Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On rape - false accusations vs. no accusation at all

Some tempests in a teapot just won't go away.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few days about rape and other allegations against Michael Arrington. Well, there's been a lot of discussion in the tech community about it. If you are a normal person rather than a techie, here are some links to help you catch up:

The March 28 Facebook status update from Jenn Allen is here.

The April 1 story from Gawker that initially talked about the sexual abuse allegations is here.

Loren Feldman's April 3 comments are here.

Michael Arrington's April 7 comments are here.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of everything that's been said, but it should catch you up.

And the allegations here are not unique to one individual. Sexual assaults, whether they occur in the workplace or not, have an adverse impact on business, to say nothing of the impact on the person who was assaulted.

And let me throw one more link in here - one that you may not have seen - a post from Paul O'Flaherty entitled "Innocent Until Proven Guilty - Except on the Internet."

O'Flaherty is talking in the general sense:

The Michael Arrington case which continues to evolve, is just the latest example of the internet becoming the judge and jury for what truly should be a legal matter, and not reported by reputable sites until the facts are in. It’s a “he said, she said” clusterfuck of emotionally charged endorsements, vilification and witch hunting, that would make the Spanish Inquisition proud....

I find it largely depressing , and shameful, that in the year 2013 technological advances have enabled us to come back to mob justice, public humiliation, and public trials without evidence. True, these “trials” do not have any legal standing, but what need is there for a courts justice when a person’s livelihood and reputation can be dismantled by spending 15 minutes at the keyboard followed by smidgen of social sharing?

The discussion continued into the comments, with Patrick Davis brining up this point:

[S]ometimes [a public accusation] is the only recourse after all other’s have been exhausted. We have all heard about a customer wronged by a company who only got justice after a blog post or a youtube video. In the case of the Steubenville rape, it was the only way to get the authorities to act.

O'Flaherty responded, in part:

Some studies have shown that as high as 41% of rape claims are false (sticking with that crime as these are the catalyst to the post), however this is an outlier number. The mean in these studies appears to be in the range of 8% to 10%.

This means that for every 9 people who get accused correctly, there is 1 person getting their life destroyed and the emotional mob really has no mean with which to verify most of these claims.


At the time that O'Flaherty linked to the Wikipedia page above, it included a variety of statistics from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the British Home Office, and other sources. The Wikipedia page also linked to another Wikipedia page that discussed a very famous false allegation (and one to which I had indirectly alluded) - the Duke lacrosse case. Nancy Grace's role in the affair is a troubling one, since this resulted in exactly what O'Flaherty feared - innocent people were accused of rape, and a media person fanned up the flames against them.

Nancy Grace even vilified those who cautioned the rush to judgment might be premature. During one interview Stephen Miller of the Duke Conservative Union began to worry that “two innocent people may have possibly …” But Grace quickly cut him off: “Oh, good lord! … I assume you’ve got a mother. I mean, your first concern is that somebody is falsely accused?”

When charges were dropped against the Duke lacrosse players, Nancy Grace's show announced it - but Grace herself was absent.

So there is certainly a concern about false accusations. But there is also a concern about those rape cases that are never filed and never reported. I want to cite some statistics from the Enliven Project, but before I do so, I want to share a little bit about them:

The Enliven Project is a truth-telling campaign to bring sexual violence out of the closet and convert the most powerful bystanders to new allies.

Sexual violence is the biggest issue we aren’t talking about in America. Incorporating lessons from the gay rights and AIDS movements and campaigns like Opportunity Nation, The Enliven Project will tell the truth about sexual violence in classrooms, break-rooms, and board-rooms, enlisting the most powerful bystanders to join the movement, promoting the most promising interventions, and increasing justice and acceptance for survivors everywhere.

Here are some of the statistics that the Enliven Project cites in its page about false rape accusations:

The purpose of this graphic is to compare (primarily men’s) fear of being falsely accused of being a rapist to the many challenges around reporting, prosecuting, and punishing rapists.

Two key figures drive that point home:
•A reporting rate of 10%
•A false reporting rate of 2%

The details are listed later on the page:

1,000 Rapists (technically 1,000 rapes as pointed out by Slate, a distinction we missed in an effort to bring some reality to the numbers.)

Of those 1,000 rapes, we applied a 10% reporting rate (100)
•Source: http://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/without-consent-20061231.pdf
Page 8: “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 per cent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.”
•Source:http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=245 (2011 Criminal Victimization Survey): Reported to the police (US): 27% in 2011, 49% in 2010

Of those 100 reported rapes, we show 30 faced trial (this includes those that were jailed). This is 30%. Faced trial, for the purpose of this graphic, uses composite data reflecting the terms prosecution, arrested, and faced trial.
•RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) lists for 46 rapes, 9 get prosecuted. This is 19.5%.
•Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2006). Extent, nature and consequences of rape victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. – 37% of reported rapes are prosecuted
•Patterson, D., & Campbell, R. (2010). Why rape survivors participate in the criminal justice system. Journal of Community Psychology, 38(2), 191-205. – 14-18% of reported rapes lead to prosecution
•http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/clearances - 40% clearance rate in 2010 (arrested or cleared by exceptional means)

Of the 100 rapes brought to trial, 10 are jailed. This is 10%. Or, of the 30 rapes prosecuted, 10 are jailed. This is 33.3%.
•When considered 10% of the 100 reported rapes: http://www.ncpa.org/pub/st229?pg=11Table A-4 in 1997, Probability of prison for rape is 9%.
•When considered 10% of the 100 reported rapes: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/fdluc06.pdf
page 11 in 2006: 62% of felony rape defendants are convicted, 50% of a felony
page 12 in 2006: most severe sentence of convicted offenders
For rape: 80% incarcerated. Combining these, 0.62 * 0.8 = 0.496 (49.6%)
•When considered as a portion of prosecuted rapes that are jailed: RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) lists for 9 prosecuted rapes, 3 are jailed. This is 33.3%.

Of the 100 rapes reported, 2 are false accusations. The 2% false accusation rate was applied only to the number of reported rapes.
•Source: http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf page 2: “when more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.”

So, while the Enliven Project did NOT make this specific comparison, the number of false accusations was much lower than the number of rape victims who never file a report in the first place. And there's a reason why the Enliven Project didn't make that specific comparison - the fact that so many people get away with rape is of no comfort to the person who is falsely accused of rape. However, it does show that false accusations of rape are just one problem associated with rape. Another problem (of lesser, equal, or greater importance depending upon your point of view) is that many rapes are never reported.

I previously noted that sexual assaults have an adverse impact on business. Here are some examples:

Victims often lose their jobs because of absenteeism due to illness as a result of the violence. Absences occasioned by court appearances can also jeopardize their livelihood. Victims may have to move many times to avoid violence. Moving is costly and can interfere with continuity of employment. Many victims have had to forgo financial security during divorce proceedings to avoid further abuse. As a result they are impoverished as they grow older. (Kurz, 1989).

Victims are not the only ones who pay the price. Women who were victims of intimate partner violence costs health plans approximately 92% more than a random sample of general female enrollees. Findings of significantly higher mental health service use are supported by other studies. (Wisner, 1999).

So this is something that businesses are addressing in the workplace - while walking that careful tightrope between promoting false accusations and ignoring valid ones.
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