Granting Anonymity to “Men Wrongly Accused of Rape” Is Not about Anything but Protecting the Innocent: Talking Back to Joan Smith, Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Panel

Posted on February 4, 2015


“There is a scandal around rape in this country. But it isn’t about a handful of men who have been wrongly accused, no matter how justifiably angry they are. Compared to the number of cases that never see the light of day, their experience is, I’m afraid, a drop in the ocean. It is about the many thousands of victims who don’t get justice at all—and the main effect of giving anonymity to accused men would be to make that situation even worse.”

—Joan Smith, The Guardian (Jan. 7, 2015)

It shouldn’t require observation that the headline of Joan Smith’s op-ed, “Men wrongly accused of rape mustn’t be granted anonymity,” makes no sense.

Probably the headline meant to read, minus the word wrongly:Men accused of rape musn’t be granted anonymity.” Disturbing, though, is that no one notices a difference between the two versions, so conditioned has the equation of accusation with guilt (and allegations with facts) become. “Wrongly accused”/“accused”—the distinction doesn’t seem to matter. The implication of that irrelevance is that they’re all guilty really.

In a democratic society, if anyone is a “drop in the ocean,” then everyone is.

When a reported case of rape becomes prominently publicized and then discredited, such as the “Jackie case” printed in Rolling Stone a few months ago, its female subject is not regarded as a “drop in the ocean,” and many feminist writers have exhorted their readers to “remember Jackie” whatever the truth of the circumstances might have been.

Why are purported victims of rape due compassionate recognition but actual victims of false allegations to be written off? Is it too superficial to answer, Because the latter are men? Maybe…and maybe not.

In a commentary in Time Magazine last month, Cathy Young makes a case for “A Better Feminism in 2015.” Toward that worthy goal, feminist advocates must start exercising their faculty for sympathy less selectively.

The perception of pervasive, one-sided male power and advantage can create a disturbing blindness to injustices toward men—even potentially life-ruining ones such as false accusations of rape. A true equality movement should address all gender-based wrongs, not create new ones.

The crux of Ms. Smith’s position is this: “The truth is that our criminal justice system is failing to protect victims. And the reasons for that failure present a very powerful case against anonymity for those accused.”

Her position, blame and the innocent be damned, in turn makes a very powerful case for apathy to the “truth…that our criminal justice system is failing to protect victims [of sexual violence].” False allegations impact the lives of far more than “a handful of men who have been wrongly accused [of rape],” and the deficient empathy exemplified by supposing false allegations even of rape do no more than cause some to be “justifiably angry” is why a lot more than some are “justifiably angry.” False allegations don’t merely rankle; they maim.

The tone set by writers like Ms. Smith informs the direction of social science research and legislation, and prejudices authorities and judges (especially toward lesser allegations with overtones of violence like stalking and domestic abuse, whose defendants—male and female—are most vulnerable to vigilantism from the justice system). It, besides, prejudices the broader public.

The vehement imperative to expose exemplified by Ms. Smith’s commentary translates to federal cases’ being made of mere allegations of harassment—literally. In the U.S., restraining order defendants, who may only be accused of “harassment” or purportedly causing someone to “fear” (in civil not criminal hearings), are registered with the FBI, as well as entered into statewide police databases, to their lasting detriment.

While it may be the duty of the state to respond to complaints of abuse, it is not the duty of the state to invite complaints, let alone to urge them, by exposing the merely accused to scorn and revilement. In a society of equals, no one is a “drop in the ocean.”

Copyright © 2015