On Wednesday the New York Times reported that a woman admitting to fabricating a rape that landed a man in jail with a 20-year sentence. The accused rapist, William McCaffrey, met his accuser in Manhattan in 2005. His accuser, Biurny Peguero, accused him of raping her the morning after they met. Although the rape kit performed at the hospital did not provide DNA evidence against McCaffrey, a jury in the State Supreme Court convicted him in 2006 and he was given a 20-year sentence. Last year, a new DNA test on the bite marks on Peguero’s arm showed that the injuries she said she got from McCaffrey could not have been made by him or any man because they lacked the Y chromosome. This March, Peguero went to her priest and confessed that she had made up the rape to cover up a violent fight she had that night with her girlfriends and the priest urged her to come clean about the lie.
Naturally, blog commenters are running wild with this story. On the New York-based blog Gothamist, several commenters call the woman vaious misogynistic terms like “cunt” and “bitch” while others resort to more violent calls for action. Said one commenter who goes by the name of UnrepentantFenian: “Does double jeopardy apply here? Can he get out and rape her with impunity now? He should, with a fire hydrant” to which another commenter named Trilby16 responded: “Or with a sharp stick!” This is the internet so misogynistic calls for violence are nothing new when someone can hide behind anonymity. These guys are jerks and they are only furthering a culture that promotes violence against women, we all know that. What is perhaps more troubling is the amount of misinformation that comes up in these threads. One commenter remarks that they think that false rape accusations happen more often than true accusations which is completely untrue. As I mentioned in a previous post, only a small amount of rape cases ever lead to an actual jail time. McCaffrey’s sentencing was a rare case for anyone accused of rape. Even though it is in public opinion that most rape accusations are false, only 2% of all rape accusations are found to be false which is the same percentage of false accusations as for most other felonies. So if rape accusations are found to false as often as other felonies, why isn’t there a chorus of people insisting that most murder accusations are false? Another commenter on Gothamist also suggested the idiotic concept that no rape accusations should be brought to court unless there was a third-party witness. I wonder if that same legal eagle commenter would suggest that we start putting other pointless roadblocks in front of other people accusing someone of different, non-rape felonies. The basic consensus of the idiots in the comments is particularly amazing: one woman’s actions are representative of all women’s actions! Just because of one woman’s lie all rape victims should suffer! It would almost be funny if there wasn’t already an existing stigma against rape victims that they lying.
I’m not saying that Peguero isn’t a total asshole for consciously lying about a rape and sending an innocent man to prison just because she wanted to cover up a fight she had with her friends. I have experience working with rape victims and the two constant fears that the victims have is being accused of lying and/or being assaulted by their rapists’ friends and family for accusing their rapist of assault. There is a massive and heavy stigma that hangs over rape victims, particularly young female rape victims, that they are lying and this often prevents actual rape victims from not only reporting the rape but also telling their friends and family and seeking medical and emotional help to deal with the after effects of rape. Rape is not a sexual crime, it is motivated by power (as we can see with the Gothamist commenters calling for the rape of Peguero) and it leaves the victim feeling hopeless and without agency. The stigma of lying is incredibly powerful when combined with the rape victims already vulnerable self-esteem. Why does this stigma exist? It goes hand-in-hand with the stereotype that women are liars and manipulative. People lie, it is a fact of life. No gender is free from lying occasionally. Sometimes, people lie about very serious things, like felonies, but this percentage of people is tiny. However, women are always thought of as the people who lie the most. It isn’t a surprise then that a crime that is often associated with female victims is also one of the top crimes where the victim is often thought of as lying.
So Peguero is a heartless liar who falsely accused someone of rape. Does this mean that all women who accuse someone of rape are heartless liars? No. It is amazing that she went on with the lie for so long and that McCaffrey was even convicted considering how difficult the American legal system is to maneuver through if you are accusing someone of rape. I’m glad that an innocent man will (hopefully) go free, but this case reveals a lot about our attitudes towards rape and rape victims. I just hope that Peguero’s lie and the flood of misogynistic and ignorant comments by internet trolls doesn’t discourage actual rape victims from coming forward and successfully convicting their rapist.
(Image from xkcd.)