The Wrong-Headedness of Roy Black's Proposal for "Modest Reforms" for Protection of Rape Victims

By Katie Feifer

Roy Black, a noted criminal defense attorney who helped William Kennedy Smith get an acquittal on rape charges in 1991, recently wrote an essay in Salon.com that began with a good point and then veered so seriously wrong that we were stunned (but not surprised.) And then shocked into responding.

Black's good point is this: there is no justice served in humiliating and convicting men accused of rape before they are tried in court. We do not condone "perp walks" and public smearing of reputations. We want civility and fairness in our treatment of those in the news. We agree that there should be no "rush to judgement" and that rape cases are not well-served when they are tried in the media.  So far, so good.

But then, in the name of "equality" between rape victims and those they accuse of rape, Black goes off the rails in his rush to judge rape victims as women who routinely falsely accuse men of rape. Utilizing discredited research and playing upon prevailing myths about "women who cry rape" he argues that we ought to eliminate most of the protections for victims we enacted since the 1970s. These were put in place to make it easier for women who were raped to report to police and cooperate in the prosecution of rapists. The idea that more prosecutions would results in more convictions, and that more rapists would be in prison, making society safer.

In Roy Black's world, the only way to protect the privacy and reputationof men accused of rape would be to make it even more impossible than in already is for a woman to bring a rape accusation to police. In Black's world, a woman would have to have corroborating evidence of a rape taking place, which we know seldom occurs. In this world, a woman would have to prove "a clear element of force or the threat of force."  

In fact, the rates of false rape accusations are quite low: reputable research puts it at 2-8% of accusations - a level no different than for other crimes. In fact, the vast majority of women who are raped NEVER report it to the police. Conviction rates are excceedingly low. We invite you to read some of the reputable research reports in our reference materials section.

Also, take a look at how Susan Brownmiller, who in 1975 wrote the groundbreaking book "Against our Will", took Black to task in a pointed response printed in Salon.com. 

We believe that adopting Black's "modest reforms" will only make things more "equitable" for men accused of rape by further depressing the number of women who bravely come forward to accuse someone of raping them. It's so clearly the wrong solution to the problem he poses, it makes us wonder: why would this prominent defense attorney even suggest this?

Because he's a brilliant defense attorney. His Salon.com argument will make it even easier for him to gain acquittals for men accused of rape, because he perpetuates so many myths about rape victims. Decrying the media trial of men accused of rape, he uses the media to put on trial those women who make rape accusations. Sickening, but a brilliant defense strategy. Prosecutor Roger Canaff eloquently argues against the myths and points out Black's fallacies in his blog.

The myths about rape and its victims are among the most resistant to squelch. Perpetuating these myths serve many powerful people and powerful purposes. We continue to fight against these myths, and once again urge our readers to arm yourselves with the facts, and use them to discredit these myths whenever and wherever you hear them.

Start by Believing

By Katie Feifer

A new public awareness and education campaign developed by End Violence Against Women, International entitled "Start by Believing" fits quite well with the mission of CounterQuo: to challenge and change the way our society responds to sexual violence. "Start by Believing" is premised on the notion that every step a rape victim takes on the path to healing, and every step our authorities take to hold rapists accountable for their crimes, is predicated on people believing the victim, and acting accordingly. When someone doesn't believe - when, for example, a police officer doesn't believe and refuses to conduct an investigation, or when a victim's friend doesn't believe it was "really rape" and tells her it wasn't a crime and she just needs to "get over it", we fail. We fail to support victims. We fail to get rapists off the street - which means more crime, because we know that the "average" rapist attacks six times.

So, "Start by Believing." Know the facts and share them. And recognize what are, indeed, facts and what are merely opinions and myths about rape.

For more on that, read Roger Canaff's blog on the "Start by Believing" campaign. Among the many facts he cites (and sources with real, credible research - unlike those who would claim otherwise) "... in the vast majority of cases, there is no reason to doubt the victim making the allegation. Further, even if one believes the victim, blaming her for "her part" in inviting her victimization is both wrong-headed and counter-productive."

We can't say it enough, and we invite you to keep saying it too, using the facts at your disposal through Roger's blog and the "Start by Believing" campaign, as well as through the resources here at CounterQuo.org.