Just a month ago, the country was shaken by the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In case you've been living under a rock, Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, his high school peer. Soon after, he was accused by several other women. After a long series of senate hearings and an FBI investigation into some of these accusations, senate Republicans voted him onto the court, suggesting there wasn't enough corroborated evidence against him to smear his nomination.
One of those women was Judy Munro-Leighton, who claimed that Kavanaugh and his friend “sexually assaulted and raped her in his car.”
Late last week, Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote a letter to the the FBI and Attorney General Jeff Sessions claiming Munro-Leighton made false accusations against the judge.
According to Grassley's letter, Munro-Leighton conceded that she lied "to get attention" during a questioning by Judiciary staff. This follows Grassley's earlier referrals of Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick and attorney Michael Avenatti to the FBI and justice department, saying they also made false accusations against Kavanaugh.
Of course, these reveals have invited more than a smattering of opinions.
Most of these opinions agree, like any reasonable person would, that false accusations of any kind are unacceptable. They also agree, like any reasonable person would, that those who make false accusations should be prosecuted.
However, many of these opinions lose me when they elevate false accusations to the "typical."
We've all heard the story that society has used to excuse sexual violence for so long. A woman regrets something, gets her heart broken or wants "attention," so she makes up a story about an unsuspecting man. It's a narrative that vilifies women as attention-seeking, unreliable, and generally malevolent while absolving men of any responsibility for their actions. And it's generally not true.
Less than 10% of sexual violence claims are false reports, while 75% percent of sexual harassment victims are retaliated against for reporting it. Yet the narrative that allows for more false accusations that sexual assaults still takes up major space in our collective mind.
It's this false narrative that allows opinion writers to harp on how Munro-Leighton allegedly “just wanted to get attention," or how she should be "exposed and sanctioned" to "deter other attention-getters who think they can make false accusations" without mentioning these statistics and without regard for how they're harming actual survivors.
To report on Kavanuagh's false accusers without qualifying your argument with false reporting statistics isn't just wrong. It's irresponsible.
Suggesting that most reports of sexual violence are false — and that being falsely accused is something men should be afraid of — is damaging to all of us.
This narrative makes it that much more difficult for survivors to come forward, for fear that they will be called liars. It makes it that much more difficult for men to be engaged male allies, for fear that they'll be victimized for socializing with women. And it makes it that much more difficult for men and women alike to speak out and say "No! Men do not face challenges like sexual discrimination and violence in the way that women do."
You would think this would be common sense in a post #MeToo world, but we all need to be using our voices to correct age-old ideas about sexual violence; that includes correcting the way we tell stories about false accusations.