Betty Friedman (sic*), noted feminist author and co-founder of NOW, has had a posthumous epiphany of such magnitude that she has come back from the dead to post a critical comment to Cathy Young’s blog. Unfortunately, her new-found wisdom seems to be nothing more than the usual hodge-podge of antifeminist baloney. I may or may not address her other points in a future blog. Here I deal with the first:
In the recent decades over 33% of convicted rapist (sic) have been exonerated by DNA testing that found that they were not involved in the rape…
This claim is simply false. The origin of this and similar claimed figures is this Department of Justice Report, which says in pertinant part:
Every year since 1989, in about 25 percent of the sexual assault cases referred to the FBI where results could be obtained (primarily by State and local law enforcement), the primary suspect has been excluded by forensic DNA testing. Specifically, FBI officials report that out of roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases since 1989, about 2,000 tests have been inconclusive (usually insufficient high molecular weight DNA to do testing), about 2,000 tests have excluded the primary suspect, and about 6,000 have “matched” or included the primary suspect.1 The fact that these percentages have remained constant for 7 years, and that the National Institute of Justice’s informal survey of private laboratories reveals a strikingly similar 26-percent exclusion rate, strongly suggests that postarrest and postconviction DNA exonerations are tied to some strong, underlying systemic problems that generate erroneous accusations and convictions.
The exclusion rate here is 20% or 25%, depending upon whether or not you include non-conclusive tests. It certainly can’t be stretched to 33%. However, this is a side issue. More seriously, this does not stand for the proposition that 20% (or 25%, or whatever) of rape convictions have been overturned or are false. Rather it refers to “sexual assault cases referred to the FBI”. Most of these will not be convictions. Some of them won’t even be rape. Further, the authors themselves reject the contention that this figure can be extrapolated to the actual false conviction rate:
Some already have used the cases discussed in this report to argue that hundreds more innocent defendants are in prison. They contend that the current “exclusion” rate for forensic DNA labs — close to 25 percent — suggests that a similar percentage of innocent defendants were wrongly convicted before the availability of forensic DNA typing. Unfortunately, too many variables are contained in the “exclusion” rate to draw any meaningful conclusions from it. Furthermore, nothing about the cases reviewed here necessarily supports such a conclusion.
In fact the authors of this report were able to find just 28 cases in which “convicted rapist[s] have been exonerated by DNA testing”. which is undoubtedly several orders of magnitude less than 33% of the total number of rape convictions over the period.
Moreover, only one of those cases – that of Gary Dotson – was a result of a false accusation as antifeminists typically frame the issue – i.e. a fabricated complaint. The others were convicted for a variety of reasons:
…Mistaken eyewitness identification, coerced confessions, unreliable
forensic laboratory work, law enforcement misconduct, and ineffective representation of
counsel, singly and often in combination, remain the leading causes of wrongful convictions.
Even a single case of false conviction based upon a fabricated complaint (or for any other reason) is, of course, a disaster for the individual concerned. However it is a gross distortion to cite this report (or a figure derived from it) as supporting the contention that false rape convictions are common or that false accusations are common, or that the latter are a significant cause of former.
…(which totally blows the feminist “only-2%-of-rape-claims-are-false” myth away).
*I suppose it is possible that this is the comment author’s real name, or otherwise not chosen as a reference to Friedan, but it would seem to be an unlikely coincidence, given how common this misreading of her name is.