In recent decades, there has been a shift in "he said, she said" cases. In the past, the sweeping belief was that women make up rape allegations to get attention. Now, it is almost always assumed that the woman is telling the truth. Polarizing the issue like this is dangerous.
Sexual assault is undeniably an emotionally charged issue, and rightfully so. A false rape allegation can ruin a man's life, as can disbelief of a woman's true accusation ruin her life. The severity of the crime in question does not justify the demonizing of the accused or assumptions that the "victim" is lying.
In an article written for Slate, Cathy Young says, "A de facto presumption of guilt in alleged sexual offenses is as dangerous as a presumption of guilt in any crime, and for the same reasons: It upends the foundations on which our system of justice rests and creates a risk of ruining innocent lives."
The question "How common are rape allegations?" cannot be answered with any certainty due to the ambiguity of the question as well as the sparseness of the evidence. What is the definition of an "allegation" and how would we even begin to compile the data?
If we limit rape allegations to those that ended in a police report only, we are ruling out all the allegations reported to other authorities like professors or administrators, as well as informal allegations such as those that spread over the internet.
Labeling an allegation as "true" or "false" is really only possible if you know with certainty what happened, and in "he said, she said" cases, this is usually only possible if you were there. Even if a rape allegation ends in a not-guilty verdict or a dismissal, can we really say with certainty that the rape allegation was false?
While surely the minority, some women do falsely accuse men of rape. When this happens, some suggest that it is out of embarrassment – a frazzled attempt to save their reputation when news of a sexual encounter gets out. This is what some suggested after last year's Ohio University scandal involving a drunken public sex act.
This case, as do many other rape accusations, hinged on alcohol involvement and whether the victim was in control of her faculties at the time of the incident. Alcohol creates a grey area, but in the end, the judge ruled that she was a willing participant in the act.
If false rape allegations are rare, why are we talking about them? Simply put, because they happen. And when they do, they can ruin lives. Plenty of men have lived through years in prison before eventually being exonerated, years they could have spent building a career or raising a family.
We should seek justice for wrongly accused men just as vigorously as we seek justice for women who are victims of sexual assault. Neither is acceptable, and both can ruin lives.