False Rape Claim Hurts Real Victims

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On
April 8, the president of the Brevard, Fla., chapter of the National
Organization for Women was charged by the Florida state attorney’s
office with filing
a false rape report
and making a false official statement.

She
could be imprisoned for one year on each count and forced to pay
for the police investigation she incurred. The case has far-reaching
implications for gender politics and for women who report sexual
assault in the future.

The
facts are as follows. On Nov. 17, 2004, part-time Rollins College
student Desiree
Nall
reported being raped in a campus bathroom by two men. The
Winter Park Police Department put Rollins on ‘high alert,’ advising
students to remain indoors when possible.

The
dean immediately dispatched a campus-wide email to assure students
that extra security measures were being taken.

In
a Sandspur article entitled “A
Rape Hoax is No Way to Get Attention,”
Jean Bernard Chery relates
how the incident impacted campus life.

“It
was a nightmare for every female student and faculty/staff at Rollins.
They were afraid to go to the bathroom or walk on campus alone after
dusk….The incident prompted a candlelight vigil on campus in support
of the alleged victim [then unnamed],” Chery wrote.

The
police had reason for skepticism. Nall could not assist with composite
sketches, offered inconsistent details and did not wish to press
charges. An examination at a sexual assault treatment center after
the alleged attack produced no evidence of foreign DNA.

Due
to publicity and campus panic, however, a police investigation continued
at a final estimated cost of more than $50,000. The report of rape
was judged a hoax.

According
to police, on Nov. 19, Nall phoned and asked to have the case dropped.
When Detective Jon Askins questioned her original report, Nall reportedly
confessed
that she was “not a victim of a sexual batter.” The
police speculate that Nall, a vocal feminist, may have been trying
to “make a statement” about violence against women. The alleged
rape occurred during Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which was intended
to highlight the issue of sexual violence against women.

Jeff
Nall, Desiree’s
husband
, has been speaking publicly on her behalf. He claims
the charges will be appealed on the grounds that an attempted assault
did occur. He denies that she confessed to lying. He claims she
has been targeted by police because “she is a women’s-rights activist.”

He
also distances NOW from the unfolding fiasco by pointing out that
his wife became a chapter president only recently, after the incident.
Moreover, according to one article in the Sandspur,
he argues “that sexual assault cases such as this are not one of
the platforms of NOW.”

NOW
apparently wishes to maintain distance as well. As of Monday, searching
its website for the term “Nall”
returns no results. After all, NOW has argued that women do not
lie about rape. Catharine MacKinnon – a founding mother of the gender
feminism that NOW promotes – stated in her book, Feminism Unmodified,
“The reason feminism uncovered this reality [of male oppression],
its methodological secret, is that feminism is built on believing
women’s accounts of sexual use and abuse by men.”

If
this methodology is debunked, if women are viewed as no more or
less likely to lie than men, then the foundation of gender politics
collapses.

It
is premature and grandiose, however, to see the collapse of gender
feminism within the Nall news story. A false account of rape in
a bathroom is a much smaller and more tawdry tale: a tempest in
a toilet.

Assuming
that Nall lied, she has achieved the opposite of what I believe
she intended. By “crying rape” she has made every woman who is a
victim less credible and less likely to receive justice from the
police or the public. She has made women less safe.

Rollins
student Elizabeth Humphrey states the point simply: “Lying about
that story is absolutely horrible because women are victimized every
day. And if we get the reputation of lying, then people won’t start
to believe us if it does happen.”

Instead
of publicizing sexual violence against women, Nall has spotlighted
the problem of false accusations against men. Her case also raises
the question of whether NOW-style feminists encourage false accusations
when they flatly insist that women must be believed.

In
the ’60s, feminists fought to have rape taken seriously. But taking
an accusation seriously is not the same as granting it automatic
validity. Rather, it means investigating the facts and weighing
them in an unbiased manner that favors no one and nothing but the
truth.

A
lot of ugly truth may surface in the coming months. The state of
Florida seems determined to pursue its case against Nall, who seems
determined to fight back.

Winter
Park Sgt. Pam Marcum explained to the Orlando Sentinel that
bringing charges against Nall had taken so long because the police
department sought a second opinion from the State Attorney’s office.
It is rare for those who file false reports of sexual abuse to be
prosecuted. In short, the prosecution is carefully constructing
a case; the defense is loudly crying ‘political persecution!’ In
the process, the definition and legal status of rape within our
society continues to evolve.

Where
it comes to rest depends largely upon the honesty – not the NOW-like
silence – with which women confront the problem of false
accusations
.

April
21, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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