under the criminal procedure rubric found in most jurisdictions. The reason is because a legally insane person who makes a false accusation of rape (or any other serious crime) is not someone who has (by that act) committed a violent act or at least a (traditionally considered) serious felony. It is, of course, damaging, odious and terrible to level a false accusation of rape against a person or persons- probably even more so than other serious crimes because of the terrible stigma attached to people who commit rape. But, the mandatory hospitalization of legally insane defendants under most state crim pro laws are reserved for persons who have committed violent acts, or at least more serious felonies. While I am not at all making light of a false accusation of rape, I don’t think it would qualify. I hope this makes sense- thanks for engaging.

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