The woman, who claimed she had no memory of the event, received strong support from feminist activists on campus and was vilified as a liar on men’s rights websites.
Ultimately, the grand jury cleared the man, concluding that while parties were drunk, the woman was not incapacitated—she walked away unassisted and bought a burrito moments after the encounter—and was a willing participant.
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.
Rape is a repugnant crime—and one for which the evidence often relies on one person’s word against another’s.
Moreover, in the not-so-distant past, the belief that women routinely make up rape charges often led to appalling treatment of victims.
But, in other known cases, such allegations stem from conflicting definitions of what constitutes rape and consent—particularly in sexual encounters that involve alcohol.
The scandal at Ohio University last fall is an example of this.* A female student who was caught on camera in a drunken public sex act—which bystanders of both sexes had perceived as consensual—then filed a rape complaint after photos and video that showed her receiving oral sex from a male student became an Internet hit.
A similar pattern can be found in a recent study often cited as evidence of the rarity of false accusations: a 2010 paper by psychologist David Lisak, which examined all 136 sexual assault reports made on a northeastern university campus over a 10-year period.
For 19 of these cases, the files did not contain enough information to evaluate the outcome.
But a presumption of guilt in alleged sexual offenses is as dangerous as a presumption of guilt in any crime, and for the same reasons: It upends the foundations on which our system of justice rests and creates a risk of ruining innocent lives. A commonly cited estimate, which may have originated with feminist author Susan Brownmiller in the 1970s, is that they account for only about 2 percent of rape reports.