The False Accusation of Rape

The false accusation of rape is something that I frequently think about.  For it is ever so obvious that the false accusation of rape is unequivocally one of the most horrifically false charges that one person can make against another.  To state the obvious: A false rape charge means that a person is being accused of committing a horrific wrong that she or he absolutely and unequivocally did not commit.  Quite disconcertingly, a who person who voluntarily engage in sex but tremendously regret having done so can be highly motivated to make a false accusation of rape as a way of coming to grips with her or his own conception of wrong-doing.  By definition, we have a false accusation of rape when person Alpha claims that entirely without her or his voluntarily consent it turns out that person Beta nonetheless had sex with him or her even though the indisputable reality is that the sexual encounter was clearly initiated by the very person who makes the charge and thus person Alpha in this instance.

It is my view that the false accusation of rape is primarily advanced by individuals who want to engage in sexual activity but who nonetheless do not want to be deemed morally responsible for having committed the wrong of rape.  Part of what gives this point considerable force is that the capacity for self-deception is one of the deep, deep psychological features of human beings.  Indeed, no other earthly creature seems to be capable of self-deception.  Not monkeys.  Not lions or tigers or cats.  Not elephants.  And so on.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I certainly hold that there can, indeed, be actual instances of horrific rape.  That is manifestly obvious.

Alas, the question that I often ask myself is the following: Which is worse: (1) A victim of actual rape or (2) A victim of a false rape accusation?  My first thought is that we have such a significant difference in experience here that it is not possible to compare the two.  What is more, while there is no denying the horrific wrong of rape, it is surely the case that being viewed by countless many others as a rapist is also quite horrific.  Indeed, a person who is viewed as rapist will most certainly experience a tremendous loss of friends.  And while it is certainly the case that there are instances where a person can provide evidence of not being a racist, it is nonetheless true that there will be instances where a person cannot provide any such evidence.

The point here is not to diminish in anyway the wrong of rape.  Rather, what is surely the case is that we need to give more attention than we now give to how a person can provide evidence against a false allegation of being a rapist.  Progress in that regard will be a non-trivial measure of moral insight.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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