U. of Maryland Correct to Deny Right to Publicly Name Accused Rapists

By Glenn Sacks

The University of Maryland is under fire for denying activists from the Clothesline Project, a campus rape–awareness event, permission to publicly name alleged rapists. The university cites the danger of lawsuits from those named, and that’s certainly a reasonable fear. Yet the university should also oppose naming alleged rapists because it could defame and harm innocent men.

A significant percentage of allegations of sexual assault are false. According to a study conducted by former Purdue sociologist Eugene J. Kanin and published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, in more than 40 percent of the cases reviewed, the complainants eventually admitted that no rape had occurred. Mr. Kanin also studied rape allegations in two large Midwestern universities and found that 50 percent of the allegations were recanted by the accuser.

In 1985, the Air Force conducted a study of 556 rape accusations. More than one–quarter of the accusers admitted, either just before they took a lie detector test or after they had failed it, that no rape occurred. A further investigation by independent reviewers found that 60 percent of the original rape allegations were false.

Craig Silverman, a former Colorado prosecutor known for his zealous prosecution of rapists during his 16–year career, says that false rape accusations occur with “scary frequency.” As a regular commentator on the Kobe Bryant rape trial for Denver’s ABC affiliate, Mr. Silverman noted that “any honest veteran sex assault investigator will tell you that rape is one of the most falsely reported crimes.” According to Mr. Silverman, a Denver sex–assault unit commander estimates that nearly half of all reported rape claims are false.

Listing cases of false rape allegations could fill volumes. One example: Six young men recently faced a potential life sentence in prison after Tamara Anne Moonier, a young Orange County, Calif., woman, accused them of kidnapping and raping her at gunpoint. The men are free today only because one of them taped the encounter, leading Ms. Moonier to admit she lied. The video showed Ms. Moonier actively directing the participants during the sexual encounter.

The politics of the Clothesline Project – which encourages women to see themselves and other women as victims and to rage at the patriarchy – can unintentionally encourage young women to make spurious accusations. For example, during the 2005 campuswide sexual assault awareness week at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., then 23–year–old Desiree Nall told police that she was raped by two men in a college bathroom. Fear and panic swept the campus as police initiated a manhunt for the rapists.

Police noticed many inconsistencies in Ms. Nall’s story, and one female police investigator stated that there was “no evidence to support the sexual battery complaint filed by Desiree Nall.” According to press reports, Ms. Nall, then the president of the Brevard County Chapter of the National Organization for Women, eventually told police that she was “not a victim of a sexual battery, as earlier reported in her sworn statements.”

One TV reporter said that many believed that Nall was “trying to make a statement by calling attention to herself in a fake rape case.” Another reporter wondered, “Did she take her cause too far?” Feminists’ lack of concern over the harm caused by false rape allegations is evident in the fact that even today Nall remains in the leadership of Brevard County NOW.

Jessica Valenti, author of the book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, has criticized the university’s prohibition. She explains that for women, “There’s power in naming.”

She is correct; the protesters have a lot of power. They have the power to destroy an innocent young man’s reputation, college life and career. They have the power to imperil an innocent student’s safety by setting him up for vigilante retribution. It’s a power that should not be afforded.

The National Organization for Women responded to my column via Erin Boguski’s Clothesline Project gives victims a voice (Baltimore Sun, 10/22/07).