False Accusations: Tawana Brawley and Al Sharpton

I believe lots of women, probably most.  But I don’t automatically ‘believe all women.’ It’s so charged a topic that nobody is allowed to ask questions or challenge some ideas, and you’d definitely never say that care about facts, because that’s heartless. If you aren’t all in on ‘false reports are nearly nonexistant and don’t matter and neither does due process,’ you’re a rape apologist.
I believe it’s true that more often than not, the victims don’t report at all. Or they wait years to do so.  If a person makes an accusation of rape against somebody she requested to work with later, followed around in social circles, remained friendly with, I have questions.  If the allegation is first made during a heated political season when it has distinct political advantages, I have  questions.  But ‘why didn’t you report it at the time?’ is not one of those questions.

I believe there are false reports.  I don’t believe the false reports are 40% as some sites claim.  I’m appalled and horrified that the study with that number lumped ‘not enough evidence to bring charges’ in with ‘false accusation’  Those two are not remotely the same. 

However, at the other end, the claim that only  2% of all reape accusations are false is just problematic- turns out it comes from a single study in 1975 which was based only on NYC, which is hardly representative.
What are the reasons we believe that many women never report, or wait for years?  Sometimes it’s because they are afraid, afraid of retaliation, afraid of social stigma, afraid in general and sufferent from PTSD so avoidance is how they react.  It’s true that in many cases where women have been assaulted, they are ashamed and blame themselves or fear others will.  In 1975 when the single study with the 2% of rape reports are false conclusion was made (for NYC only), it is true that there was a stigma attached to females who had sex outside of marriage, even if they had been sexually assaulted.
Except what does this have to do with women who make *false* accusations? They aren’t ashamed or afraid because they were not assaulted, and they are not blaming themselves.  Take the five mean girls in Seneca Valley as an example– they accused a boy of rape, had him expelled, had him go through multiple court cases, all because they just didn’t like that kid.  Those five girls weren’t embarrassed or ashamed, at all, and they were lying.
Stigma? What stigma? There’s hardly any stigma attached to open promiscuity, let alone having been assaulted by a man- if you were assaulted by a man (provided it’s a conservative man) that practically makes you royalty (exceptions in those ultra conservative church circles where purity is strictly a female physical condition and nothing to do with the heart)
And even when there was stigma, and the biggest stigma of all was a sexual relationship between a white woman and a man of colour, there were still some very high profile false accusations- The Scottsboro Boys were falsely accused by two white women who were probably trying to avoid being arrested for prostitution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottsboro_Boys#cite_ref-Linder560_64-0)
The infamous Tawanna Brawley case is a good example of how believing uncritically (and loudly pushing public accusations) is sometimes harmful to the women themselves, or the girl, in this case.
Tawana Brawley, who  reprehensible Sharpton exploited to rocket himself to national prominence, falsely accused four men of an assault that never happened. This one is a really good example of how we don’t do women any favours when we believe and pursue charges without collaboration.  In fact, this case still makes me so very, very angry and not for the usual reasons.  I don’t approve of what she did, but my heart aches for what others did to her.   Tawana lived in a abusive situation.  She was regularly beaten by her stepfather.  She was afraid of him.  She was so afraid, it was worse to go home if she missed her curfew than to stay out for days. 
She was so afraid, think of this, realy think about it and put yourself in her shoes- she was so terrified of going home to that stepfather after her curfew that this 15 year old girl smeared dog feces on her own body, scrawled vile, degrading racial slurs on her own skin, crawled into a garbage bag of her own volition and waited to be found so she would have a plausible tale for why she’d missed her curfew and would not be beaten.  Is there anything in your teenaged life you wanted to avoid so badly you were willing to scrawl demeaning words on your body in dog crap ink and hide in the garbage on the street?
She was just 15.  She first made vague accusations- some white guys did this to her, they kidnapped her and abused her and held her captive for a few days then left her in the garbage.  She did not start by accusing anybody specific.  She didn’t expect it to blow up on national news.  She probably believed things she’d likely heard about the police not caring about little black girls being attacked.  I imagine she expected to be soothed and patted and sent home where for once, she would *not*be beaten to a pulp by the bully who was her step-father.   She miscalculated.
Unfortunately for Tawana, people ‘cared’ so much about her- or what they could do with her story politically- that they either believed her or pretended to.  The police took her seriously and investigated for real.   She was not helped by being believed.   This traumatized 15 year old who was regularly abused at home went right back to that abuse.  Meanwhile, her vague accusations weren’t enough for those who supposedly were on her side. Adults around her exploited her.  Al Sharpton and others encouraged her, egged her on, used her for their own political gains (especially the reprehensible Sharpton) urged her to double down on her false allegations, to make them more specific until her accusations were no longer vague, but singled out specific individuals (by no coincidence, individuals who had rowsed Sharpton’s ire). One of the men she accused had committed suicide- as it turned out, not really because of Tawanna but for other reasons, but once he was conveniently dead and unable to defend himself, he made a very convenient fall guy for Tawana’s false accusations. A friend stood up for him- so then the friend was accused. It was a nationwide scandal, only the scandalous parts were that none of it was true and Al Sharpton knew it.

What happened next is that after somebody died in a riot caused by Sharpton, and after thousands of dollars and incredible stress and legal stuff,  Tawana’s accusations unraveled and the men were revealed to be innocent, and Tawana, the 15 year old girl in the middle of all of it, confessed that she had done this to herself to avoid being beaten at home.

And all those adults?  THEY SENT HER BACK INTO THAT HOME.  They knew it was abusive.  They knew how far she had gone to avoid a beating, because those beatings were just that horrific, and they all sent her home.  Nobody tried to protect her, to get her counseling, to get her out of that abuse, to punish the man who routinely punched, hit, and thrashed her.  They didn’t care about her at all.  They never had.
Although it was not widely reported, Al Sharpton and his henchmen knew early on there were serious flaws in her story and good reasons to doubt it from the start.  They ignored all that to push their ‘believe this girl’ narrative.  She was seen crawling in the bag on her own, among other flaws.  She was well cared for and did not exhibit signs of abuse beyond the dog feces, or dehydration or being deprived of food for 3 days.  This was all known early on.
Eventually, the main victim of her false accusations sued for defamation of character and he won a settlement against all four. The three adult men had to pay under 100,000 each. Tawanna was ordered to pay over 3 times that much. Sharpton did not actually pay a dime out of his own pocket. His supporters paid it for him. Tawanna, a waitress without the resources or fame of Sharpton, had her wages garnished. She’s still paying in dribs and drabs, and she changed her name, while he continues to milk his for all the publicity he can.
There’s no indication Sharpton, who was instrumental in pushing her to include this man in her web of lies, ever offered to help her out. She’s not innocent, but of the group, I really do think the 15 y.o. abuse victim should be held the least culpable.  She could not have caused the harm she did if her case had not been publicized and sensationalized by Sharpton and his adult publicity hound pals. 
 It’s outrageous.  And I’m going to repeat these details because this is the part of the story that really breaks my heart- the innocent adult men did not deserve to be charged or have their lives turned upside down. She destroyed their lives (the marriage of one of them did not survive the strain)- but she did not do that by herself.  Three adult self-serving publicity hounds and the media made it happen.  They successfully exploited her and went on to national fame, loads of money, political favour and success.  She was 15, and the reason she started the mess in the first place is because she was terrified her stepfather was going to beat her for having stayed out. He’d done it before. He’d murdered somebody before. The 15 y.o. was legitimately terrified and traumatized- can you imagine what her mental condition was to smear dog feces on her own body and climb into a garbage bag? She didn’t begin by targeting anybody specific, but as the publicity hounds jumped on her story and promoted it, she got backed into a corner and perhaps even felt like she had name somebody specific in order to keep Sharpton and his friends happy and supportive and protect herself from her stepdad.
And nobody did protect her from her stepdad. Nobody. She went back there. “Believe all women” returned this child to an incredibly abusive, hostile environment and left her there when the clock ran out on the political usefulness of her story.
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