Fake rape accusations? Really?

Published: Oct 08, 2019, 05:16 IST | C Y Gopinath

Women say there are more rapes now more than ever. Men say #MeToo women are crying rape without cause

The #MeToo movement has made it easier for women to come forward and report the traumas they have kept hidden, sometimes for decades. Representation pic
The #MeToo movement has made it easier for women to come forward and report the traumas they have kept hidden, sometimes for decades. Representation pic

C Y GopinathIt was an all-guys beer bash. I had just written a piece in another publication exploring why people everywhere seem to think of India as the world's rape central when four other countries — South Africa, Sweden, UK and Wales, and the USA — have higher numbers of reported rape.

"Right," said a feisty Heineken. "About time someone injected some reality into this bullshit. We're not rapists!"

I didn't want to be misunderstood as a male sympathiser. "Whoa!" I said. "99.1% of Indian rapes go unreported. That's fact."

"Whose fact?" said a taciturn Kingfisher. "And how does anyone figure out who didn't report?"

"Exactly," said the Heineken. "If you can count how many women didn't report rape, you obviously know who got raped in the first place. But you can't possibly know that, because they didn't report it."

I didn't think these beer buddies would be really interested in knowing how it's done. The unit-level data of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2015-16 lets us compare data on actual experiences of crime victims with the National Crime Records Bureau's record of First Information Reports. Using this, the NFHS estimated that 99.1% of sexual violence cases, including rape, go unreported.

I stood up to leave when a disgruntled Fosters decided to speak up. "We know that they're all fake rape reports anyway. With #MeToo, women have realised that they can finally hit back at guys they don't like any more. You just go to a cop station and say so-and-so raped you two decades ago, and it's curtains for that guy. I don't trust your numbers, dude. It's all fake rape."

I sat back in my chair. ""And how many women do you think, in your wisdom, put out fake rape complaints?"

Rape is a distressing canvas, no matter which country. It is a soul-crushing, devastating, sometimes lethal, event in the lives of those who suffer it. The overwhelming majority of victims are women and, increasingly, younger and younger children — and there is absolutely no indication that it is even close to declining.
The #MeToo movement made it easier for women to come forward and report the traumas they had kept hidden, sometimes for decades. Monsters such as Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Kevin Spacey and Donald Trump got named, some of them prosecuted and shamed, on the world stage. In India, high profile men like Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka and MJ Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, have felt the sharp reckoning of the Asian #MeToo movement.

Journalist Priya Ramani's outing of MJ Akbar triggered a flood of 14 similar allegations against Akbar, all by women journalists who once worked with him. Akbar did the only thing men in his position seem to do — malign the accuser and call the accusation a lie.

The objective bystander might be right to wonder: could 14 women all be making up the story? Could all the 24 women who accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct be lying? The 23 women who filed charges against Jeffrey Epstein? The 87 who came out as targets of Harvey Weinstein?

Here's the confounding thing: a man accused of rape will have the same response: "It's a lie. I didn't do it." He will say this if he is guilty, and if he is innocent.
Just as predictable is the new refrain. "#MeToo women are making fake rape complaints to get even with men they hate."

In an arena where numbers are unreliable or unavailable and accusations are mutual and emotionally charged, how does one find the truth? Statistics comes in suddenly handy.

Let's say only 1 woman in 10 who have suffered rape will file a report.

Let's say real rape is far more common than fake rape reports (I am certain it is). Let's assume that for every women who files a fake rape report, 10 women would have been raped. But since only 1 of those 10 women will actually file a report, we get a curious outcome: for every woman who files a fake rape claim, there will be only one woman filing a genuine rape complaint.

In other words, 50% of the filed reports would be fake, not because large numbers of women are filing fake rape reports but because 9 in 10 women keep their mouths shut after rape. My oafish beer buddies, uninterested in reason, might gloat here: "We knew it all along!"

But in 2016, 38,947 rapes were reported in India. If these represented just 0.9% of all the rapes that happened, the number of rapes in India that year would have been near 43 lakh.

Even if half of those had been fake rape reports, we'd be a country where 21.5 lakh women were raped and subjugated into silence that year.

There is no defence. There is simply nothing to be said.

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com

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