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Last December a woman writing in the comments section of the website claimed Oberst raped her when she was a teenager.The charge spread across the Internet; Oberst denied it and brought a libel suit against Faircloth when she refused to retract the story.five years ago, official data on what law enforcement terms “unfounded” rape reports (that is, ones in which the police determine that no crime occurred) yield conflicting numbers, depending on local policies and procedures—averaging 8 percent to 10 percent of all reported rapes.
Do we count only cases in which a police report—or a complaint to some other official authority, such as a college administrator—is shown to be deliberately false?
Do we include informal, word-of-mouth charges like the one against Oberst?
In some cases, women who were victims of rape were disbelieved, pressured into recanting, and charged with false reporting only to be vindicated later on—the kind of awful story that adds to people’s skittishness about discussing false accusations.
Some police departments have been criticized for having an anomalously high percentage of supposedly unfounded rape charges: Baltimore’s “unfounded” rate used to be the highest in the nation, at about 30 percent, due partly to questionable and sometimes downright abusive police procedures, such as badgering a woman about why she waited two hours to report a street assault.
In the, pop culture critic Chris Ostendorf decried the lawsuit, arguing that it could intimidate real victims of rape and that it promoted the idea of men as victims of false accusations—even though that’s exactly what Oberst was.
After Oberst dropped the suit, ’s Caroline Pate praised his decision and referred to the saga as “a roller-coaster for both parties”—treating the false accuser and the wrongly accused as morally equivalent—and called the revelation of Oberst’s innocence “crushingly disappointing.” False rape accusations are a lightning rod for a variety of reasons.
In the emotionally charged conversation about rape, few topics are more fraught than that of false allegations.
Consider some responses to the news that singer-songwriter Conor Oberst had been falsely accused of sexual assault.
Rape is a repugnant crime—and one for which the evidence often relies on one person’s word against another’s.