My first thought was, she lied in every word

Posted: May 8, 2010 in mainstream media fail, rape

Look carefully at the title of this article.

Then read the article itself.

Am I missing something here, or is this headline in no way supported by the actual content? The headline claims that Zoe Williams hacked Facebook and is now in jail after falsely accusing her ex of rape. But the story itself only states that she falsified a Facebook message from her ex to herself which “threaten[ed] her if she did not drop the rape charges.”

And this therefore proves that the rape accusation is false? This proves that he didn’t rape her? What?

Williams admitted to fabricating the Facebook message, but I see no evidence (either in the Huffington Post article, or the Telegraph piece it links to) that she confessed to also having fabricated the allegations themselves. Her attorney made the following statement: “She felt the police were not taking seriously the complaints of rape she made to them, so she decided to invent this message and sent it to herself in the hope that it would strengthen her complaint.” Knowing what I do about the criminal justice system and rape cases, I misdoubt that she and her charges probably were, in fact, treated dismissively by the police (as most rape charges are, regardless of their merit or lack thereof). Which means her fabrication of the Facebook message is entirely in keeping with a narrative in which the rapes actually occurred.

That said, it’s also in keeping with a narrative in which she accused him falsely. I’m not claiming that the rapes did occur, either. I’m mostly interested in the open-and-shut tone of the media coverage and how little there is to support it; without a very careful reading of what Williams actually said versus what’s implied, anyone reading these pieces would come to the conclusion that she admitted to making the whole damn thing up. Rape coverage in mainstream media is uniformly terrible, of course, but I find this example particularly illustrative of our society’s willingness to believe that women who make rape accusations are all lying sluts who want to ruin a man’s life out of petty female vindictiveness.

You see a similar dynamic at the intersection of rape and mental illness. Victims with mental health issues may make claims of rape or sexual assault which sound bizarre or are clearly impossible (e.g. claims of being raped “psychically”, or by aliens, or by government agents who can walk through walls), and rape crisis advocates may simply shrug and funnel them to mental health service providers. But that the claimed assault is impossible does not necessarily preclude that a real sexual assault may have occurred in some other form. This may be the victim’s way of processing the trauma from the event, or it may be the only way she’s capable of expressing what was done to her. And yes, it’s possible that she wasn’t actually assaulted. But we can’t write off certain victims simply because they don’t act the way we think victims should.

Aside from the complicating factor of mental illness, rape victims may also be, quite simply, assholes. They may be dishonest, or manipulative, or cruel, or bigoted. They may be verbally abusive to health professionals or advocates. They may be volatile and angry and rude. In other words, they may be flawed human beings. Because, as it turns out, flawed human beings can be raped too.

I know next to nothing about Zoe Williams. And I don’t really need to know anything about Zoe Williams other than those things which are demonstrably true: she made an accusation of rape against her ex. She hacked his Facebook account to send a message to support her claim of rape. She admitted to having done this and is now serving four months in jail for, presumably, defamation. In a society where women who reported rape to the police could expect to have their charges taken seriously, yes, her actions would be quite damning, but we don’t live in that society. And while the falsified message should of course be thrown out of court (and no doubt would have been, had the case been pursued), its existence really doesn’t prove a damn thing one way or the other.

I do understand the argument that her actions call her credibility and integrity into question. But immoral liars can still be raped; shouldn’t the facts of the case, rather than the plaintiff’s character, be the determinant of guilt or innocence? I reject the idea that unblemished virtue should be sine qua non of one’s designation as a believable victim, that any woman who has ever told a lie (or who is not a white middle-class modestly-dressed virgin who’s disinclined to drink heavily) can therefore be safely presumed to be lying about having been raped.

Because if I were a rapist, that would make it very easy for me to select my victims, wouldn’t it?

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