No. Women do not cry rape. This is not my opinion- this is a fact. There are many reasons why people, and especially many men, fear that women lie about sexual assault and they may not be the reasons you would think.
Fact: Rape is not falsely reported at any higher rate than any other crime. The rate of false reports is 2%, the same percentage as false reports of robbery.
“So why have I heard/assumed/felt like women cry rape until now?“
Reasons most people don’t understand sexual assault as a crime:
1. Most people don’t understand what TRAUMA means. This makes victims look bad. *TRIGGER WARNING*
Trauma is a normal response to a highly stressful situation, especially if that situation is sudden or unexpected, if the person feels helpless or fears for their safety, and/or if the person feels unprepared to deal with the situation. All these causes of trauma come together for a victim of sexual assault, particularly when, as is most common, the victim knew and/or trusted their attacker prior to the crime.
Some effects of trauma that greatly complicate reporting sexual assault are:
Freezing/dissociating- victims of sexual assault often report feeling in such a state of shock that they literally lost the ability to speak (i.e. couldn’t say the word “no” or “stop”), let alone fight off their attacker. They often report feeling that they left their bodies and experienced the attack as though they were watching it happen to someone else. Because of this, the legal definition of CONSENT is “a freely given ‘yes’,” not the absence of a ‘no’. Unfortunately for victims, most people, including those on juries, do not understand this issue.
Shock, denial, or disbelief- many victims do not recognize what happened to them as sexual assault until later, due to the trauma associated with the event.
Guilt, shame, self-blame- it is extremely common for victims to blame themselves for what happened to them, and unfortunately in this society, it is common for many other people to blame victims as well (i.e. the Toronto police officer whose victim-blaming comments launched the SlutWalk protest marches). Not only is this a reason that keeps victims from reporting, but it provides more evidence that no woman in her right mind would “cry rape” without fear of severe retaliation (anyone heard about the Texas cheerleader who lost in court to the school that forced her to cheer for her attacker?).
Confusion, difficulty concentrating, insomnia- even victims who were completely sober during their attacks often have trouble remembering exactly what happened to them in a linear way. This makes reporting difficult, and may make it appear to the uninformed observer that the victim is lying because she “doesn’t have her facts straight.”
Anxiety and fear- victims may feel and act jumpy or nervous when reporting, which again, to the ill-informed, may seem suspicious. Furthermore, due to intense and persistent fear (as a result of trauma), victims sometimes recant even when their story was true, making it seem difficult to believe.
2. Most people don’t understand what CONSENT means. This makes perpetrators not look so bad.
Consent means a freely given “yes”, not the absence of a no. After an attack, questions that outsiders often raise are, “Did she say no clearly? Did she fight? How hard did she fight? Was it really super duper crystal clear to him that she wanted him to stop?” Now that you understand what TRAUMA means, you know why this questions become largely irrelevant.
THERE ARE SEVERAL SITUATIONS IN WHICH A PERSON CANNOT LEGALLY GIVE CONSENT.
People under 18 years old (in the state of Wisconsin) cannot legally give consent. That means, even if a minor says “yes”, it is not legal to have any sexual contact with them, especially for an adult. That didn’t stop the New York Times from blaming an 11-year-old girl for her assault by multiple attackers last year.
People with a significant cognitive disability or who are otherwise unable to think clearly (i.e. dementia) cannot legally give consent. That means, even if they say “yes”, it is not legal to have any sexual contact with them, especially for a caregiver who is fully aware of their condition.
PEOPLE WHO ARE SEVERELY INTOXICATED CANNOT LEGALLY GIVE CONSENT. That means, if a person is so drunk/high that their eyes are rolling back in their head, their speech is slurred, they have trouble walking, they are vomiting or passing out, it is NOT LEGAL TO HAVE ANY KIND OF SEXUAL CONTACT WITH THEM even if they say “yes”, or even if you have had sex with that person in the past. So when a woman blacks out and realizes the next day that she was assaulted, her attacker (and everyone else) should know better than to argue, “She said yes, she just doesn’t remember.” Because EVEN IF SHE SAID YES, that “yes” did not count because she was TOO INTOXICATED to give consent, legally.
And for those of you out there wondering, “How is that fair? How can I know if someone is too intoxicated to have sex with?” Here’s your answer: if you have to wonder, if there is any doubt, DON’T DO IT. The consequences of misjudging just how drunk a person was are too severe for them (trauma) and for you (i.e. jail time and the life-long label of “sex offender”, along with the guilt of causing another human severe trauma).
Finally, consent is a PROCESS of communication between sexual partners that never ends. It’s not enough for someone to say yes at the beginning. That’s not a license for the other person to do whatever they want for as long as they want. Sexual partners have a legal and moral responsibility to continually monitor their partner’s body language to ensure their enthusiastic consent. If a person appears scared, uncomfortable, in pain, frozen, crying, etc. during sex STOP IMMEDIATELY and ask, “Are you okay? Do you want to keep doing this? Do you want to do something else?” and then listen to and respect the answer. If you don’t stop, THAT IS RAPE. Even if you are married.
I want to finish this post with a positive note about men. There’s a stereotype that feminists hate men, and this is especially strong when we think of women who work in sexual assault prevention or victim services. I’ve been accused of being a man-hater once or twice, and I want to be very clear about this: I do not hate men. I love and respect men, actually. The vast majority of men are good, non-violent people. I know and work with so many wonderful men. Perpetrators are a small number of repeat offenders (usually), and I will even go as far as to give some of them the benefit of the doubt that maaaybe they didn’t fully understand what they were doing. Unless a man has been anally penetrated, I can understand how he might have a hard time understanding exactly how devastating rape is to the body and psyche of another person. Also many men get backwards ideas of what normal sex looks like from violent pornography and other media. This is not an excuse, however. Where perpetrators differ from the majority of men (and yes, women can be perpetrators too, but let’s face it over 90% of sexual assault is committed by men regardless of the gender of the victim) is that for most men, if they are having sex and their partner appears to be in pain, they stop immediately. And I will make this point with people using themselves or men they know (if speaking with a woman) and they almost ALWAYS say, “Well, he’s a really special guy…” or “Well you can’t hold all men to the moral standard I hold myself to…” to which I have to say, “Whoa– and people think I hate men?” I don’t believe that men are sex-crazy animals with no self-control. I don’t believe that they are morally inferior to women. I think more highly of men than that, and it’s time that all of us start holding EVERYONE to the same moral standards when it comes to sexual assault. Stop questioning the victim. Start questioning the perpetrators.