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About a week ago, CFI’s head scumbag Ben Radford wrote whatever this is. There is almost nothing good I can say about this article, other than I suppose it demonstrates competent use of the English language. Basically, Radford plays armchair detective to conclude that a woman who accused a man of sexually assaulting her must be a lying bitch. Now, not only is Radford a shitty detective, he’s also a shitty human being, so TW for rape, victim blaming, rape apology, and general assholery.

First, I’d like to point out that the rate of false rape accusations is extremely small. This is one of many important facts that Radford glosses over in his article. In fact, he even goes so far as to say “Though this incident occurred at a small Iowa university, other cases like this happen far more often than most people realize.” He also says “the false report of a sexual assault is often used as cover story for consenting (but illicit) sexual activity.”

Throughout the piece, Radford presents this story as common, implying that false accusations happen all the time. In fact, several studies show that the rate of false rape accusations is less than 10%. The FBI estimates the rate at less than 8%, and the Lisak and Kelly studies estimate the rate at 6% and 3%, respectively. False rape accusations happen far less often than Radford pretends they do.

Now let’s look at the actual event that Radford examines. Radford frequently uses the real name of the victim in his article, also including the victim’s picture so that presumably the reader can heckle her on the street or something. I will do neither, replacing the victim’s name in any Radford quotes with [victim]. He does, however, provide a pseudonym (John) for her accused rapist. How thoughtful. Anyway, here’s where Radford quotes from the police report describing the incident:

“[Victim] told Cpl. Welsh that she met [John] on the web site meetme.com in late October and began chatting with him. [Victim] said that on October 23, 2013 at approximately 10:30 PM she was at a pumpkin carving event in [Clarke University’s] student activities center when she was approached by John. [Victim] said that John displayed a knife and told her to leave the center with him. [Victim] said that John led her to a waiting vehicle and made her enter it.”

She was then driven to “a residence on Rhomberg Avenue. [Victim] said that she was led by John at knifepoint to an upstairs bedroom at this residence where she was forced to perform sex acts on John. [Victim] added that John was photographing this incident with his telephone. Once John was done sexually assaulting her, [victim] said she was driven back to the Clarke campus… around midnight on October 24. [Victim] additionally told Cpl. Welsh that John sent the images he took during the sexual assault to her phone. However [victim] said that her grandmother saw these images on her phone and deleted them.”

Got all that? Victim was pumpkin carving, got abducted by rapist, and was sexually assaulted. Pretty straightforward.

So let’s continue:

“Cpl. Welsh then located and interviewed John at his residence on Rhomberg. John said that he met [victim] on meetme.com a couple weeks prior and they started dating. John admitted that [victim] had previously spent the night at his residence but was adamant that she did not stay with him on the night of October 23.”

And now we get to Radford’s take:

It was a he-said / she-said story-except that the accused man had photographs of their encounter, taken during what [victim] described as a sexual assault. The photos provided independent documentary evidence of what happened between the two of them behind closed doors. The police officer accessed John’s cell phone and “recovered images depicting sexual acts between John and [victim].” The police officer, however, immediately detected a problem: “The time date stamp on these images however was October 27 and [victim] could be seen smiling while lying next to John in one photo.”

So now we have discrepancies. The victim said the rape happened on the 23rd, and the photos show it happened on the 27th. Plus, she smiled once. Clearly, these facts show that the victim is a lying bitch, right? (No really, that’s exactly what Radford and the police conclude.)

In order to get to the bottom of the mystery, police re-interviewed [victim] at Clarke University on November 8. “Cpl. Welsh explained to [victim] that she had reported a Class A felony that was punishable by up to life in prison if John were found guilty. Cpl. Welsh asked if she thought this would be a fair punishment for John based upon what she was reporting. [Victim] said that she didn’t think he needed to serve that long a sentence but he should have to do ‘several years.’ Cpl Welsh told [victim] that her honesty was imperative if this investigation were to continue and [victim] was adamant that the details she provided were true and accurate. Cpl. Welsh gave [victim] an opportunity to change or correct her statement if she thought at this time that there was something that may have been misreported. [victim] maintained that her story was accurate.”

Police “then presented [victim] with the evidence that they had uncovered which was contrary to her statements. After maintaining that she was telling the truth for approximately thirty minutes [victim] finally admitted that the entire story was fabricated to act as some sort of cover for the images that her grandmother had located on her cell phone. These images being of her and John engaged in sex acts. [Victim] admitted that these photos were taken during a consensual sexual encounter between her and John on a date later than October 23, contrary to what she had reported.”

Did you get that? The police find one discrepancy, essentially accuse the victim of being a lying bitch, then spend half an hour pressuring her to recant her testimony. She finally does, after which the police conclude that she was a lying bitch after all. Justice!

Now, here’s an alternate explanation that I thought of as I was reading Radford’s article. What if the victim simply got confused about which day the assault occurred? Isn’t it possible that the victim could have mixed up a Sunday and a Wednesday?

I would posit that, given the extremely low rate of false rape accusations, that the victim getting confused and misremembering when the rape occurred (especially with the amount of stress and trauma she experienced) is actually a more likely explanation than that she made the whole thing up.

“Pshaw,” you say. “Memories are always perfect! After all, it’s not like Radford actually linked to this article about how crappy our memories are literally in the introduction to his piece!” Because that would be silly. Oh wait that’s exactly what he did.

Radford asks a couple of questions prior to his big “victim is a lying bitch” reveal. These questions are “Why would a woman be seen smiling next to a man who was sexually assaulting her?” and “Why did the information in the photograph file indicate that the photos were taken on a different date than [victim] claimed?”

These questions are fairly easy to answer. A number of answers to the first question present itself: Perhaps the picture was taken at a moment where it looked like the victim was smiling. Perhaps the accused forced the victim to smile at knifepoint. Perhaps the victim smiled because she thought it might keep the accused from hurting her. Perhaps the victim was under a lot of stress (because assault), and smiled for no apparent reason. I answered the second question above. 

But now a new question presents itself: If Radford and the police are right, and the woman really did lie about being assaulted, why did she change the date of the assault? It would have been simpler for her to say the rape happened on the 27th than to say it happened on the 23rd. There is no reason for her to pick the date she did, especially when witness testimony contradicts her statement. It’s likely she didn’t lie at all, but simply misremembered the date.

But what about the confession? After all, false confessions never happen ever. And even if they did, false confessions among female college students recently experiencing an extremely traumatic event being pressured by police for half an hour (presumably) without a lawyer present surely never happen ever. Why, that’s a ridiculous suggestion.

Radford presents this case as a victory for skepticism. In his introduction, he says “False accusations are of particular interest to skeptics because skepticism has often been at the forefront of giving voice to the wrongly accused…. Skeptics have often been there to remind the public to ask for evidence before rushing to judgment.” In Radford’s view, skeptics (in this case the police, who are always the best skeptics ever) investigated a claim, found insufficient evidence, and thus debunked it.

The reality is more stark. What actually happened was the “skeptics” (still the police, who as it turns out aren’t actually very good skeptics at all) investigated a claim, found a single discrepancy, latched onto a single explanation (lying bitch) without looking for alternatives, and likely forced a confession to confirm their hypothesis. This isn’t a success for skepticism, it’s a failure.

Radford presents this event as a case study on false rape accusations. Interestingly, Radford’s article itself is a case study on what happens when skeptics become too focused on a single explanation for an event without bothering to consider alternatives. I guess it’s just a good thing Radford didn’t plaster the victim’s real name and face all over the CFI website. Oh wait.