Science Says: Believe Women

From Pacific Standard:

Here’s what the politicians and pundits are saying about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations—and what the research can tell us about the truth of their claims.

Sep 21, 2018

In the week since psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford went public with sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, politicians have demanded to hear the truth. With Ford (who goes by Dr. Blasey professionally) prepared to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee sometime next week, according to the New York Times, senators’ questioning could offer a chance to settle the record. But in the conversation around Ford’s accusation, many people have repeated well-worn myths about sexual assault.

Here’s what the research can tell us about the truth behind these myths.

False Rape Accusations Are Rare

Despite persistent myths, research shows few rape allegations are false. Moreover, decades of crime data prove the majority of incidents of sexual assault go unreported. President Donald Trump disputed this widely established fact

Donald J. Trump #realDonaldTrump
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!

In reality, as few as 23 percent of incidents of rape and sexual assault were reported to the police in 2017, according to the the National Crime Victimization Survey—making it the least likely crime to be reported out of every kind tracked, a FiveThirtyEight analysis found. Because of underreporting, studies have found that NCVS data and other federal surveys likely leave out millions of incidents. Many survivors fear retaliation or believe the police can do little to help; research has also confirmed a powerful stigma.

Difficulty Recalling Details Is Normal

Edward Whelan, the president of the conservative think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center, took a different theory to Twitter this week, suggesting that Ford could have mistaken the identity of her attacker. In response, Ford said there was “zero chance” she would have confused the two men, whom she knew and had socialized with before, the New York Times reports. While victims of sexual assault often experience post-traumatic stress disorder or difficultly recalling details in an interrogation, this is considered a normal response to fear—not evidence of a lie. As Pacific Standard reported in 2016:

Terror kicks the memory encoding region of our brain into hyperdrive, giving victims vivid memories of certain components of their environment when fear sets in—like the smell of their attacker’s cologne, or the song on the radio. But while some of the memories may be vivid, they also might not be linear, and the fragmented and inconsistent memories that traumatized victims have of events can lead officers to question whether or not they are telling the truth.

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