Yesterday, Joanie Faircloth (real name Elizabeth Harris) who accused Bright Eyes lead singer Conor Oberist of raping her, issued a formal and notarized apology to the public. You can read the apology below:
“The statements I made and repeated online and elsewhere over the past six months accusing Conor Oberst of raping me are 100% false. I made up those lies about him to get attention while I was going through a difficult period in my life and trying to cope with my son’s illness. I publicly retract my statements about Conor Oberst, and sincerely apologize to him, his family, and his fans for writing such awful things about him. I realize that my actions were wrong and could undermine the claims of actual sexual assault victims and for that I also apologize. I’m truly sorry for all the pain that I caused.”
The original accusation against Oberist was made in the comments section of an XOJane “It Happened to Me” article, and while the comment has since been deleted, it is available for public viewing in the cloud here. While false rape accusations are rare (they account for 2% of reported rates) they are still criminal accusations that have damaging consequences against the innocent party once a formal police investigation is underway. Social media (specifically online social justice activism) tends to make light of the conversation around false rape accusations by stating that they never happen, or occur at such a rate that they should not be talked about or taken seriously. This rhetoric is harmful for two reasons.
First – it’s a gross disrespect of the judicial process in which all people are innocent until proven guilty. By ignoring the reality that false rape accusations occur at all, it enables the media industry to capitalize on the popular frenzy of rape and sexual assault accusations without being held accountable in the event that it is found they were reporting something that is false. Yes, the percentage of rape accusations that turn out to be false is small, but the people they affect are innocent human beings who may now have permanently damaged lives. It’s important to note that at one point in American history, false rape accusations were used as a way for white females to avoid the social shame of having slept with a black slave or freeman.
“Some White women claimed victimization when a sexual relationship with a Black man was discovered to cover up a relationship with a Black male. Oftentimes, it was the family who used criminal charges to hide the knowledge of an illicit relationship; however, the woman did have to give consent to the criminal charges.” (Any Four Black Men Will Do: Rape, Race, and the Ultimate Scapegoat; Tracey Owens Patton and Julie Snyder-Yuly; Journal of Black Studies 2007; 37; 859 2007)
There were no lengthy and fair trials for slaves and freemen and justice was usually decided quickly, and delivered with great prejudice. False rape accusations in the past have led to the death of innocent people because one part was simply ashamed of the consensual sex they engaged in. Moreover, this notion of shame and regret from sexual intercourse with a group of people deemed less than desirable still persists today:
“Statements by the Finnish Police estimate that false rape accusations have risen in like manner with female alcohol consumption in the country and that many false rape accusations are made when intoxicated. Many of the people falsely accused of rape are men of immigrant background.” ( “Raiskausilmoituksista yli viidennes perättömiä” (in Finnish).Turun Sanomat. 30 June 2010. )
The second reason false rape accusations should be treated seriously is that they detract from the validity of people are are true victims of sexual assault and rape. When cases like these are proven false, it gives certain communities cannon-fodder to go on tirades about how rape is not a problem and is only the result of a person’s shame or regret. This proves troublesome because it denies men and women who have been sexually assaulted proper avenues to finding help without a social stigma attached to them (the boy/girl who cried wolf). The willful use of false sexual assault accusations damages the lives of the innocent and hurts those who have been, or will be actual victims of sexual assault.
To close, here is the definition of a false rape accusation:
“A false accusation of rape is the intentional reporting of a rape by an alleged victim when no rape has occurred. Studies have found that police classify between 1.5 and 8% of rape accusations as unfounded, unproven or false, however researchers say those determinations are often dubious….The United States Justice Department agrees, saying false accusations “are estimated to occur at the low rate of two percent — similar to the rate of false accusations for other violent crimes.” (Source)