Last Call for "Rape-Crisis" Feminism?

The Duke lacrosse case may bring a new, fairer approach to accusations of rape.

As expected, the case against three Duke lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a stripper at a team party has collapsed. Last week, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that all charges against the students were being dropped. He also took the extraordinary step of stating his belief that the young men were innocent.

When it first made headlines, the Duke rape case was widely treated as an ugly tale of racism and misogyny, of white male jocks brutally asserting their sexual dominance over a black woman. Now the story represents a very different paradigm: a rush to judgment based on politically correct dogmas about race, gender, and victimhood—not just on the part of the prosecution but also on the part of the media and the academic community. The exoneration of the accused may prove to be a turning point in social attitudes toward false accusations of rape. It may also be a major defeat for a certain kind of feminist politics.

The feminist anti-rape movement emerged in the 1970s for very good reasons. At the time, the belief that women routinely "cry rape" out of vindictiveness or morning-after regrets often caused victims to be treated as if they were the criminals.

But "rape-crisis feminism" (as the writer Katie Roiphe dubbed it) replaced one set of prejudices with another, such as the notion that women virtually never lie about rape. As the radical feminist law professor Catharine MacKinnon wrote in her 1987 book, Feminism Unmodified, "Feminism is built on believing women's accounts of sexual use and abuse by men."

Making the credibility of women's accusations against men a cornerstone of your belief system is a sure prescription for bias. The Duke case amply illustrates this. As Cooper pointed out at his press conference, there were serious questions about the woman's credibility from the start. Her claims were not corroborated by any physical evidence, or by the other stripper who was with her at the party. She herself gave contradictory accounts of what happened. Yet for a long time these questions were swept aside.

The Duke case also makes it clear that the feminist dogma on rape is far from benign. It is hostile both to men and to basic principles of justice.

Consider the hateful rhetoric of Wendy Murphy, a former sex crimes prosecutor who is now an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law in Boston. She appears frequently as a legal analyst on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and other channels. On the air, Murphy made numerous false statements about the Duke case (documented by K.C. Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College who blogs about the Duke case at Durham-in-Wonderland) and repeatedly referred to the accused men as rapists. On one occasion, she fumed: “I’m really tired of people suggesting that you’re somehow un-American if you don’t respect the presumption of innocence, because you know what that sounds like to a victim? Presumption you’re a liar.”

Even when the case began to unravel, the witch-hunters remained steadfast. After the most serious charges against the young men were dismissed, the prominent feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte, who briefly served as blog coordinator for John Ewards' presidential campaign, opined that they were still "not angels" and that their defenders were "rape-loving scum"—because a different lacrosse team member had sent out an email with a nasty joke about killing strippers. Meanwhile, on the website CommonDreams.org, Gail Dines, professor of American Studies at Wheelock College in Boston, argued that the focus should be brought back to the young men's misbehavior because "they saw the hiring of two black women to strip as a legitimate form of male entertainment."

In other words, the same feminists who rightly tell us that a rape victim should not have to be an angel to deserve support apply such a different standard to men who may be falsely accused of rape.

At the press conference after the charges were dismissed, one of the accused, Reade Seligman, said that the case had opened his eyes to "a tragic world of injustice that I had never imagined" and added, "We all need to take a step back from this case and learn from it." This has been happening already. By the time the case was over, many mainstream liberals and feminists, such as University of Southern California law professor Susan Estrich and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, had publicly said that the accused men were the true victims. A presumption of guilt against affluent white males, Kristoff wrote a few months ago, is no better than a presumption of guilt against poor black males—the Scottsboro boys—in the 1930s.

The past 30 years' progress in the treatment of rape victims needs to be balanced by better safeguards against unjust prosecutions. The Duke case, which has given a face to the plight of the falsely accused, may well turn out to be the start of such a change. If feminists want to retain their credibility as advocates for victims of rape, they need to drop the habit of knee-jerk support for every accuser—and to show decency and compassion toward the victims of false accusations.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Feminists are a buch of haters. Who knows how many inncoent men are in prison because of prosecutors like Wendy Murphy, who have no respect for basic rights for men accused of rape.

    They are nazis and their day will come.

  • ||

    You cant say those young men were innocent you just dont know that! Many true accounts of rape and sexual violence have inconcistancies the A or B thinking system is the problem.I dont know if that young woman was raped or not but my starting point is to believe her truth and to sort out the "facts" LATER by the sounds of it something happened to that young woman, the other young woman with her might well not have said anything, maybe shes afraid, wants to keep her job, has been raped herself and does not want to get involved. So why not say that she saw nothing untoward happen? Rape and the reporting of rape is complex and women coming to terms or telling their expeirences do so from a female organic point of view, things may be jumbled but that does not mean it did not happen. The law and the prove needed by law has been determined by men more or less and how truth or lies appear from their point of view, an expeirence such as rape cant always be followed in that logical way

  • ||

    This is a magnificent piece and it deserves more recognition.

    Angie Egan, you are an idiot.

    "Many true accounts of rape and sexual violence have inconcistancies the A or B thinking system is the problem"

    Many true accounts of rape do not lack physical evidence of any kind.

    "I dont know if that young woman was raped or not but my starting point is to believe her truth and to sort out the "facts" LATER by the sounds of it something happened to that young woman, the other young woman with her might well not have said anything, maybe shes afraid, wants to keep her job, has been raped herself and does not want to get involved."

    This makes absolutely no sense. The facts and the truth are the same thing. If a woman told you the moon was made of tapioca pudding, would you believe "her truth", or would you ask for evidence? Perhaps YOU wouldn't, but most people would. Especially considering the FACT that we have pieces of the moon and they are rocks, not pudding. To know the truth, we must know the FACTS. People's stories, hearsay, and feelings are not facts. They don't establish anything. If I say the sky is purple, and Stacy says the sky is green, how do you tell which one is telling the truth. I believe YOU would simply look at their genitalia to determine which one was right, but most of us would attempt to establish FACTS which were independent of both human accounts in order to arrive at the TRUTH.

    "Rape and the reporting of rape is complex and women coming to terms or telling their expeirences do so from a female organic point of view, things may be jumbled but that does not mean it did not happen."

    The "things which were jumbled" in this case involved a complete lack of any evidence other than a woman's story. That does not occur in true cases of rape and had nothing to do with the woman's memory of the affair which she FALSELY alleged took place.
    Also, the truth is not especially complex. It is lies,often, which are very complex. So complex, that small details get forgotten in the retelling,loose ends unravel, which is what happened here.

    "The law and the prove needed by law has been determined by men more or less and how truth or lies appear from their point of view, an expeirence such as rape cant always be followed in that logical way"

    And here is where you show your supreme stupidity for all the world to see. The "prove" needed by the law is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that something occurred. That proof is usually:

    Evidence the accused was within the area at the time of the crime and could have been at the scene.

    Evidence of a motive or reason to commit the alleged crime.

    Evidence of a means to commit the crime.For example,in a shooting case,the gun is a critical piece of evidence.

    Finally,forensic evidence is highly critical in rape cases.

    Perhaps you can explain to me how any of that can even be affected by a man's point of view? If none of that evidence exists, it is pretty much impossible that a hypothetical alleged crime could have taken place.

    The law is not concerned with how things appear, it is concerned with evidence. Truth and lies,furthermore, are not subjective.

    I have only one penny.
    I have two pennies.

    Both of these statements cannot be true, no matter how either or both of them APPEAR to anyone. It is a fact that if I have pennies, I can only have one, or more than one.

    Please go to school or read a book or something, I feel that the existence of imbeciles such as yourself in a democratic society is a direct threat to my personal wellbeing.

    Men do not handle things like the law or any indispensable function of society in a manner that is, or tolerates,subjectivism. It is completely unreliable, and when people's lives are at stake, the FACTS are what is mot important.

  • Michael Price||

    "You cant say those young men were innocent you just dont know that!"

    Yeah we do, DNA fuckwit.

    "Many true accounts of rape and sexual violence have inconcistancies "

    No true accounts have impossibilities though. Hers did.

    "by the sounds of it something happened to that young woman,"
    And what's your evidence of that? Her stories were inconsistent both with each other and all the physical evidence. It doesn't sound like ANYTHING happened to her.

    "the other young woman with her might well not have said anything, maybe shes afraid,"

    Why would she be afraid of the defendants rather than a prosecutor who is known to have victimized people who support the defendants?

    "things may be jumbled but that does not mean it did not happen."
    But the complete lack of the defendants DNA does mean it did not happen.

    "an expeirence such as rape cant always be followed in that logical way"
    Of course it can.

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