Mar 232014
 

The other day, I posted a radical idea for one way of making just a small dent in our rape culture. To refresh, I imagined a sort of community-generated database of rape accusations and supporting and refuting evidence, provided by people who might seek to bolster their credibility by linking to their social media profiles, paying money, or both.

I intended my idea to spur thought. I don’t have any intention of launching such a project, for a variety of reasons. But I wouldn’t be sad if someone did.

Three basic types of objections were raised to this idea, both by those I consulted prior to posting the idea and by those commenting on this blog: one legal, and two moral.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m prepared to disregard the legal objections. Seems to me someone either could find a way around them or decide to accept the legal risks.

The moral objections, though, are interesting to me. The first, the one I find compelling, is the karmic objection: this is a nasty project, providing a megaphone to those seeking to harm others (for whatever reason). Why encourage people to engage in such negative, shaming behavior? Why not spend one’s time and energy encouraging people to be constructive with their rage, rather than destructive?

This seems to me an excellent objection. For me. And maybe for you. But maybe not for her. Or for him. In other words, it’s a highly personal view, not unlike religion or vegetarianism. My religious beliefs may be compelling to me, but that doesn’t in any way affect their appeal to you. Just as your view about carnivory is of only incidental interest to me, and zero import for my behavior.

There’s a second objection that’s been raised: it boils down to, “But what about false accusations?!?!?”

I have two responses to this objection – one reasoned, and one, in the words of a blogger friend, “ragey.”

The reasoned one is this: if this project works as I envision it, this would be a risk akin to the risk of “misinformation” on Wikipedia. Sure, there is some. At any point in time, various entries in Wikipedia can become corrupted, biased, or simply wrong. But in the aggregate, Wikipedia is a tremendously accurate and powerful source of information, suffering no greater degree of corruption than Encyclopedia Britannica, its closest relative, which is the encyclopedic equivalent of the legal system in relation to my project. Encyclopedia Britannica is curated, there is substantial quality control, explicit and articulated policies and procedures governing when changes are made, by whom, and for what reasons, etc. All of which is true for Wikipedia too, except that the whole process is governed in a radically decentralized, ideologically heterogeneous, and transparent way, as opposed to in a centralized, ideologically homogenous, and opaque way.

Notwithstanding Wikipedia’s improving quality, there are pages on Wikipedia – particularly those pertaining to subjects of extremely limited interest (see this page on the amusingly named Joe Mycock) – that are clearly useless, misleading, propagandizing, or wrong. And there are others – particularly those pertaining to hotly contested subjects (see this page on “Race and intelligence”) – that are extremely informative in the way that various partisans interact with one another on the contested pages. (A year or so ago, prior to a trip to Belfast, I learned more about the conflict in Northern Ireland from reading the various Wikipedia pages on the subject than I had in years of reading the news.)

The intelligent way to read Wikipedia is the same as the intelligent way to read an encyclopedia, or a newspaper: for what it is – not as the answer to a question, but as the start of an answer, a guide to some of the information available on a subject. Wikipedia is a collection of information provided by anyone interested in shaping the public perception of a given issue, subject, or person. It is not an objective, indisputable compendium of facts, and if you read it as such, you are a fool.

I envision something similar here: Wikirape, or whatever this project would be called, might well have a gazillion pages filled with misinformation – say, false accusations or self-serving testimonies. But it might also have just a few – and maybe, over time, more – pages devoted to bona fide serial rapists and abusers. People whose misdeeds left a trail of unhappy victims/survivors/complainants in their wake. Using an algorithm that weighted social media links, financial contributions, and corroborating vs. refuting testimony (a la Reddit’s thumbs-up/thumbs-down rankings), more credible accusations would be elevated, and less credible ones would find themselves readily assessable as, well, less credible.

I’m not particularly worried about false accusations of rape or abuse being made against me for several reasons: first, because I know that any such accusation would be false. Second, because anyone who knows me (particularly, but not exclusively, anyone who’s ever had anything sexual to do with me) would know such an accusation to be false. Or at least would have a hard time reconciling its prospective truth with what they know about me. And finally, because, as I envision it, if there were a false report against me, it would be one among millions of such false accusations, and the whole thing would become meaningless. No harm, no foul. As one of the commenters on my previous post on this subject testified, it’s already possible for false accusations to do tremendous damage. The question isn’t are false accusations possible, or even harmful. It’s “Does doing something like this meaningfully increase the damage that can be done by false accusations?”

A parenthetical: I have personal experience with the damage that can result from false accusations (not rape). I don’t in any way mean to minimize it, or to deny in a pollyanna-ish way that false accusations can do serious harm. I simply mean that I’m not particularly concerned in this case. I wasn’t before I wrote my post and heard what people had to say, and I’m not now.

Now, my rage-y response: seriously, motherfuckers? You’re worried about false accusations of rape? That’s like saying we should cut welfare because of welfare fraud, or suppress minority or immigrant voting rights because of voter fraud. It’s a way of appealing to people’s basest fears (in the absence of anything other than anecdotal evidence) in support of the status quo which is, in this case, RAPE. (Sorry both for the rage and for the brief implicit jog into two contested political realms. Told you I was rage-y.)

And finally:

Thanks, Ferns, for pointing this out to me. Apparently, there’s a “Predator Alert Tool” for Facebook and OKCupid. I couldn’t figure out the Facebook one, but the OKC one basically is a greasemonkey add-on to your browser that warns if a person’s public answers to questions suggest they might be kinda rapey. In any event, neither seems to be used all that much, rendering them both unlikely to help too much. Sad smile

  7 Responses to “Changing rape culture”

  1. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it makes any sense to compare false rape accusation to such a thing as welfare fraud… They’re apples and pears to me. We’re talking about something that has the potential of ruining innocent lives here (and *yes*, so does rape, but hear me out here…).

    *You* might not have any problems with false accusations towards you, but consider people who work with children, the elderly, victims of such crimes. Do you think they’d let me counsel rape victims if for some reason there would be someone who – for whatever reason – decides to accuse me of rape? Do you think they’d let my foster children stay with me?

    Perhaps after a very, *very* long and intense investigation into my personal life and career, when my name is cleared, but in the meantime I’d be suspended without pay, the foster children I care for would be ripped out of my home, if I’d even have a home because my bills would go unpaid. And even after my name would have been cleared… I live in a very small town. People love to talk. By the time everything has been cleared up, the story would have taken on a life of its own. It might not be true, but when enough people have shared their “Well, *I’ve* heard that [insert random ‘detail’ here]” people will start to avoid you ‘just in case’. Then I’m back at work, and someone who has been raped is assigned to my case load. How comfortable would they be talking to someone being accused of doing the exact thing they had to suffer through and are now dealing with?

    During all of which, I’ve done nothing wrong.

    I’m all for preventing rape, but when it becomes a trade-off? Nope, sorry. I don’t think anyone can decide losing your house, your job, your kids, basically your life when you are guilty of absolutely nothing is worth it when maybe, somewhere, a woman (or man) will check a website to see if their date is (perhaps again falsely) accused of rape.

    • I actually do. I think that if I post online, on my blog, that I know you’re a rapist, I think that would (and should) have zero impact on background checks.

  2. Rape is a criminal offense, imagine the police keep looking for you to get the details of each accusation! Are you willing to spend the time for the police who will always visit you ?

  3. I don’t have time to write a full length essay yet. Maybe I’ll come back to this. But in the mean time, I happened upon this today, and thought it was possibly (probably?) a better way of changing rape culture…
    https://medium.com/p/1d20ea8b9064

  4. It’s given that existing reporting mechanisms are broken. The cost of reporting for many victims is huge, and the benefit is negligible. The question is how to create a system which reverses that.

    On the benefit side, one of the goals in reporting is a reduction in future incidence. Since we know that most rapists and harassers are serial offenders, making their identities known makes sense.

    On the cost side, however, victim-blaming is a national past-time. The spectre of false-positives is just one of the faces this takes. Making a credible account often requires the victim to make public personal information about themselves and the attack. For somebody who has already been traumatized, this makes the reporting process itself traumatic. If the account makes them personally identifiable, reporting can have personal and professional repercussions. Add to this the fact that the internet, unchecked, can be horrifically, violently hostile towards women. Wikirape would need to address at least some of these issues, and be able to position itself as a “safe harbour” for victims to come forward.

    Having a system which is accepted to contain a high number of false reports bothers me, even if there is a way to gauge the veracity of a report. People are lazy, and generally pre-disposed to find reasons to discount rape and harassment allegations. Why would a victim disclose rape on a forum where most reports aren’t believed?

    Ian Ayres & Cait Unkovic tackle some of these problems in “Information Escrows”[1]. What they propose is to have individual accounts privately held by a trusted intermediary, to be shared only if multiple accounts regarding the same person are received. They’re focused more on sexual harassment in professional and education institutions, but it’s worth a read.

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