Mustering up exponentially more outrage than he can find to condemn minor crimes like gang rape, Glenn Reynolds insists that the media release the name of the troubled young woman who made a false rape accusation that was dropped when it was revealed that there was cell phone video footage of the group sex she apparently consented to.* Emily at Double X (where I now have a permanent spot on the roster!) responds by suggesting that it’s best to err on the side of caution and not release the names of any of the young people involved in this sad situation:
I’m not naming the student out of some mix of pity and sisterhood. She has been suspended from Hofstra. She’s being ripped apart on the Internet. She is having her 15 minutes as the poster girl for untrustworthy slut. And Glenn is right, I am still making excuses for her, even though false allegations are a criminal justice nightmare, because while what happened to her in the bathroom wasn’t rape, she must deeply regret it, and she probably was drunk or otherwise not thinking straight when it happened. Plus, she’s only 18. So not naming her seems like a small—if fairly meaningless—shred of compassion to offer. It’s true that the names of the men she accused became public once they were arrested. That’s a really tough one: whether to publish based merely on an arrest. It always gives me pause, but if a case goes on for a long time before trial, hard to avoid. In this case, for whatever it’s worth, I didn’t publish the guys’ names, either.
I also posted on the case, noting that I’ve been following it but haven’t said anything publicly until recently, because I had a bad feeling about these accusations. Half because I’m morbid and half because I’m fascinated by the way that crime exposes some of the usually unacknowledged undercurrents in society—both good and bad—I’m definitely a person who reads a lot about crime and finds it fascinating. I’m not a true crime junkie, but I’ve done my time on Crime Library. And sometimes you can just tell when a story is too pat. The accusation that ropes were involved set off alarm bells for me. That struck me as unlikely, because rapists in these situations often don’t use more force than necessary to subdue someone, and cornering one woman in a bathroom with multiple men is more than enough, especially if she’s drunk. But that’s just my two cents. I may also be full of shit, but that was my gut feeling.
What this girl did was a terrible thing, but Emily’s right: Releasing her name is the wrong move. If I could be assured that the people calling for her blood were actually interested in reducing both the truly high rape rate and the not-that-high false accusation rate,** then I might have a different opinion. But as it is, most of the men obsessed with this case can’t separate out their anger at her for making a false accusation and their disgust at her for being the kind of girl who consents to pull a train. (Amanda Hess has plenty of examples.) The consensus seems to be that women who engage in gang bangs forfeit their right to be treated like human beings deserving of respect the second they do that. I suspect many of the angry men would still deny it’s rape if the video showed her panicking and changing her mind halfway through, only to be forced, because degrading treatment and even assault are assumed in our culture still to be things that you have coming to you for being a slut.
If you wish to disagree, I point you to the Orange County disaster, where the prosecutors were only able to secure a conviction after admitting because of repeated hung juries that the defense was going to be successful with the “you can’t rape sluts” defense, and they explicitly explained to the jury that all women, no matter what their sexual history, had a right not to be raped. All women.
If these people demanding her name really want to fight the problem of false accusations, they wouldn’t be demanding her name so they could condemn her sluttiness while titillating themselves. As Amanda convincingly argued, that kind of hatred aimed as women who engage in sexual adventures is exactly why there are these kinds of incidents. She probably got drunk, made the choice to have sex with multiple men, and then—because of misogynist attitudes towards sexual women perpetuated by the very people who claim to be so worried about false accusations—decided to call it a rape to clear her name. Stupid idea, of course, but she’s 18 years old. There’s a lot of stupid at that age.
There is nothing wrong with you if you want to have group sex. Now, I wouldn’t recommend that you go about it as this young woman did. Like it or not, but a single woman in a group sex situation with a bunch of men she barely knows that have been drinking heavily is something that could turn to rape, or even if it doesn’t, it could seem menacing once you’re into it, and therefore you may not feel safe changing your mind if it gets weird. A lot of young men have really mixed-up, fucked-up attitudes about this sort of thing, because the homoerotic element is going to turn them on and then they’re going to get upset about that, and they might get more aggressive to demonstrate that they’re Not Gay. There’s a serious amount of danger there. That said, it’s foolish to assume that some young women aren’t going to have group sex fantasies, and the sheer amount of shame that is placed on them for wanting to act those out will push a lot of them to make really, really bad choices under the influence of inhibition-lowering drugs like alcohol.
The only cure for this is to stop shaming women for being sexual. Without the shame driving people to make rash, dangerous, and foolish choices, you’re going to have a lot more planning of group sex that involves vetting partners and getting consent and creating safe words and all that. And then, you own your choice and take responsibility for it. Which makes you not inclined to say it was rape if the word gets out that you did this. If your reputation isn’t in danger, then you have no cause to do bad things in an attempt to save it.
Unfortunately, the calls for this girl’s name are as much about shaming her for her sexual adventures as for her horrible and legitimate transgression of falsely accusing these young men of rape. And that attitude just ensures that other women will be tempted to lie about rape in the future.
*Here’s my question: She dropped the charges when she found out that there was video footage. That inclines me to believe she did not consent to having this sex act filmed, which inclines me to think that the group sex was not as above-the-board as one would hope. I don’t know what the laws are state by state, but surely filming someone having sex without her permission is sexual assault, in the ethical if not legal sense. She consented to the sex, but if she was being filmed against her will or knowledge, then are we really supposed to assume that the young men involved were mere sexual adventurers with nothing but the highest regard for their female partners?
**Which misogynists try to inflate by folding in false complaints, which are way more common. False claims of rape usually involve a made-up stranger, because the person making the claim usually just wants attention and sympathy, but doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble.