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The Nature of the Allegation

Recent discussion on whether it's acceptable to sacrifice one man to false imprisonment in order to jail 50 rapists has inspired me to hunt down an old comment of mine that I think needs repeated.   

Originally, the comment was made in reply to a politician who asked about men's rights issues, and specifically mentioned false rape allegations. Given the history of my personal activism, false accusations are an issue which holds special significance to me, and that is what I chose to address. The comment hit a lot of points that ended up being brought up in that discussion, and also some points that were not, but which are frequently presented in similar discussions. In light of that, I've decided to publish it here. For additional thoughts on the subject, also see my previous post, The Seriousness of the Charge.

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The first thing to understand about rape and false allegations is that we are never going to eliminate either the incidence of innocent people receiving jail time, or guilty people escaping the justice system, because rape cases can be subjective, lawyers can be sneaky, and mistakes can be made with any case.

What we can do is ensure that the reason innocent people sometimes go to jail is not because they were denied their right to a fair trial, and the reason guilty people sometimes get away is not because their initial conviction didn't have to be based on any real evidence and a deserved conviction was overturned because the system enabled poor effort by police and prosecutors in handling the case.

An individual should be convicted of rape when the charge has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The definition of the term Rape should be held to as strict of a standard as the definition of the term murder. The designation of an act of homicide as first degree murder requires that the perpetrator be sane, and that prosecution can show malice aforethought (prior intent) in the evidence presented. The designation of an act of homicide as second degree murder requires intent, but not necessarily prior intent. Homicide which was not intended by the perpetrator is still treated as a crime, but is not treated as murder.
 
Deliberately killing someone is considered a much more heinous act than unintentionally causing someone's death. Both have equal capacity for terrible consequences to the victim - death being the obvious, but also physical and mental suffering prior to death. Both have equal capacity for terrible consequences for the victim's community, leaving behind loss and mourning. The only reason the judicial and penal systems differentiate between murder and homicides that are not murder is that there is a difference in the nature of the perpetrator based on whether the victim's suffering and death were the goals of the actions that killed him or her, or whether they were just something the perpetrator was willing to risk.

Further, there are circumstances in which an individual may cause the death of another, but not be charged with a crime. For instance, if it is demonstrated that an individual had no access to information which would have prevented the action which lead to the death, and no other reason to not perform that action, the death may be ruled as accidental rather than homicide. A driver who hits a pedestrian illegally crossing the street in the dark, wearing nothing bright enough for the driver to see, would be able to argue that 1) if the pedestrian had not illegally crossed, he would not have been in the path of the vehicle, and 2) if the pedestrian had made himself more visible, the driver would have had a chance to avoid hitting him. In this type of case, even though the victim may suffer just as much as a victim of homicide or murder, the individual whose actions caused the victim's death is not equal to the perpetrators of those crimes, in that he or she neither intended to kill nor was willing to risk killing as a side effect of the actions which led to the death.

The terms of rape should be treated with equally strict standards with similar regard to other sex crime terms and standards. It is not strictly  the experience of the victim which should determine the nature of the of the charge. The intent of the accused must be taken into account when determining what charge should be made. The term rape should apply if there is evidence that the act was committed with intent to override the victim's right to refuse sexual advances (such as injuries from applied force, a weapon or coercion/blackmail used to force compliance, or an act performed on an obviously incapacitated victim.)

If evidence does not show that level of intent, then the term rape should not apply. Even though the victim may be able to demonstrate equal consequences (emotional and physical suffering, with possibility of diseases and pregnancy) there is a difference in the nature of the perpetrator  based on whether the victim's suffering and risks were the goals of the actions of the accused, or whether they were a result of lack of understanding, lack of communication, or other factors which caused the accused to fail to realize a conscious partner who declined to rebuff advances was not a willing participant.

The definition of the term Rape should apply equally to both sexes. It is no less heinous or depraved to deliberately override a man's right to refuse sexual advances than it is to deliberately override a woman's right, nor does being the same sex as the victim change the wrongness of the act. The choice to do so shows the same character flaw regardless of sex. The law and the legal system should not discriminate against any sex or sexuality by failing to penalize the act of violation on those bases.

The second thing to understand, the thing that those who argue in favor of compromising accused men's right to due process fail to understand, is that discussion on the issues of false allegations and due process is not a pit fight between the due process rights of the falsely accused, and the personal rights of existing or potential rape victims. Debaters often forget that the "falsely" in falsely accused refers to accused who did not commit the crime, not someone who is trying to get away with rape.

Imprisoning the falsely accused does not
  • prevent rape
  • undo rape
  • avenge the victim
  • act as a substitute for handling actual perpetrators
  • achieve justice
Imprisoning the falsely accused does
  • victimize an innocent person
  • create the risk of additional rape
  • damage the community's respect and trust for the justice system
  • damage the community's respect and trust for the law
  • damage the community's sympathy and trust for rape victims
Arguments in favor of lowering the burden of proof in rape cases are based on the assumed disposability of men (the majority of the accused) in that these arguments accept the fact of potentially destroying the accused's life for the satisfaction of the accuser regardless of whether the accusation has merit.
 
This leads to the third thing which really must be understood. Knowingly and willfully leveling a false allegation is a heinous act with potentially terrible consequences for the accused. Those consequences can range from emotional pain and suffering to whole life-altering destruction of reputation and relationships, to wrongful imprisonment.

The law and the legal system already have set ways in which methods of false allegation (false police reports, perjury, slander) are handled. Where criminal charges would apply if the false statements made were about any other matter, they should also apply in rape cases. The same standards of severity and consequence used to determine the seriousness of those charges in other cases should be used to determine the seriousness of the charges when the lie told involves rape. The standard for proof should also be the same.

Arguments against holding knowing and deliberate (proved) false accusers responsible for their actions are based on the assumed greater value of the rights of women (the majority of accusers) over the rights of men. It is an argument that although there is an authority response and legal process for handling the victimization of women, there should not be an equal response and process for handling the victimization of men, with the reason given being that having that response and process available to men might prevent women from using it.

These things really are the bottom line:

The stated experience of the alleged victim does not define the nature of the accused. We cannot permit compassion for the alleged victim and a quest for retribution for her alleged suffering to reduce our acknowledgement of and deference to the basic human rights of the accused. The choice to fall into that trap depends on treating the human existence of men, the group most often accused, as less than that of women, the group which most often accuses.

Due process rights cannot be compromised, and laws protecting them must be enforced. If we make that compromise, fail in our standards and our efforts because of how we feel about the nature of the allegation, then we are no more righteous, no more validated, no more upstanding, and no more rational than a lynch mob.

The food stamp challenge: highlighting issues with social services (3)

Back to the food stamp challenge:

The description in this story and on this facebook page show that the challenge assumes a monthly stipend of $150.00, or 75% of the maximum allowed for a single person. A single person working 30.5 hours a week at federal minimum wage, paying $550.00 in rent and $125.00 in utilities per month (the bottom end of the national average for a 1 bedroom apartment according to Numbero) or a single person receiving $315.00 a month in unearned income (like alimony) or $393.00 a month in earned income (13.5 hours a week at federal minimum wage, or three 4.5 hour shifts) and listing no expenses would receive this much.

These individuals would also be eligible for other assistance programs (results based on first example - 30.5 hours/week at federal minimum wage, single person) and these services can be applied for simultaneously, reducing or even eliminating the strain on the individual's monetary income, so the treatment of food stamps as the sole available income for grocery spending is, in many cases, false or misleading.

Further, taking a single week out of context, and treating one's shopping budget as per-week with no holdover (as in the rule against using anything existing in your pantry) is a deceptively unfrugal method. This limits the participant from being able to use careful planning and conservative cooking habits to stretch a food budget, as we do at my house, a habit which allowed us to not use all of the budget the state allotted us. Purchasing meat products in larger sizes for a primary usage when they are on sale (a roast, a whole turkey, bulk ground meat) will result in a mass of leftovers which can be divided, frozen, and used in later recipes (soups and stews, casseroles, stir-fries and other mixed foods) is one method that only works if you measure your budget with a long-term approach instead of taking into account only the immediate future. Purchasing ingredients instead of ready-made items is another; cost-effective purchase of ingredients that keep (like flour, oil, rice, or dry beans) means buying more than you will use in a week. Take away that planning ability, and your challenge forces the participant to buy pre-packaged, ready-made foods, the immediate purchase of which is less expensive than the immediate total cost of bulk ingredients, but which will be much more rapidly used up.

One thing that participation in the challenge can demonstrate is the impact of small but repeated wasteful spending habits on a monthly food budget. Single-serve foods and beverages, pre-made foods, and unhealthy snacks can more than double grocery expenses. Another is the impact of shopping at the wrong place. Equidistant from my apartment is a grocery store and a convenience store. The convenience store carries some of the same products as the grocery, but the price difference is considerable, even sticking with just grocery items. A gallon of milk from the convenience store is double the price charged by the grocery. A loaf of bread is two and a half times as much. Delving into the snack and convenience item shelves, there are items which are triple the grocery store price. Worse, when I worked at that little store, we had customers asking if they could use food stamps to purchase fountain drinks, machine-made cappuccino, and roller-grill items (expensive as heck; compare spending $1.50 on one hot dog to $4.00 on a package of 8 at the grocery.) Had the store been able to accept food stamps, the answer would have unfortunately been yes.

I know the point of the exercise is showing that living on food stamps is hard. Of course it's hard. Living on any tight budget is hard. The problem is that Americans are starting to forget the difference between hard, and impossible. It has become too easy to fall back on the government for the answer to every little problem, and to not get back up from that safety net once you're down. It's all to easy too get comfortable extending one's budget on someone else's dollar.

The difficulty in remaining within a $35.00 weekly budget is not solely indicative of insufficient funding, insufficient provision, or callousness on the part of public servants for not finding ways to increase the stipend. It is in part indicative of the incomplete picture presented by the test itself, and more so of the level to which America has relaxed its standards of ingenuity, industriousness, diligence, and tenacity. The only remaining question is how hard will our economy have to crash before we figure that out?

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The food stamp challenge: highlighting issues with social services (2)

3) How does this affect the kids?
From the article Expenditures of single parents: how does gender figure in?
Single fathers are much more likely than single mothers to own their homes. In fact, the numbers are almost exactly opposite with regard to owning and renting: nearly two-thirds of single fathers (64 percent) own their homes, while nearly two-thirds of single mothers (63 percent) rent their homes. Like income, home ownership is an important measure of economic well-being. For example, because owners can build equity in their property, they have greater access to loans in case of emergency or even planned-for events, such as their children’s education.
From The Kids Are Not Really Alright, By W. Bradford Wilcox, Slate, Friday, July 20, 2012:
Take two contemporary social problems: teenage pregnancy and the incarceration of young males. Research by Sara McLanahan at Princeton University suggests that boys are significantly more likely to end up in jail or prison by the time they turn 30 if they are raised by a single mother.  
and
One study by Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona found that about one-third of girls whose fathers left the home before they turned 6 ended up pregnant as teenagers, compared with just 5 percent of girls whose fathers were there throughout their childhood. This dramatic divide was narrowed a bit when Ellis controlled for parents’ socioeconomic background—but only by a few percentage points. The research on this topic suggests that girls raised by single mothers are less likely to be supervised, more likely to engage in early sex, and to end up pregnant compared with girls raised by their own married parents.
Prolonged family dependence on welfare can lead to a cyclical effect wherein the next generation is primed to trap themselves in the same pattern, rather than seeing improvement in their quality of life in adulthood.
A similar study by Mary Corcoran and Roger Gordon of the University of Michigan shows that receipt of welfare income has negative effects on the long-term employment and earnings capacity of young boys.

The study shows that, holding constant race, parental education, family structure, and a range of other social variables, higher non-welfare income obtained by the family during a boy's childhood was associated with higher earnings when the boy became an adult (over age 25). 6 However, welfare income had the opposite effect: The more welfare income received by a family while a boy was growing up, the lower the boy's earnings as an adult.17
and

The current welfare system may be conceptualized best as a system that offers each single mother with two children a "paycheck" of combined benefits worth an average of between $8,500 and $15,000, depending on the state. 12 The mother has a contract with the government: She will continue to receive her "paycheck" as long as she does not marry an employed man.
and

Daughters of single mothers are twice as likely to be single mothers themselves if they are black, and only slightly less so if they are white. 34 And boys living in a single-parent family are twice as likely to father a child out of wedlock as are boys from a two-parent home. 35 The TALENT study, noted earlier, already had found that children born to teenage parents are more likely to become teen parents themselves. 36
And
Research article: Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy?
Bruce J. Ellis, John E. Bates, Kenneth A. Dodge, David M. Fergusson, L. John Horwood, Gregory S. Pettit, and Lianne Woodward
In conclusion, father absence was an overriding risk factor for early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy. Conversely, father presence was a major protective factor against early sexual outcomes, even if other risk factors were present. These findings may support social policies that encourage fathers to form and remain in families with their children (unless the marriage is highly conflictual or violent; Amato & Booth, 1997).
4) What does this mean for the national economy?
Based on the issues described following question 3, and the choice-based phenomenon described following question 1 versus the necessary adaptation described following question 2, we are faced with the problem of a self-perpetuating cycle of choice-based welfare dependency related to single motherhood. In other words, as long as it remains acceptable for courts to choose unemployed mothers over employed fathers for custody awards, the problem will continue, and in fact is likely to escalate.
This is not an indefinitely sustainable system.
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The food stamp challenge: highlighting issues with social services

Recent discussion I've seen on this topic has prompted me to write about it. And no, this isn't specifically, on its own, a men's rights or antifeminist issue. However, it is related in that women are disproportionately served by the Health and Human Services (welfare) department of the U.S. government, and in affording themselves of those benefits, they necessitate government pursuit of paternal child support.
This is not a complaint (well, maybe a little;)  but for purposes of this discussion, a statement of reality, based in the gender disparity in custody awards, and how that effects income and eligibility. There is also a difference in tendency to rely on social services for income assistance. This study is old and small, but it raises an interesting point and some interesting questions.
The point:
while single fathers report more income from employment (wages and salaries or self-employment) and savings and investment (interest, dividend, rental, and other property income), single mothers report much more income from assistance sources (for example, unemployment, workers’ compensation, public assistance, alimony, and child support).
The questions:

1) Why? Why is it that more custodial fathers work and support their families, while more custodial mothers rely on the government?
This question doesn't have a simple answer. It would be easy, as a woman, to attribute factors cited in feminist complaints as reasons why women need support; lack of education, unemployability, the difficulty of juggling single parenthood and a career... but reality does not back up those complaints. Women have been given boost after boost in the American education system. We have special funding for post-secondary education, special funding for business goals... even Walmart has gotten in on the "special initiatives for women" gig. With educational initiatives for women dating back to the 60s, and both government and private initiatives spanning all of that time, there must be another explanation for the discrepancy. When you eliminate lack of opportunity and lack of funding, you're left with choice as the obvious answer.

This choice is facilitated by a system designed to protect custodial mothers from poverty. Custodial parent-designated eligibility for a number of social programs (including medicaid insurance and WIC) begins during or may be enhanced by pregnancy, meaning that unwed mothers may become dependent upon social services for income assistance prior to the effects which child custody can have on ability to attend school or accept work. Income caps on these programs discourage initiative to step up from a welfare income to an independent source, particularly when doing so can result in a loss of "income" before it results in a financial gain.
2) Why is this not also happening with single fathers?
This may be partly explained in differences in the manner in which custody is determined. For mothers, custody begins at conception, as it obviously cannot be altered during gestation. Therefore, for the never-married single mother, maternal custody at birth is a given unless it is contested by, or conceded to the father. In the event of divorce, the default award is similar due to existing social standards.

Paternal custody in unwed circumstances, then will necessarily depend upon one of two things; either mutual choice by both parents, or evidence-based decision by a judge. The latter is dependent upon proof by the petitioning father that he is a fit parent, able to provide for the child, or that the mother is so unfit that by comparison he is the better choice.

The initial-custody gap (wherein the approach to paternal custody begins with a circumstance of maternal custody) promotes a secondary circumstance which has a direct effect on the father's employment status: Mandatory child support payments. In order to make those payments, the payer must have an income, which in most cases necessitates being employed. 

Social standards also contribute to the employment factor; It has been traditionally expected that fathers will be employed, whether single and noncustodial, or married. Though standards have recently begun to evolve to a more gender-neutral approach to parenting, Census bureau data between 1994 and 2010 shows that in the majority of married couple family groups with one stay-at-home parent, that parent has been the mother. This creates a gap in numbers, wherein custody determination begins with unemployed mothers more than with unemployed fathers.

Though food stamps are universally available based on income standards, an unemployed or underemployed single parent with residential custody will necessarily receive a larger stipend than a single individual, or a non-custodial parent.

Further, under federal rules, to be eligible for benefits a household's income and resources must meet three tests: Gross monthly income, Net income, and assets. The first test measures the applicant's gross income (before deductions) against the poverty level to determine eligibility. The second test measures the applicant's net (after deductions) against the poverty level to determine the size of the stipend. The third measures the applicant's available financial resources: households without an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $2,000 or less, and households with an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $3,250 or less, but in many cases, it is the first test which disqualifies a noncustodial father paying child support. In plain English: The first test counts the noncustodial parent's child support payments, often garnished before he receives his paycheck, against his eligibility for food stamps. A man may be assessed a high debt at a judge's whim (not because it's legal, but because once his pay has been confiscated, he can't afford a lawyer or even court costs to contest the ruling) and garnished at up to his state's percentage limit (60% in my state) of his income before other deductions... meaning that after that percentage is taken, the employer will also take out federally required deductions, state tax, and in many cases local taxes. 

On a personal level, I can report that for some years, this left my husband bringing home 15% of his gross pay. Though his net was far below the poverty level, his gross was just a few dollars per month above where the cut-off for food stamps would have been, were he single... just high enough to keep him from being eligible. Fortunately, our situation did not depend on one person's income. Doing 3 (and sometimes 4) different jobs in 3 (and sometimes several) different counties was not easy, but it kept us housed and fed - though I would also note that there have been times in our history when we have been eligible. Most of those times, we have not opted to apply, but sudden, unavoidable changes in employment have led to use of the food stamp system. Even then, we were eligible for more than we needed based on our household's consumption... I'll expand on this later.

The situation which would have been faced by my husband, were he single, is a reality for many men; income to which they never have access is counted against their eligibility for social programs, designating those with borderline-poor gross incomes as ineligible despite their being rendered impoverished by duel government mandate: They are required to work, in order to pay support, so they must accept whatever work they can get... and that percentage of their pay is confiscated regardless of the circumstances that creates, but still counts against their eligibility for government assistance. When your government can take 85% of your income for various reasons and still deny you assistance because on paper you "have" too much, you can't afford to rely on welfare for support.

Custodial parents, on the other hand, may base their eligibility on a larger household by virtue of that custody. There is no mandate requiring custodial parents to hold a paying job, and there are some programs available only to families with children (like the Healthy Start end of the medicaid system, and WIC, the name of which - Women, Infants, Children - is even gendered.) To a point, by qualifying for multiple programs, a single, unemployed or underemployed custodial parent can actually "earn" more through the health and human services department than a full-time worker brings home. While receipt of child support may reduce the dollar amount of services received, unlike for the payer, it does not do so based on income not received by the applicant. Aside from collected taxes (which may be returned as a refund later,) the custodial applicant actually has all of the money considered income for the purpose of determining eligibility. Further, the assessment of that income often divides it between one person more than the number of "earners" (the kids, plus one parent,) and the parent can claim dependent care (babysitting) costs against the income listed. In all, it is much easier for a low-income single parent - more often the mother - to qualify for assistance than for a noncustodial parent - more often the father. 

These combined factors lead to the prevalence of custodial fathers starting out ineligible for assistance due to existing employment circumstances, rather than starting out with the use of social services as a form of financial support.
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