If Ryan Lochte misled us about armed robbery, how can we trust any man who says he is a victim of theft?

I’m being ridiculous, of course. But this is exactly how women are treated – particularly when it comes to the false accusation of rape

Anna Rhodes
Friday 19 August 2016 19:26
Ryan Lochte has apologised after admitting to giving a false account of an armed robbery in Rio de Janeiro during this year's Olympic Games
Ryan Lochte has apologised after admitting to giving a false account of an armed robbery in Rio de Janeiro during this year's Olympic Games

Ryan Lochte, the darling American swimmer, a flag bearer for the United States of America, the symbol of American sport.

And yet police reports now indicate that Lochte and his teammates lied about being robbed in Brazil by posing as police officers at a petrol station, an astounding revelation for the legions of fans who have cheered them on at the Olympics. How could he do it?

He’s a star and he’s a role model, so of course the excuse provided by USA Swimming’s executive director, Chuck Weigus was that that Lochte and his team suffered a “lapse of judgement”. The real question, though, is this: given Lochte’s public profile, if he could lie about being robbed then how can we trust any man who claims the same thing happened to him?

Ryan Lochte CCTV released

The entire male population has been called to question by this one man’s actions. Now, every time a man claims to have been robbed – particularly if they’ve been drinking beforehand – they’ll be called a liar, asked to provide witnesses, and told the evidence for their claim is spurious, nothing more than one word against another.

I’m being ridiculous, of course. To draw such a conclusion makes no sense whatsoever. But this is exactly how women are treated, particularly when it comes to the false accusation of rape.

Due to rules around anonymity for victims, we’re most likely to hear about a rape investigation through the media when a man is cleared of the crime. The story we hear about rape is that a woman has attempted to ruin a man’s life. Women are “getting away with it”, we are told – yet only 5.7 per cent of rape allegations ever lead to conviction, despite the fact that only a very small number of women ever lie about the crime. A study released by the Crown Prosecution Service showed that in a 17 month test period, 5,651 prosecutions for rape occurred – with 35 false accusations exposed in the same period. That is just 0.6 per cent of the total.

Keir Starmer, previously of the CPS and now a Labour MP, is so concerned about the problem that he believes it is undermining the police and prosecutor’s efforts to handle rape effectively.

So why aren’t we treating men in the same way? Nobody would extrapolate to suggest most or even any future robbery or theft accusations made by men are vexatious, just because one man was found to have lied about a robbery in Rio this summer.

The US Olympic team has apologised for the group’s behaviour, but the excuse that they experienced a “lapse of judgement” leaves us wanting. It is no exoneration, and yet seems to act as such. When promising young swimmer and American college student Brock Turner was found guilty of sexual assault of an unconscious woman, it was also put down to a lack of judgement and “party culture.” Both crimes are described in the language of the mistake, an error rather than an intentional action. When women mislead about a crime, and in particular rape, it is described as planned, organised, laced with deceit, usually carried out for monetary or social gain.

A return to gender parity in how we discuss reports of false accusation would be welcome – especially when it involves high profile cases involving celebrities.

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