Lessons From Hofstra: Why Rape And False Accusations Are Part Of The Same Problem

Hofstra freshman Danmell Ndonye may face charges for falsely accusing five men of gang-raping her. A reader asked us for "a non-ideological take" on "the false yet pervasive attitude that women wouldn't lie about such things." Here goes:

For those unfamiliar with the latest in this case, Ndonye has recanted her initial accusation that the men, one of whom was also a Hofstra student (he's being questioned in the pic above), tied her up and raped her in a dorm bathroom. She now says the sex was consensual. According to New York's WCBS,

Prosecutors say she cracked and confessed when the lawyer for two of the four men falsely accused provided a cellphone video that showed consensual sex, and no ropes or screams, as she had initially reported.

The lawyer wouldn't say who recorded the so-called sexcapade, but said it looks "like a porn movie." Prosecutors say the rape allegations against a Hofstra student and four of his friends who are not enrolled at the university may have all been a cover story made up because she was worried about what her jealous boyfriend would say.

This scenario is pretty upsetting, in part because of WCBS's language — if reporting a rape means lawyers will force you to watch your own "sexcapade" until you "crack," no wonder more women don't do it. But the under-reporting of rapes (the British government, for reference, believes 95% of rapes there go unreported) isn't the issue that has people incensed in the case. Readers like the one I mentioned above (who also says "incidents is like this and my own experience with women making false accuations is why I and a lot of other men tune out feminist propaganda and don't automatically believe a women who says she was raped the minute she claim it") are concerned with over-reporting, with women who haven't actually been raped but claim that they have. But contrary to our reader's assumption, this isn't an us-vs.-them scenario, a war between feminists who want to protect rape victims and men who want to avoid false accusations. Amanda Hess of the Washington City Paper's Sexist blog handily explains why both these groups should be on the same side. She writes,

I can't recall how many times I've seen a discussion of a rape accusation devolve into the one side arguing why the accuser should be believed, and the other side arguing that the accuser should be discredited. [...] The meaningless squabbles between the two camps tend to overlook the fact that people concerned about rape and people concerned about fake rape accusations are both fighting against the same thing: rape culture.

She goes on to explain,

Both rape and rape accusations are products of the roles assigned by rape culture. In the traditional seduction scenario, a woman is expected to not desire to have sex, and to only submit after the man has successfully coerced her into submission. When the preferred model for consensual sex looks a hell of a lot like rape, an array of fucked-up scenarios are inevitable: the woman never wanted to fuck the guy, refuses to submit, and is raped; the woman submits to the man's coercion in order to avoid other negative consequences (like being raped); the woman had desired the sex all along, but must defend her femininity by saying that she had been coerced into sex.

By way of example, Hess offers this fun tidbit from Paul Elam of Men's News Daily:

In what has become a more or less common turn of events, the female Hofstra University student that accused five men, including one classmate, of gang raping her in a school dormitory bathroom has recanted the charges. That's legal and media speak for admitting she cheapened herself by taking on five men willingly on a men's room floor and lied about it later out of what little capacity for shame she had.

The rest of Elam's column is pretty extreme, and I don't especially recommend reading it. But what's all too common is his assumption that a woman "cheapens" herself by having group sex in a way that the men involved apparently don't. In fact, as Hess points out, women are often thought to cheapen themselves by wanting any kind of sex at all — but especially if that sex is casual, or perceived as deviant in any way.

Obviously, this isn't an excuse for women to falsely accuse men. And despite the prosecutors' "boyfriend" comment, we can't be sure why Ndonye accused the men in the first place. But if we all work to promote a culture of radical consent, in which it's okay for women to want sex, okay for men to want women who want sex, and expected for both parties to respect each other rather than conquering, convincing, or coercing, then we'll almost definitely reduce both rapes and false accusations. If, on the other hand, we keep arguing about whether rape or rape accusations is a bigger problem — without recognizing that they often have the same fundamental root — then men and women will just keep ruining each others' lives.

Video Of Hofstra Rape Hoax Gets Accuser To Recant [WCBS]
D.A.: Hofstra Student Made Up Gang Rape Story [WCBS]
False Rape Accusations And Rape Culture [The Sexist]
Katie Price: Why She Should Name Her Rapist [The F Word]