Confronting Our Fears as Parents: The Reality of False Accusations Against Our Sons

By Morgan Lamandre, Esq., STAR’s Legal Director

Morgan and Fam

I had my first child, a son, in September 2012. As most people do these days, I found out the sex of my child before I gave birth. I will never forget the reactions I would get when I would tell people that I was going to have a boy. The most common responses were the following:

“Boys are fun.”

“Boys love their mamas.”

“Boys aren’t as expensive as girls.”

“Boys are easier than girls.”

“You don’t have to worry about boys the way you have to worry about girls.”

At the time, I did not question these statements, but when I began working at STAR in January 2013, this idea of it being “easier” to raise a boy than a girl was challenged as my entire worldview was confronted with the realities of sexual violence.

I came to learn that perpetrators of sexual assault believe they are sexually entitled to others. They disregard consent in sexual interactions and rationalize their behaviors by minimizing their conduct and dismissing the harm they have caused. They rarely view their behaviors as sexual assault. Instead of considering their actions as sexual assault, they characterize their actions as simply helping women “relax.” Forcing women to “relax” for sexual acts is always seen as consensual by perpetrators. They will claim these types of sexual interactions are consensual despite their victims’ claims to the contrary.

Around the time that I started working at STAR, many survivors and victim advocates were beginning to challenge sexual assault prevention efforts that are geared at teaching potential victims how “not to get sexually assaulted.” Instead, they advocated for teaching potential perpetrators to not commit sexual assault. This changed my whole way of thinking about sexual assault prevention and it strongly affected my approach to being a parent.

Recently, a friend commented on one of my social media posts. She wrote, “While I always believe an accuser, I’m starting to struggle internally now that I have a son. I will raise him to respect all people and their boundaries, especially women, but the idea of an untrue accusation ruining his life terrifies me.”[1] She asked me what I thought, as someone who works at STAR and as a mother of sons.

I appreciated her expressing this concern because I know it is shared by many parents and it is something we need to talk about and address. Here are things that I practice to help prepare my sons for life in an era where people are held accountable for committing sexual assault.

  1. I accept the possibility of a sexual assault accusation.

Before talking about the possibility of false accusations, we need to think about the possibility of true accusations, because the truth is that false accusations are rare. False reports of sexual assault are somewhere between 2-8%, which is consistent with false reports of other crimes. In many of these false reports, a perpetrator is not named or identified.

It’s devastating when false accusations do happen, but in society we have used the fear of false accusations to systematically shut down survivors. As a result, rape is the most underreported crime. There are vast numbers of survivors of sexual trauma whose lives have been devastated and who have not received justice. There are much smaller numbers of people whose lives have been impacted by false accusations.  

Do false accusations happen? Yes. Are they as common as people believe them to be? No. That does not mean we should take accusations lightly, but we should not assume an accusation is false until the facts prove there was no sexual assault.

I have noticed that there are parents who do not want to believe their children have done bad things, especially when they are seemingly upstanding people, but we have to accept that people we love sometimes do bad things. Jerry Sandusky, Darren Sharper and Bill Cosby were known to have donated to many charities, to have done “good work” and to be “good people,” and as perpetrators they were able to use their “good citizenship” to get away with sexual abuse and assault for far too long.

False accusations are rare, but sexual assault is not. And for every sexual assault that occurs, there is a person who perpetrated it. I have to accept the possibility that someone I know and love, including my sons, could commit a sexual assault. By accepting this possibility, I am motivated to take steps to make this less likely to occur.

  1. I teach my sons about consent.

How do we prevent our boys from being perpetrators? Well, we start teaching them about consent and boundaries at an early age. Here are examples of things I have said to my son to reinforce the importance of respecting boundaries and practicing consent:

“Brendyn, I know you want to play with Millie right now, but she said she didn’t want to play with you right now.”

“No, I’m not going to make Avery share her toys with you.”

“Brendyn, you don’t have to give Grandma a hug if you don’t want to.”

This leads to conversations with other adults and family members about consent, too: “I’m sorry if your feelings are hurt because he doesn’t want to give you a hug and kiss. He will likely warm up to you soon, but we do not force him to do something with his body that he doesn’t want to do.”

I want my sons to know that they are not entitled to anyone else’s body and that the absence of a “no” does not make a “yes.” I want them to know that a “yes” to one act is not a “yes” to everything. I want them to know that consent is a process, not an event.

Starting to teach our sons about consent early makes it less likely that they will become perpetrators. They will learn that they are not entitled to others’ bodies–and that others are not entitled to theirs.

  1. I recognize that my sons are more likely to experience sexual abuse and assault than to be falsely accused of committing it.

Here are some statistics that may surprise you:

  • 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse by the age of 18.
  • An estimated 1.7% of men (or almost 2 million men) have experienced rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes. [2]
  • Nearly 1 in 5 men (23.4%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.[3]
  • An estimated 6.8 million men were made to penetrate[4] another person in their lifetime. [5]

Our sons are more likely to be sexually assaulted than they are to be falsely accused of rape. And by teaching them about consent, their bodies, and boundaries, we are not only protecting others from sexual abuse and assault. We are protecting them from harm, too.

As a mother of two sons, I understand that raising boys is not, and should not be, easier than raising girls. While society teaches boys one thing—to be strong, dominant, forceful, and rooted in their single perspective, my husband and I work to teach our sons something different: to be respectful and considerate, to take others’ perspectives, and to practice consent in relationships. If enough of us do this, we will change society.

If we do not teach our sons to practice consent, we are putting them at risk of being accused of sexual assault and having it be true. False accusations can happen, but accusations are far more likely to occur. This is the thing we should actually fear, and the good news is we have the power to do something about it.

 

Endnotes:

[1] My friend, Brittany, gave permission for her quote to be used in this essay and I appreciate that she engages me in productive dialogue on Facebook. I also appreciate her support to STAR and to me, and am grateful that she teaches her own son about consent.

[2]Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” United States, 2011

[3]Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” United States, 2011

[4] Being made to penetrate someone else includes times when the victim was made to, or there was an attempt to make them, sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced or threatened with physical harm, or when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.

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