Trigger warnings, not kidding about with the title.
It would be a dreadful thing to be falsely accused of rape. It might damage your reputation and cause the people around you to trust you less. Were the accusations to be believed, you might be dragged through the miserable indignities of a court case, and if you lose, you might spend a few years in prison, years of your life you can never have back.
Most reported rapes do not end in prosecution. If it is one person’s word against the other (and it often is) then we prefer, culturally, to err on the side or the accused. Innocent until proven guilty is a core tenet in law. If it does go further, the victim can expect to have their clothing choices, romantic history, even their reading habits brought up as evidence that they probably consented. If you knew your aggressor, the scope for proving that you didn’t consent, is alarmingly small unless you went to the police with the evidence of injury on your body. Even then, it may be suggested that you just like rough sex.
As a culture, we value the reputations of those who have power over the bodies and bodily safety of their possible victims. We assume the victims have nasty, malicious motives for saying these terrible things, and when the pillar of the community, the famous person you saw on telly, the politician claims innocence, we take that seriously. Even if multiple victims claim to have been abused, we minimise the harm done ‘it was just a bit of harmless groping’ and all too often, we let it go.
For a victim of assault, it is a life sentence that will affect your relationships, your sense of self, your confidence and mental health, probably to some degree for the rest of your life. If someone abuses you, there is something lost that is never coming back. For victims who were children when it happened, I suspect this is even more the case, but children have a hard time getting heard when the responsible adults around them turn out not to be so good after all.
As a culture, we prefer to think that people make up false allegations of rape, rather than consider that rape is happening. It has been pointed out to me that the skin colour of the man involved makes a lot of odds here, and that we are far more willing, culturally, to find black guys guilty of rape, and for that matter other crimes too. It is worth comparing the implications. An unchecked rapist or child molester can get through a lot of victims, leaving a vast legacy of trauma. Do we really collectively think that to be falsely accused of rape is worse than being raped?
Now, imagine the balance shifted a little, and that we became just a little bit more willing to hear the stories of the victims and marginally more prepared to doubt the stories of the accused. What would happen? Would more men become more wary about getting into situations that would make them easy targets for accusations? Would more guys be less willing to have sex with drunk and unconscious women who might protest about it later? Would people of both genders be less willing to abuse children? Would some people reconsider the influence of their power, wealth, physical strength, financial control and other means of manipulation, and try to avoid exerting those to reduce the risk of their being accused of abuse? Might it become important to the men who don’t currently give it much thought, to make sure that consent is clearly given? Might we collectively reconsider the idea that a short skirt, an invitation to have coffee, getting into someone’s home, getting them in your car and the like are not the same as consenting to sex? I can see only win here.
A shift away from the desire for short term gratification and towards more responsible thinking about the emotional and social costs, would be brilliant and would improve life for everyone. We teach our daughters to avoid dangerous situations that might get them raped. We need to start teaching our sons not to rape, and not to get into situations of dubious or pressured consent, which is not consent. A little shift would go a very long way.