Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ophelia the Racist

Occasionally the Atheism+ forum generates some good points.

Most of the thought provoking posts come from little eureka moments, when the Atheism+ forum proles discover that their forefathers at FreeThoughtBlogs and their cousins at Skepchick are departing from the ten commandments of cyber social justice.

For example, it's inevitable that one of the Atheism+ crew discovers that PZ Myers' humor is often reprehensible. Likewise Skepchick often condones absurd abusive tactics in some support of no clear goals in particular.

More recently, Atheism+ has discovered latent racist biases in its own ranks.

The story's beginnings:

  1. A friend of Ophelia Benson's posts a picture of a "virginity test" conducted in Nigeria to Facebook
  2. Facebook axes her account because the image was very graphic
  3. Benson recounts the story on her blog and includes the photograph

Benson states:
[...] The problem is not Acharya posting the graphic image, the problem is what is being done to those little girls.
Acharya (the Facebook profile owner) is quoted: (emphasis added)
I posted the uncensored, shocking photo on Facebook because it is important to see the utter indignity these poor girls must suffer – this horrible abuse is now being done in the West. How can we battle it, if we can’t see what it is? As we can see from this Google Images search, the photograph is still there – is Facebook going to ban Google Images as well?
Benson adds:
Time to rattle Facebook’s cage again.

To describe the image so one not Google it and ruin their day - the photograph depicts a number of girls, barely clothed and lying beside each other on the ground in a setting that is not recognizable as anything at all resembling a modern medical institution, let alone a sterile environment.

In the photo several older women can be seen "examining" the girls with their hands. No instruments can be seen in the photo - not as much as a latex glove is present.

There can be little doubt that the scene depicts a crude test for virginity, as it's difficult to imagine something so strange and adhoc being a part of any necessary medical procedure. The girls are being abused - the practice must stop.

Meanwhile, back in our land of first world dramas... what happens next?

Atheism+ shows up.

The Atheism+ thread: [TW:rape] "Exploitation Porn" and Exposing Atrocity

AndyTheNerd writes:
I just had to see a graphic photo of little kids getting raped. Which of course is nothing compared to the horror of that actually happening, I am fully aware. I got no trigger warning, it was not hidden behind a cut, it was right there in my RSS feed. See, my feed reader (Feedly) takes the first image on the page and turns it into an icon along side a preview snippet of the text. Which in this case was said graphic photo. Thanks, Ophelia Benson. 
And what, pray tell, was the content of this post? How outrageous it was that someone else's Facebook account was permanently deactivated for sharing the uncensored photo for all to see. In my mind, sharing an uncensored video of child rape doesn't add anything to the educational value of the message being shared (exposing "virginity tests" for what they really are), nor does it add much shock value over what a censored photo would carry.
This isn't actually a rant, it's a question: am I completely off base here to think that Facebook is in the right and the sharer was in the wrong? Am I overreacting to think that people shouldn't have to look at rape? Am I off-base to think that these photos are actually exploiting those children? Or am I just worried about my little pristine sanitized bubble not being popped?

Kassiane adds:
For once facebook is right. Wow.
Onamission5 writes:
If it was the rape of my kids on public display for anyone to shockhorror or ogle over, I'd be beyond viciously traumatized, as would my kids. The rape of any child, anyone at all, is not shock fodder. I felt the same way about display of the Steubenville victim. How was reposting still shots of her rape on outraged blogs any different *for her* from passing them around her school?
ApostateltsopA writes:
Child rape porn on FTB. Disappointed and furious.
[...] At least I agree it is an atrocity. Jesus fucking christ on a wafer that is some sick, sick shit. Apparently if you get raped in Africa he images are anthropology. I called it dark anti-inspiration porn I can not believe what I am seeing.
armoredscrumobject writes:
That is indeed an outrageous state of affairs, but in this situation it's obscene to treat this like a standard let's-all-invoke-the-Streisand-effect situation and give Facebook top billing as the villain.
I can't wait until someone finds the photos my abuser has and posts them around to protest child sexual abuse. Anthropology!
Yeah I'm getting so much ageism and racism from this. They're brown AND young, so these aren't pictures of people being raped being posted without consent, it's a nature documentary featuring animals.

I just literally can't get my head into a place that agrees with the identity and other protections offered to western victims, admittedly highly imperfectly, and the brazen unedited image posted on FTB. How does someone hold onto that level of cognitive dissonance? "Anthropology" my ass.
oh this isn't the first time Ophelia's had major issues with stuff that isn't feminism -- which, we should all be reminded, usually means "liberation for well-off able white cis women and fuck everyone else" in practice.

That comment thread is an absolute train wreck. I can't believe that people are actually saying those things, particularly Acharya S. People who disagree with her support child abuse? Reprehensible. 
The "thread" is the comments back at Benson's blog, where the Facebook-poster of the photo is defending her choices:

it is not difficult to understand how an ANTHROPOLOGICAL IMAGE of a RELIGIOUS and COMING OF AGE RITUAL is different from the trash people keep fixating on. The photo in question was in a magazine story about a initiation ritual performed in Africa. These virginity tests are described graphically on Wikipedia and elsewhere. They are done PUBLICLY and with great pride by an entire CULTURE, not filmed in a back room by a bunch of pedophiles. Honestly, where IS your mind at?
Moreover, this invasive procedure is now being done increasingly in the West, and entire governments such as the Canadian are now having to deal with this issue. I can guarantee that the doctors dealing with this issue are seeing much worse than what is in this photo – they are undoubtedly also reading medical and anthropological literature with many such images in them, possibly dating back decades, as this CULTURAL PRACTICE is very ancient.
As I’ve stated repeatedly, I was raised on National Geographic magazine. I have read many anthropological stories, while it appears the barely literate critics are ignorant of the world at large.
The people making vile comments are displaying their own psyches, and I do not appreciate these disgusting remarks and insinuations – again, they reflect your own minds. And such abuses of persons trying to expose these practices and prevent them from occurring in our lands will only help this tradition to flourish.
If we allow such ugliness chase activists from the stage, there will be no voices for the millions of women and children who are at risk for this invasive and abusive practice. SHAME ON YOU for trying to bully us into silence with your nasty interpretations and myopic vision.
In the meantime, Ophelia and I are actually trying to HELP these poor females, while you with your perverse mentalities are standing in the way. Again, for shame! I would also bet that the people making such foul comments are misogynists and sexists in significant part. I reject this mentality and will continue to fight for females globally not to be oppressed by this intrusive practice. An entire state in Indonesia wants to make this abuse MANDATORY for ALL schoolgirls, and you’re going to sit here giving us flack? Disgraceful and disgusting.
It’s ugliness like this practice that needs to be banned, not those who expose it. Whose side are you on? That of the abusers?
Indeed, she actually did bold the word misogynists to describe the Atheism+ critics.

As no discussion would be complete without the Nazis, Benson brings us back to war:

Hey, you know who else didn’t give consent to being photographed naked and abused? The piles of corpses being bulldozed into mass graves after the Allies liberated the death camps.
You know another? Kim Phuc, the nine-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked down a road screaming in pain from the napalm burns on her back. She appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

Who is correct?

Perhaps neither.

Benson's mention of Kim Phuc brings up a good point. Sometimes photographs of truly evil events help many understand the gravity of the situation.

It's easy to read of a bomb ripping apart a building and killing some number of the 7 billion individuals on the planet. It's not quite as easy to dismiss witnessing the events rendered as something other than sterile English sentences on broadsheet.

Enter Diane

Thanksgiving of 2013, an interesting story appeared on Twitter. It was the story of Diane, a lady who allegedly became absolutely irate about a late flight and harassing airline staff. Diane apparently made a huge fuss about not seeing her family, not quite understanding that the audience did not care as they were experiencing the same distress.

Elan, the Twitter author of the story, traded notes with Diane. The notes sent to Diane were generally designed to provoke, insult and shame Diane. The notes were received were in character, painting Diane as angry, assertive and humorless.

Ophelia Benson wrote several lengthy posts about Elan's story, first picking up a story that Diane may have had cancer. When it was not apparent the cancer story was true, Benson (fairly) argued that Elan's behavior was out of line.

The wrap up of the story was Elan admitting that Diane did not exist and the entire story was fabricated.

In response, Benson writes:

So it was comedy, staged for the world’s entertainment.
What genre of comedy? Humiliation comedy; public shaming comedy; hipster guy taunting an unhip woman in unhip jeans comedy, with the pretext that she was self-absorbed and slightly rude to a flight attendant. That kind of comedy. “Edgy” – which is hipster-speak for mean.
I see it as more of a Milgram experiment than a witty short story. Much more. The fact that so many people admired his reported self-righteous bullying tells us a lot, whether that’s what Elan Gale intended or not. Way too many people pushed the dial all the way up, merely because the guy in the white coat hipster hair told them to.

This sharp criticism of the game of public humiliation is a rare sight on "social justice" blogs. Usually public shaming is the unquestioned norm. That it took a fake story about a woman to potentially change this says a great deal.

But it's interesting also in the context of the "exploitation porn" in the earlier discussion.

If a "social justice" blogger shares a humiliating photo under the banner of potentially preventing further victimization, then that is easily explained as necessary. Presumably it's also fine if the only apparent result from the share is the "activist" feeling good about themselves and raking in a bit more ad revenue.

At the same time, creating a fictional comedy based on an angry old white lady getting a piece of someone's mind is apparently taking things too far.

Angry women on US Airways flights need space.

Girls in developing nations need to be followed around by photographers.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Don't Talk About Suicide

Apparently PZ Myers believes suicide gets too much media coverage.

In a post titled, "Robin Williams brings joy to the hearts of journalists and politicians once again", PZ writes:

I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people. I mean, really: young 18 year old black man gunned down for walking in the street vs. 63 year old white comedian killing himself? Which of those two stories gives you an excuse to play heart-warming and funny video clips non-stop on your 24 hour news channel? Besides, the real story in Missouri is that businesses have been damaged by angry black people — no one is going to trash the Family Dollar in rage over the death of a popular comedian. Mike Brown’s death is confusing — the police say he was a shoplifter struggling to get a gun, while no stores reported a shoplifting event, and Brown was unarmed and shot while raising his hands in surrender. Where’s the moral clarity? We’re supposed to want to believe the police, you know, yet all the evidence points to their status as a gang of militarized thugs. That’s very uncomfortable.
Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. [The rest of the post is redacted as PZ doxxes a woman making racist comments on Facebook and subjects her to his vigilante hate machine]

There are many things that are reprehensible and tone-deaf about Myers' statements.

But the most offensive thing is PZ Myers failed spectacularly at his half-assed attempt at making points already made by a black comic.

Enter Patrice O'Neal:

It's clear why Robin Williams is dominating the headlines. He's Robin Williams. Pretending he's just another wealthy white dude is to insult his contributions and erase his status as an icon. Any ultra rich white male Fortune 500 CEO could kill himself tomorrow and nobody would bother taking notice.

The point O'Neal brings to the table is this - many white women are household names simply because they have been victimized. If Myers is really interested in the logical path he's on, he should really find himself the courage to ask why we know the names Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, Amanda Knox.

Consider the position that many "feminist" social justice bloggers find themselves in when criticizing coverage of Robin Williams. Many of them only have exposure because their own trumped-up victimization took precedence over what someone could say were more pressing events of the day. Every little thing said to them can turn into a drama that keeps their online community busy for days, if not years. "Microaggression" is a word often used in a serious manner. The same "social justice" community of white folk in the orbit of Minnesota also finds themselves rationalizing their fears of black men in enclosed spaces. Does this sound odd?

Williams' death should give some focus to the fact that ninety people commit suicide everyday. Hopefully we can have this discussion as well as question why so many black men are being shot and killed. Ultimately black men have to face both issues - speaking as if one is obscuring the other is pointlessly argumentative and derailing.

Among all this, Robin Williams' daughter is receiving abusive messages. How many of them are from FTB readers?

PZ Myers is just another nasty troll.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fifty Shades of Blurred Lines

Occasionally it's difficult to know what people are thinking.

Or perhaps, most of the time it is quite difficult to know what people are thinking.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" is going to be a movie.

This beginning is to not dwell on or point out specific problems in this particular piece of Twilight fan fiction. Hopefully one can be forgiven for not caring.

The "Fifty Shades" movie is just a backgrounder in a confusing feminist discourse.

The item in pop culture that more frequently finds itself under the lens of feminist culture police is Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines : 

Trigger warning: This is the uncensored version, so there is a lot of #FreeTheNipple within. You're welcome.

Despite many good reasons to believe that the song is not actually a rape anthem, many "feminists" remain convinced the song's lyrics promote a rape culture. Perhaps the concept can be summarized in that they believe that consent is cast as a "blurred line" and the protagonist of the song believes he knows better than the "good girl" he desires. No matter what wave you are in the feminist sea, this would not be a good look.

The most recent "progressive" "feminist" drama related to the song is that it was apparently played at a "Netroots Nation" afterparty. This is amusing as "Netroots Nation" is a yearly conference where a bunch of "progressive" bloggers playing identity politics discuss how ineffective they have been in the last year while organized labor groups waste their time begging for their attention. To certain people in that crowd, feminism begins and ends with the critique of MTV - so it should not be a surprise that playing the song was an explosive act.

It may be assumed that some people danced anyways, as alcohol is truly a divine gift.

Getting back to the world of literature, a funny thing happens while debating the details of gender relations. It turns out that Twilight is a recurring theme.

In fact, some would-be supporters of "social justice" "feminism" spend their time authoring vampire romance novels. Others that blast a "rape culture" find themselves aroused by werewolves.

And the Queen Bee of everything wrong with feminism today - Jezebel - is on the case of the "so hot it's illegal" criminals:

(Slate would have picked up on the story of the felon if it wasn't preoccupied by the World Cup)

"Feminism" is typically fast to point out primitive behaviors - a man's glance found too much a gaze, a song found too catchy, a rape joke found too funny.

Yet the conversation does not explore women's sexuality. Who supports objectification, rape culture, submission? Men. Slut shamers. Conservatives. The boring, predictable list goes on.

The man that would sing Blurred Lines is undoubtedly ignorant, obsessed, persuasive, pushy, arrogant and dismissive.

It's just a shame he's not a rich vampire werewolf that was just released from prison.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blowing Smoke

"Progressive" or otherwise touted to be clever media outlets pushing concern is not a new phenomenon. As we know, NPR is great at this sort of thing.

It is just disappointing every time it happens.

One occurrences of late of this was a few items in Charles M Blow's piece for the New York Times, titled "Yes, All Men".

Let's just roll out the numbers and facts directly from his article: (Assume US if not specified)

  • Intimate partner violence - 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced intimate-partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. However, some national violence studies show that up to 70 percent of women have at some point experienced violence from an intimate partner.
  • Percentage of murders due to intimate partner violence - Violence by intimate partners accounts for between 40 percent and 70 percent of all murders of women.
  • Child Brides - 64 million girls worldwide are child brides; 46 percent of women ages 20 to 24 in South Asia and 41 percent in West and Central Africa report that they married before the age of 18. 
  • FGM - 140 million girls and women in the world have suffered female genital mutilation/cutting. 
  • Sexual harassment in schools - 83 percent of girls 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
  • Higher HIV transmission risk - Women are already two to four times more likely than men to become infected with H.I.V. during intercourse.
  • Nonconsensual sex is injurious - Rape increases the risks because of limited condom use and physical injuries.
  • Percentage of HIV infections due to intimate partner violence - Percentage of 11.8 percent of new H.I.V. infections in the previous year among women 20 or older were attributed to intimate-partner violence.

Let's look at these items again, but let's bucket them first:

Serious issues:

  • Intimate partner violence
  • Sexual harassment in schools
Serious issues relying on Islam or similarly backwards cultures for life:
  • Child Brides 
  • FGM 
Grisly reminders of awful realities that greatly impact women:
  • Higher HIV transmission risk
  • Nonconsensual sex is injurious
Statistical bullshit:
  • Percentage of murders due to intimate partner violence
  • Percentage of HIV infections due to intimate partner violence
Let's focus on the last two just to see where we go wrong when talking up feminism "by the numbers".

Nonsense Percentages

The two datapoints touted are thus - the percentage of deaths and  the percentage of infections of women that are due to intimate partner violence.

The problem is, what should these percentages be?

The perpetrators of 35% to 70% of all murders of women are current or former partners. Is this number alone supposed to be alarming? 

Given that in a given year some number of women will be murdered, what percentage of murders should be the blame of a perfect stranger

Switching to HIV infections, let's assume that a woman will contract HIV this year. According to the data, 12% of infections are due to intimate partner violence. But let's look at the big picture.

The potential causes of new infection for an adult woman:
  • A blood transfusion
  • An ignorant partner
  • Sharing needles
  • A malicious partner (rape or other intentional infection - intimate partner violence)
  • A malicious stranger (rape or other intentional infection)
  • Other causes
Having no control over the absolute number of infected, what cause or causes would should make up the majority of infections? Are we hoping that ignorance and neglect always eclipses the purposefully evil?

It may sound strange, but it may be the world we should hope to live in would be one where from the perspective of percentages, intimate partner violence would make up the vast majority of all violent assault and murder.

Imagine two worlds - one where most violent assault is caused by jealous partners enacting a sadistic revenge, and the other that is more prone for motives to be more frequently aligned with paltry sums of money, boredom or randomly directed madness. Which is actually preferable?

Rounded out reasoning

Near the conclusion of the article, Blow writes:
“The U.S. has a larger gender gap than 22 other countries including Germany, Ireland, Nicaragua and Cuba, according to a World Economic Forum report ... [that] rates 136 countries on gender equality, and factors in four categories: economic opportunity, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.”
The CNN piece covers the article:
Why wasn't the U.S. even close to the top? While the country scores high on economic opportunity and education for women, it scores poorly on political empowerment.
Yes, Cuba apparently scored higher than the United States in a rating that included political empowerment.

How is political empowerment scored?

Seemingly only by checking the genitals of politicians. The United States actually wouldn't have scored as high as it did if people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Susana Martínez did not exist. Which is rather humorous as there is surely a New York Times columnist that would say that these three politicians do not represent women. Where is Maureen Dowd when you need her?

Back to the subject at hand - the report.

What Blow leaves out is that the only G8 countries that managed to score higher than the United States are Canada and Germany. This matters a great deal more than scoring worse than South Africa, Lesotho and Nicaragua. Those that tuned in for a look at "everyday" statistics already know that the "gender equality" of these countries loses some of its meaning after considering the frequency of the murder of women.

Blow also ignores that countries with "progressive" policies like longer maternity leave often have a larger gender wage gap.

Blow again quotes his son:
"It’s very important for everyone to be a feminist."

Now, what else is important?

Sunday, June 1, 2014


There is another statistic floating around.

How many women are killed by a specific group of people over a specific time period.

Let's add some context to these numbers.

First, a direct comparison of gender violence - in South Africa, 3 women every day are killed.

Which may not seem high, until one understands that South Africa is only about a fifth of the total population of the United States.

Another statistic - 18 black males are killed every day  ("Black males accounted for about 52% (or 6,800) of the nearly 13,000 male homicide victims in 2005")

There are 90 suicides a day (70 of them men)

And about 22 veterans commit suicide every day. (Men and women)

What's this all mean?

Does it mean we should not be concerned about the three women that will be killed tomorrow by their current or former partners?

No, it simply means we need to understand why people feel the "three a day" statistic is particularly alarming. The number itself is a pointless measure. It could be one per day, it could be ten a day. Most people would at all notice large changes in this statistic.

What men and women do see when they mention this statistic is not really any substantive claim of what these numbers ought to be, but how their own interactions with others have the potential to escalate to injury or death.

The statistics are not false, just a reflection of one's focus and state of mind. What is lost in this "per day" statistic is what is actually "everyday".

What is everyday is abuse of all forms - verbal, physical and emotional abuse.

What is everyday is distress of all forms - fear, hatred, regret, paranoia.

This perspective - violence born out of misogynistic hatred is ignored everyday. Male entitlement and sexual dominance is excused or condoned everyday through daily cat calls, butt slaps and suggestive humor.

To add insult to injury, misogyny is again ignored when it goes as far as to kill three women a day in a serious betrayal of trust - violence from a partner.

Misogyny kills. Debate over, right?

Of course, much of this does not resonate as much as some people would like it to among an ever-present band of critics, skeptics, "trolls", "men's rights activists" and other argumentative types. Why?

Each group has their own reasons for being disagreeable, but perhaps some numbers can illustrate some facts.

Start at the beginning - adults tend to hit boys more than girls (1 2). Further, around 1 in 6 boys may be victims of sexual abuse. Later, as adolescents, boys abuse one another at alarming frequency.

Then comes the transition to adulthood. Marked not only by age, but also by having rounded the bases with a woman. But not just any woman - this aspect is important. The woman in this phase is thought by many feminists as an object of sexual desire, however the woman is perhaps more an object of social status.

The importance of this status perhaps is most obvious when a "hot" female teacher beds a boy in her class. Instead of being a statutory rape like any other, it is often viewed as the teacher blessing the boy with respect for a lifetime. The signal is that the boy may be a prodigy - in this case, the law exists just to insult the maturity and charisma of the young go-getter. The view is that the boy has hit a home run so far that the beta males had to be killjoys and made it illegal.

In adulthood, the messed up priorities and violence still rule the day. This time, as careers. 12% of males between 25 and 34 are veterans. Additionally, we pay men to wear badges and point guns at the bad men closer to home. While these men are paid to maintain law and order, it often does not work out that way.

Men with less exciting roles have the privilege of playing the trendy macho game of "Safety Harnesses are for Cowards" at work.

Thankfully enough males behave well enough so most of the population can enjoy watching men die on television in relative peace.

Within all this, occasionally men manage to surprise us in their capacity for evil. At this point, we have a moment of clarity and realize that male problem solving is fundamentally broken.

The internet at large, being always the enraptured audience of anything particularly gruesome, is eager to dissect. (This post is no exception)

Enter the Saviors

Many line up with answers. If not answering directly the problem of male violence, answering to how one is allowed to react to the discussion.

One such post of late is from Phil Plait, calling out the defensiveness of males participating in the #YesAllWomen hashtag, which spawned shortly after the UCSB tragedy.

A short book could be written that would address all the falsehoods. For example, it is ridiculous to call a 4chan-like "incel" forum a "men's rights" forum. Conflating the two is a silly and insulting distraction. If you want to see what a collection of "men's rights activists" looks like, watch this video of one meetup at the University of Ottawa.

Instead, let's look at one statement Plait says of the "everyday misogyny" that is a good stand-in for his perspective on the matter.

Plait writes:

"We need to change the way we talk to boys in our culture as well as change the way we treat women."

Now, a very polite reading of this could result it in meaning we need to address all the issues with male problem solving in a realistic manner.

However one cannot be faulted in rolling their eyes and thinking that this is just another lecturing all-American platitude. Who we lecturing? Boys. Who are we treating differently? Women.

Let's add it to the scrap heap of other phrases:
  • "Just say no to drugs"
  • "It's cool to stay in school"
  • "Never hit a woman"
All statements contain a hint of truth and the spice necessary to change culture. But ultimately when things get a bit too real this moralistic nonsense is abusive in its own way.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this conga line of preaching is that it comes often from male "scientists" that are usually obligated to bring the data when discussing their field of expertise.

Once the topic is feminism or the social sciences, everyone leaves their numbers and thinking cap at home and wishes us all to listen to anecdotes on Twitter until the tears arrive. We're to think that frequently and collectively paying this penance is somehow going to help us discover solutions.

The happy coincidence is Phil Plait maintains a blog under the header "Bad Astronomy". Perhaps this is a good segue into a blog titled "Absolutely Terrible Feminism".

The mystery is really how we are going to change the way we talk to boys.

For when did we start talking to boys?

Maybe the conversation with boys starts with birth. 

"Do you want to be circumcised, Johnny? Remember, silence is consent."

We listen so well to men's needs.

Fear is everyday.

Violence is everyday.

Click-bait concern is everyday.

Understanding is not.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Embedding Tweets

Some people do not quite understand the "Embed Tweet" feature on Twitter. Nor do they understand the public nature of the content they post on Twitter.

Here is an example of tweets existing outside of both Twitter and Storify. It's a wonder how this works. Technology is great.

Consider this a public service announcement.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Are false rape allegations rare or rampant?

When it comes to statistics about rape, there is one very popular dogma among those concerned about justice in our legal system.

It is the idea that false allegations of rape are either rare or rampant. Since "rare" seems to be winning, let's start there as a baseline.

The idea shows up in numerous places, on Twitter:

And in numerous articles:

In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.

Even BuzzFeed has picked up on it. (Belated trigger warning: it's BuzzFeed...)

Despite one of their own doing a decent job of speaking to these statistics, he narrative is popular on FreeThoughtBlogs as well. Zvan has written several posts on the subject.

And the idea is most recently cited by "A Million Gods":

False rape allegations are relatively rare. In the UK the Crown Prosecution Service between 2011 to 2012 prosecuted around 5400 rapes and 35 false accusations.

Even Jason T, a man falsely accused of rape, keeps a "6%" number in his pocket when the issue of false allegations comes up:

it’s more grievously harmful to name the person on the off chance that they fall into the ~6% of false rape claims than it is to screw up that person’s chances at harassing or raping even more people.

And of course, the godfather, PZ Myers, also likes to drop the same statistics:
Isn’t it fascinating how many men are absolutely certain that most rape accusations are completely false, that it’s just wicked women conspiring to bring men down? Yet when you look at the numbers, you know that data that skeptics are supposed to care about, the frequency of false rape accusations is low, about 6-8%.
Let's get something straight very quickly.

All rape statistics are bad. Always.

It makes no sense whatsoever to look at these numbers and make a determination about how likely people are to lie about rape. 

Let's investigate some facts that inform what we think about "false allegations".

1. Rape is underreported

Estimates of underreporting vary. It's difficult to measure what people do not want you to measure. However it seems like an educated assumption is that there is some number of victims that have enough evidence to bring a conviction in court that simply do not choose to tell anyone.

Let's say we see a shift in circumstances and some number of these people do come forward. What does this do with the "false allegation" rates that are always cited? 

They drop. However if real numbers of false allegations did not drop, the true risk of being a victim of a false allegation would have not changed. Funny how that works.

2. "Guilty" is not always guilty

Any view of reality that relies on the criminal justice system not making mistakes is just broken. 

The truth is that a conviction does not always mean that a crime occurred nor does it always mean the person in jail is actually guilty of said crime.

This is particularly evident in the United States which makes a habit of executing a lot of people and then wondering if several of the judgments were actually based on reliable and complete information.

3. Measures of false reports do not encompass all false reports

Let's say a charge of sexual assault fails to arrive at a conviction. Does this mean the accusation was false? No.

Imagine for a moment that someone accused O.J. Simpson of a crime. If it happens that Simpson is found not guilty, does the criminal justice system then prosecutes the accusers for bearing false witness?

The following scenarios are possible:
  • The victim of the crime is telling the truth and the perpetrator is convicted
  • The victim of the crime is telling the truth and the perpetrator is not convicted
  • The "victim" is lying and an innocent person is convicted
  • The "victim" is lying and an innocent person is found not guilty
  • The "victim" is lying and an innocent person is convicted. Later, "victim" charged with false report.
  • The "victim" is lying and an innocent person is found not guilty. Later, "victim" charged with false report.
Notice that there are two cases where the victim is lying but is not proven to be a liar. In criminal justice metrics, this is not counted as a "false report".

One can easily imagine that not every false accusation will invert itself as an charges targeted at the reporter. The allegations, if plausible enough, can simply remain as the victim's testimony. That is, not everyone that is lying are found to be liars as the system does not exist to prove that events did or did not happen. The system simply exists to judge the likely guilt of the accused.

4. Not all allegations are reports

Three words are generally used interchangeably:
  • Allegation
  • Accusation
  • Report
The English language in this case is painful. Statistics used generally follow reports. That is, allegations that are documented in a police report.

The trouble is that people are easily accused of a crime without the justice system as we typically understand it being involved at all.

In this age, allegations are gathered not only by police, but also by:
  • Schools
  • Employers
  • Bloggers
  • Social networks
For those keeping track, the Atheism+/FreeThoughtBlogs cabal of ne'er-do-wells have themselves been party to allegations against of sexual assault leveled against several people. 

Some names that come to mind:
  • Michael (Anonymous victim, no corroborating witnesses accounts)
  • Ben (SciAm and Slate took down articles containing obvious factual errors, more details in question)
  • Christie (Accusations proven false)
What do these names have in common? No police reports. 

Are the allegations true or false?

It is difficult to say, however it would be very stupid to suggest that the allegations are somehow more likely to be true given that the "false report" rate is low in some Crown Prosecution Service study.

That would be akin to saying that some accusation of murder made on Twitter is plausible because the NYPD does not actually prosecute many people for filing false murder claims. It's just completely different data.

Let's move away for a moment from the world of primarily online allegations. There is more to the world than blogs.

An illustrative example of where allegations are often handled is perhaps an incident at Sarah Lawrence college.

The allegation made to both police and the school was that a young black man had raped a young white lesbian woman. The woman did report the incident to all relevant authorities in a timely manner and evidence was gathered.

The suspect was arrested, but later released as there was said to be inconsistencies in the accounts meant there was not enough evidence to prosecute. One could assume that this does not qualify as a "false report" at this stage as far as crime statistics are concerned.

The story becomes stranger as even though the police have decided to not move further with the case, the pair are put in front of a tribunal at the college. The administration assures students that the campus is a safe space. Unsatisfied with the messaging and the speed of justice, the accuser writes an "Open Letter to Dean Green". A poem includes phrases "tying nooses", "hanging your boys up" and "legs stop twitching".

When both the suspect and the Dean are black, these are not the right words to choose.

The resolution of this incident is not key to what one needs to witness - the justice system that received the most focus was the one at the college level.

Colleges, employers and similar organizations are able to do several things:
  1. Keep more secrets than the justice system
  2. Make decisions without knowing all details
  3. Use punishments that are injurious - but so injurious as to be extremely cruel if misapplied
  4. Move very quickly - the goal of the institution is largely to save face
  5. Place the "secrecy problem" on the accused - challenging punishment would make allegations more public
Given these factors, it's easy to imagine a lot of instances of sexual misconduct being entirely handled outside the justice system. As institutions grow in power, this option becomes more attractive.

Even allegations of serious sexual assault could avoid referrals to the police if there is the willingness to institute policies concerning conduct that are more sensitive than the law of the land. The only thing that the investigators would perhaps really need to hear was an admission that unwanted communication of a sexual nature happened.

5. Eight percent is not "low"

Assume for a moment that the other problems with the data do not exist and allow us to run with the numbers cited by PZ Myers and Jason.

The authorities of the land stand at the podium and state:

"We've crunched the numbers and it turns out that 6-8% of rape allegations are demonstrably false. Not insufficient evidence, not of questionable guilt, not failure to reach a conviction -- simply false. In these cases, the most heinous crime committed was the filing of the report."
A citizen concerned with rights, identifying as feminist or not, would be outraged at this discovery.

Are police coercing victims to recant their stories? Which gender is more likely to file a false report? Is the justice system operating a victim-blaming boys club or are they laughing in the face of men that claim to be raped by women?

Instead of the number coming up as a frightening statistic, it is most often provided as a number somehow "proving" that the "men's rights activists" are exaggerating how pervasive false rape allegations are.

It is true that one can find in the expanse of the internet some people that believe that nearly every charge of rape is completely bogus. Presumably these people think that a lot of people in jail are innocent. It is difficult to have a conversation with these people.

Occasionally a light shines on the data as the social justice crowd realizes that the false report metric could be due to coercion by the authorities.

However the soundbite arrived on by the social justice warriors is not quite:
"It's difficult to arrive at conclusions based on rape statistics. Underreporting is rife, the authorities may be fudging data. Something must be done!"
Instead it more closely follows:

"What if that all 'false reports' are due to the authorities coercing victims into retracting their stories? That would mean feminism's critics are even more wrong!"

Somewhere along the line we've lost our minds.

Compromised numbers, compromised behavior

The numbers on rape. They're bogus. That's something that is clear.

Let's now examine the stereotypes, behaviors and fears that people that actually put credence in the numbers actually harbor.

It turns out PZ Myers himself was the victim of a false rape accusation:

Wait…she listened, & all she took from it was 1 or 2 sentences which she then misinterprets to mean I’m forever denying the possibility that a woman might make a false accusation? Nonsense. I’ve been threatened with a false rape accusation, one that could have totally destroyed my career.
I took it very seriously and moved quickly to provide evidence that it was false.
But of course we have to accept the personal testimony of women’s experiences. In that case, it would have been totally injust to simply say, “oh, she’s a woman, therefore she’s lying”. Most rape accusations are not false, so a priori dismissals are inappropriate, and if that woman had gone to the authorities (she didn’t, because I immediately brought in witnesses to make her effort futile) I would sure as hell hope they’d treat both of our positions with equal seriousness.

The interesting thing here is that we have two men, Jason and PZ, both apparently falsely accused of rape while simultaneously reminding everyone that this almost never happens. The conclusion is based on bad data, and even if the data was good eight percent would be a travesty -- so how exactly this is is reconciled with their existence is a mystery.

Cognitive dissonance, perhaps?

This mentality has followed Myers for quite some time, as he shares in 2010:

I won’t meet privately with students either — I always keep my office door wide open, and when I’m working with students in the lab, I find excuses to move out and let them work on their own if it turns into a one-on-one event. I just can’t afford the risk.
I was also subject to accusations of harassment, once upon a time. A female student came into my lab when I was alone, unhappy about an exam grade, and openly threatened me — by going public with a story about a completely nonexistent sexual encounter right there.
Zoom, I was right out the door at that instant; asked a female grad student in the lab next door to sit with the student for a bit, and went straight to the chair of the department to explain the situation. I had to work fast, because I knew that if it turned into a he-said-she-said story, it wouldn’t matter that she was lying, it could get dragged out into an investigation that would easily destroy my career, no matter that I was innocent.
I was in a total panic, knowing full well how damaging that kind of accusation can be. Fortunately, I’d done the right thing by blowing it all wide open at the first hint of a threat, and getting witnesses on the spot.

And he has gone as far as to document his approach to an accusation:

How I responded to that instance is just part of a protocol for how people should work together. Here’s what I do:
  • I don’t harass women, or anyone for that matter.
  • I maintain complete transparency. Not only do I not harass women, but any accusation that I do founders on the implausibility of the circumstance.
  • I deal with any potential situation by defusing it immediately. Not arguing, not protesting my innocence, not begging the person to refrain from hurting my reputation, but going straight to departmental authorities and explaining the situation. Again, transparency: the slander isn’t going to stick.
  • I bring in witnesses, preferably women too, who can testify to my innocence. And I don’t just mean people who will say I’m a nice guy, but witnesses to the incident who can describe all the details of the event.
  • I keep myself protected against false claims, which also means that I’m keeping my students protected from any harm. We all work just fine together, with nothing to hide.
  • I don’t sexually harass my students or colleagues. Period.
Not only is my reputation spotless, and honestly so, but there’s no way to even realistically bring such a charge against me. And of course the great majority of my interactions with students bear no risk of any such problems — we can trust each other. But then, there are always people like those slimy ones, that minority of nasty untrustworthy liars commenting on Radford’s thread, who are happy to distort and make false accusations, and I deal with them in the same way that I did that earlier incident: with transparency and honesty and frank admission of what actually happened. I don’t deny that such unpleasant people exist, especially when so many of them are already populating that thread and the existence of contemptible liars is so apparent. But when one has no interest in harassing people, it turns out to be relatively easy to maintain one’s integrity — I don’t have years of stalkerish behavior and complaints and administrative disciplinary actions to make excuses for, unlike some people.

Myers maintains his viewpoint is somehow consistent. 

Myers goes to great lengths to create a world wherein the allegation made against him was out of the blue - Myers is well liked by his female coworkers, and Myers does not have a documented history of harassment. The assumption here is that Myers has data that the rest of us do not, that would show us his attributes are more saintly than others that have faced charges of rape. 

Presumably we're to believe Myers over his accusers, as Myers has a binders full of women that would come to his defense. Also, PZ Myers also pays his taxes on time. 

It makes one wonder if Myers' politics is simply a ploy to immunize himself from false rape allegations.

In the same thread, Myers admits the accuser did not face any sort of penalty:

It is the only time that has happened in 25 years of teaching. And it didn’t go far at all: ten minutes of worry, and then the student recanted and apologized.
She wasn’t punished, except for the fact that she did fail the course…but that was going to happen anyway.

Funny that Myers' accuser is not tracked within the percentages that Myers loves to cite.

But it gets even stranger - as Myers also mistrusts women at conferences:

Except…I was really surprised the first time a woman at a conference offered me her hotel key. I know I’m not personally attractive or otherwise appealing in any physical way, and it was simply that eroticism of intellectual stimulation, as you mentioned, and the impulse to indulge in a fleeting crush. You know speakers get a little edge from that position when I’m getting sexual opportunities!
It felt like cheating, didn’t actually represent my ideal (all of my physical relationships have also been serious emotional relationships), and just generally seemed like something we might all regret when the first brief flush of enthusiasm wore off. So I’ve always gently turned down those offers.
I don’t want to give the impression that I turn them down, so everybody else ought to, too. I’m really just saying that there’s some weird primate psychology going on, and we ought to be wary of it.
As for numbers, it doesn’t happen at every conference, it’s probably happened to me 8? 10? times? Thereabouts. A couple of times a year.
I suspect it’s much more common for younger, handsomer speakers who aren’t geeky bearded weirdos. And I would imagine most of them would also turn down the offers, but I don’t know — maybe I’m a horrible weirdo in another way too.

Why is what PZ Myers has to say on this subject important?

Is PZ Myers an awful person for saying these things?

No, PZ Myers is not an awful person. 

This is important because PZ Myers is simply average. Normal. Much of what Myers says is simply taken for granted in academic and professional environments. 

Where the hypocrisy arises is that PZ Myers also represents a very specific type of social justice warrior. 

People like Myers are a large part of why rape cases that show up in the media very quickly turn into battles within groups online. 

On one side, there are those peddling the "believe survivors" and "rape culture" slogans, that ultimately believe that it's insulting victims to show anything but overwhelming sympathy and trust. This is the gang most excited about false rape allegations being deemed "rare"

On the other side, there are those that would go as far as to view every accusation with the assumption that the "victim" is using the legal system for money or revenge. This is the gang most excited about false rape allegations being deemed "rampant".

The issue becomes especially troublesome when social justice warriors like PZ Myers are themselves are primary sources of sexual assault allegations. An anonymous email goes to an energetic social justice warrior and immediately it appears on a blog or Tumblr post. This is seen largely as an effort to "give a voice to the victims". The overall effort is to purge evildoers without a conscience from their respective communities.

Perhaps it a coping mechanism - these men view themselves as unquestionably the "good guys" in the reality they've created only because they've been so viciously accused of being one of the "bad guys". The "weird primate psychology" is that these people then feel compelled to frequently prove to their peers that they are their betters. It's as if they cannot again be the accused if they are now frequently the accusers.

The Adam and Eve of social justice warrior

Let's say there are two archetypes of social justice warrior. Or, if you prefer, tropes. Also, let's just use the gender binary. Adam and Eve. Hopefully they can distill what we've seen over the past few years in this various "progressive" movements in support of "intersectionality".

First, Eve. Eve is the typical well-educated, well-intentioned woman that rightly believes that there is a lot of work left to do when it comes to gender equality. 

Eve talks big about "feminism" as an all-encompassing social project. Viewing the growing "men's rights" movement as obvious adversaries to feminism's goals, Eve will go as far as to say that "feminism" will do more to solve racism than its critics.

The problems occur when Eve loses a handle on where we're going in regards to objectification. Or porn. Or physical assault. Or Islam. And things get particularly uncomfortable when Eve's own stated politics collide with her risk assessments.

More relevant to this post is the subject of Adam.

Adam, in this case, may be an individual like PZ Myers.

Adam is well-educated and looking to make an impact. He is keenly aware that men have an easier time of landing high paying careers. He is also cognizant of the fact that a lot of violent crime is committed by men. Despite many advances, he still understands the many ways that women have it rough in modern society.

On his platform, Adam is ready and willing to be a terrific ally for "feminism". Adam understands that key to empowerment is being heard, and works to bring many women's voices to the table. Adam also knows that if women are going to be a part of the future, they will need representation in the science and technology fields that will dominate in the coming years.

The problem is that Adam also exists in the real world.

Pulled aside from gender politics, placed in an environment with only beer and other males, Adam describes his own approach to keeping the cushy job the patriarchy gifted him with.

Here the real grenade is thrown down. Here it is openly admitted that women are entirely capable of being selfish, amoral, mentally unstable, prone to regret and not in control of their sexual desires.

It is soon clear that Adam's behavior is such that he must believe that his family stands more risk to be injured by rumor than physical assault.

Adam slowly outlines his strategy to staying alive within our "gender equitable" workplaces. Build credibility with several women that one is disinterested in. Establish an identity within the brand of feminism that feels most frequently violated. Minimize the number of closed door meetings with women - "the broads" will talk and you don't want to be hear gossip or be gossip. Finally, deflect attention towards men that are already in the process of being blackballed.

It's like blending in as a "true American" while secretly reading a lot of Marx.

The offspring of this Adam and Eve duo is ill-concealed fear. The stereotypical case in the modern political arena might be the bandwagon activists that talk big about how prison sentences are not the same as rehabilitation yet do not wish to live anywhere near ex-cons. NIMBY.

Paint by numbers

The moral of the story again, of course, is that all rape statistics are bad

Just stop citing these figures in attempts to either elevate or destroy someone's story. What is the point? Instead, view the data for what it is - only a piece of the puzzle. Each allegation of serious crime needs to be viewed on its own merits instead of being prejudged by questionable data.

Finally, let's ignore the social justice dudebros that like to feign concern about rape culture while citing this bad data and claiming they are one of the scarce unicorns with a real story of a false allegation.

As you know, it does not matter how they dress it up, their behavior is still based on man's baser assumption that they have been unable to shake:

"Bitches be crazy".

If they believed otherwise, they'd behave otherwise.