BY ATHENA FOSLER-BRAZIL
Since October, viral #HimToo has become the counter-tag to #MeToo, the 2017 movement in which women across the world took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment. #HimToo became popular during the trial of Justice Kavanaugh to represent all of the men falsely accused of sexual assault or harassment, but while the issue of false accusations is one that cannot be minimized or invalidated, to what extent does this issue pervade our culture and can the numbers really compare to those of women facing assault every day?
An appropriation of the well-known hashtag combating sexual harassment in the workplace, the #HimToo movement became popular during Kavanaugh’s controversial trial and is used frequently by mothers of sons, advocating for more recognition of false sexual assault claims and dramatically suggesting that men document their every move in preparation for a false accusation. This is a sentiment similar to President Trump’s claim that this is a “very scary time for young men in America.”
The issue of false accusations of sexual assault is serious and must be addressed in the conversation about sexual assault in our culture. False claims and allegations have severe consequences on both sides of the issue, and there have been a few well-known cases that gained attention and are frequently pointed to as examples of terrible miscarriages of justice against men.
One such case was the 2006 investigation into three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape—they were later found to be innocent and the woman who accused them was found to have lied. Another famous case was the 2014 University of Virginia case when a female student reported that she was gang-raped at a fraternity. The article ran in Rolling Stone before the investigation found that her claims were false and in 2015 the magazine retracted the article entirely.
False accusations such as these are serious for both the accused and for sexual assault survivors everywhere, for these false claims invalidate every other legitimate report made, creating great skepticism about the validity of women’s claims and casting doubt on every report a woman makes. These false accusations are detrimental to every imaginable cause, be it feminist or other.
However, these claims are also not as common as users of #HimToo would have you believe. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, between two and ten percent of sexual assault allegations are false. This number also does not take into account the fact that many accusations are simply never proven due to lack of substantial evidence and are labeled as false, though a crime may well have occurred.
#HimToo puts the victimization of men on the same level as the victimization of women, and this is simply not the case. According to the NSVRC, one in three women will experience contact sexual harassment in her lifetime and one in five will be raped. This number can hardly compare with the tiny percentage of men who will be falsely accused of sexual assault in their life.
It must also be noted that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only about 35 percent of all sexual assaults are ever even reported to the police, making the gap between the numbers of sexual assaults versus the number of false accusations against men even greater.
False harassment claims are not something to be taken lightly, and it is critically important that both men and women remember that. However, it is also critical to remember how rare these cases really are, especially compared to the high statistics on sexual assault against women. #HimToo is misleading because it does not recognize this drastic gap, making false sexual assault claims seem just as prevalent and widespread as sexual assault, which is not the case.
Though the message behind #HimToo is a valid one, it is vital that statistics are kept in mind, statistics that support the fact that it really isn’t that scary a time for men in America. Rates of false sexual assault allegations are still comparably extremely low, and simply because women’s stories of assault are gaining more media attention does not mean that honest, innocent, non-sexually-harassing men are any more threatened than they have ever been.