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Art by Sarah Engel

What They’re Not Telling You About False Sexual Assault Accusations

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 This past year, every teenager’s Twitter feed has been overflowing with sexual assault and rape accusations – especially toward the Hollywood elite. Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal in October 2017, people of all ages and genders have been sharing their traumatic experiences of sexual violence across social media. With help from the #MeToo movement, actors, producers and musicians to name a few have been revealed to be sexual predators. As a result, we’ve seen careers and personal lives ravaged by allegations of sexual harassment and violence. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Nev Shulman and Aziz Ansari are among the accused, and whose careers have suffered as a result. Weinstein was let go from his entertainment company, and Lauer and Spacey were released from their television contracts. Not to say that some of these individuals were undeserving of the backlash and consequences they received, but there is room for discussion as to whether or not all of the aforementioned people suffered prematurely.

In light of the collateral damage that often comes with the allegations, baseless accusations of sexual assault against other celebrities have also been spanning social media. Most notably, star of MTV’s Catfish, Nev Shulman, was accused of sexual assault in May. Schulman denied the claims, but the show was suspended. Upon a later investigation, the claims were deemed not credible by MTV, and the show has since been reinstated. Teens on social media were quick to respond.

But false accusations of rape and sexual assault are not confined only to the entertainment industry. Professional athletes, CEOs and anyone in a position of authority are more likely to be falsely accused of sexual assault. In recent years, we’ve seen Brian Banks, former Atlanta Falcons linebacker, who in 2002 was accused of rape, served five years in prison and five years on parole, but was later exonerated when his accuser admitted she lied about being assaulted. Though his accuser’s motives were never revealed, it was clearly a case of someone taking advantage of Banks’ authority. I spoke with Lawrence Zimmerman, an Atlanta-based criminal justice lawyer who represents those under investigation of sexual assault. He commented: “A false allegation of a sexual nature is the most devastating allegation. They will lose their job immediately and the punishments are severe.” Sharah Hutson, an Atlanta teen, described seeing these false accusations on her Instagram feed, and the implications that come with that: “When I see those accusations it’s really scary to watch how that person gets immediately cut from their friend circle. Accountability and call-out culture online are kind of fuzzy and weird to me.”

Georgia Tech has also been the subject of controversy recently, when two lawsuits were filed against Tech President Bud Peterson and other administrators by students who maintained they were unfairly forced to leave Tech after being accused of sexual assault. But an attempt at balance – Bill 51 being filed in the Georgia House of Representatives – may be doing more harm than good. Essentially, the bill prevents Georgia schools from investigating sexual assault claims unless police are involved. In effect, though, sexual assault victims are being denied their right to decide whether or not their experience is public record. This directly impacts current and perspective Georgia college students in taking away this right.

Rupkatha, an Atlanta teen who works with the Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV), stated that “there’s already a huge misconception that most reported assaults are false, which is why people report most rape statistics as overblown. Because of the negative stigma associated with reporting sexual assault, a lot of times when you discuss statistics related to assault on college campuses, people will say that most of them are false accusations because people want attention, when in reality that’s not the truth.”

False accusations like Banks’ and Schulman’s take not only an emotional and financial toll on those accused, but also work to discredit actual survivors of rape and sexual assault. Zimmerman also stated that “False accusations are terrible for true victims. It makes everyone question whether or not a “victim” is really a victim. Those who level false accusations also cause damage to those who are truly abused because it puts their credibility in question.” Similarly, Rupkatha expressed that “There’s always going to be an exception to any rule, unfortunately… It’s just insulting and insensitive and rude to use such a gory and traumatizing situation to glorify yourself or gain some kind of upper-level advantage. I don’t think it’s right to say that all falsely reported sexual assaults are to glorify somebody’s image either, but they take away from the victim’s credibility regardless of intention. “

Another factor that plays a role in the culture of false accusations is media. Teens consuming information from movies and TV shows are being influenced by certain portrayals of sexual assault victims. The show “13 Reasons Why,” for example, arguably sensationalizes the sexual assault of teens and, in depicting an unsuccessful trial of a rapist, furthers negative notions about survivors speaking out. On the other hand, Rupkatha mentioned how she appreciated representation in today’s media.

“Fortunately, in the past decade, we’ve gotten a lot more exposure regarding taboo topics like sexual assault,” she says. “There are alot of ‘True American Crime Stories’ that don’t just discuss sexual assault against women but also against men.”

Sharah, also recalled an article they’d recently read online that described the mental health of false accusers in a degrading way. She says, “It made me really scared and anxious that people were writing about this in that manner.”

Rupkatha also stated, “This is the age where people are first experiencing intimate relationships and learning what consent means, and unfortunately in our schools right now, because of the current administration, sexual education has been defunded. I think we’re obviously the demographic that’s affected the most, and with more exposure from media, we’re learning more about this, but I wish our schools would teach us.”

Despite all of these false accusations, it’s worth noting the fact that, according to the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only about 2-8% of all rape and sexual assault charges are proven to be false. This minority of accusations heavily distracts from the stories of actual victims of rape and sexual violence. In Rupkatha’s own words, “Theoretically, we shouldn’t let that small percentage affect the stories of millions of other people who’ve actually been affected by sexual assault. Just destigmatizing this idea of reporting sexual assault and discussing consent more would definitely impact us beneficially.”

Sarah, 17, is a rising senior at Atlanta International School and a mac and cheese enthusiast.

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comments (5)

  1. A different thought

    “False accusations are terrible for true victims.” This is extremely important to realize. Second: If a man gets falsely accused of rape/sexual misconduct, there is little due process. Even if he gets cleared, damage is done and often he has to leave the company. While false accusations are rare, they do happen and are under reported (just like a lot of true accusations, I won’t deny that). And lack of due process is one main reasons why men are creating a distance from women, in particular on the work floor. This is not new, this has been happening before the metoo movement, but it seems like metoo has worsened it. While I don’t believe this is a healthy development for any workforce, I myself have also become more and more “wary of my surroundings” and communicate with females at work as little as possible, strictly business (as opposed to my male colleagues). The workfloor should be business anyway, but I have welcomed our decade old policy “no closed door in an office setting when there is one male and female”. I am glad my position does not require 1 to 1 mentoring and I am equally glad there’s got to be other folks who could do a better job in that than me. It seems like I am by far not the only male who has taken some ingredients from the Pence rule.

    1. the guy who lives

      False accusations are no longer rare, they are between 10-40% depending on who you ask, unfortunately you are right if a man gets accused his social and emotional life will be nuked, pence rules is a start however, video consent evidence is admissible in court so really their is no way out but staying out entirely.

  2. Victim of the Law

    My daughter and I have been indirectly impacted by a false sexual assault allegation by a foster child against my fiance, my daughter’s father and I believe the #MeToo movement hurt us due to the way the case and we, as people, are being treated. We have suffered unimaginable emotional damage and loss and have had to fight to keep the case under wraps from almost everyone, including family and friends. The worst part is that the accuser wasn’t even *our* foster child. We were listed babysitters for her foster that were interested in taking up fostering her so that we could adopt her. The whole story is too complex and the case is ongoing so I won’t to get into, but she always wanted to be with us until I told my fiance he needed to stop spoiling her. The girl called us mommy and daddy. Now my daughter can’t see her daddy. She cannot be with him during the holidays. The accusations aren’t consistent with each other or the reality of the situation, but my fiance is already being seen as some kind of monster and law enforcement and CPS refuse to listen to any statements made by him or those who believe in his innocence. I will fight tooth and nail to get it dropped or in favor of my fiance so that my daughter won’t face the consequences that come with a conviction. She is the only child who has been harmed in all of this, even so far as having to loose both of her parents at times were I have to travel to see my fiance, the attorney, or the investigator (I moved my daughter out of state with my mother and grandmother to keep her out of the paws of law enforcement or CPS).

    People who are falsely accused, their families, and the true victims of sexual assault are all hurt tremendously by these false allegations. Allegations that are made from hate or greed, without a care of the consequences everyone else suffers. These false victims are almost as bad as actual perpetrators because they both don’t care how they hurt others as long as they get their satisfaction.

    I feel bad, but my experience has shifted my feelings. I now question the validity of sexual assault allegations without solid evidence or eyewitnesses and I no longer feel the warmth in my heart to want to help others–especially children in the system. I hope that may change, but I definitely will not allow any males in my family to help anyone, especially those of the opposite sex or minors, without body cameras.

  3. Mrs. B

    We are going through this right now. My husband is someone that loves to volunteer, and he is known by just about everybody where we live. 4 months ago, he was arrested and charged with false allegations of sexual battery and assault on a female. I know these charges are false, because I was with him during one of the alleged incidents. The investigator at the police department still hasn’t turned over police reports and other discovery to our attorney or the DA’s office, and we continue to be afraid to go out in public. My husband’s name has been destroyed, and all he ever wanted to do was help the community.

    1. A different thought

      I came back to this site to see some other answers.” The investigator at the police department still hasn’t turned over police reports and other discovery to our attorney or the DA’s office” This means that the police probably already has taken a side. And that’s generally the problem here. Any accusation means you are convicted in the court of public opinion. So there is work for your attorney! Remember (IMPORTANT) that you and your direct family members have to support him on this through thick and thin because, without going through details, I can to a certain extend feel what he is going through. I sincerely hope that one day you all find justice in this and that you can continue with your lives. Warning: He will never be the same again so prepare for some counseling (for him or both of you) to get things back on track.