I Was Wrong About The Patrick Kane Rape Case

The woman who accused Blackhawks player Patrick Kane stopped cooperating with the investigation a few days ago, and the prosecutor announced today that Kane won’t be charged.

A few months ago, I published one piece about the tired, boring, but really offensive things I had to listen to people saying about Kane’s accuser based solely on the fact that she was accusing a famous man. I stand by the opinion that you can’t jump to conclusions about women who accuse famous men of rape, because fame doesn’t make you automatically a good or even cautious person. Ask Bill Cosby. Famous men do rape people, accusers aren’t always in it for the money, and even when an alleged rape victim takes a settlement, I think there are plenty of good reasons for doing so.

However, I also published a story about the victim’s family saying that a tampered bag of evidence had been left on their doorstep. At that point, I assumed that something was afoot and the family was, indeed, being intimidated. The next day, the family’s lawyer quit, saying that he’d learned something that made his ongoing defense untenable. It turned out that the claim about the tampered evidence was a hoax.

I was asked by readers if I would recant, at that point, and I decided to wait and see what happened with the story and follow up when a decision was made about the case. If you’re one of those commenters, here you go: I recant.

I was on the advice panel of the blog I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault in its initial stages. The ethos at IBYINYF is that we should believe people who say that they’ve been raped and abused regardless of whether or not there’s evidence. I enact that in my personal life, because if someone says that they’ve been raped or abused, whether or not there’s evidence, my being compassionate about whatever pain they’re in does not affect the person they’re accusing. It only helps the person who’s in pain. I think it’s a moral way to treat people.

But professionally, it’s not a good tack to take, because for better or worse, the public takes the written word and reporting on the news seriously, even when it’s not well-reported. I covered the Kane story in a way that is by no means unusual, but was also not held to high factual standards. It would have been possible to report on the ongoing developments in the case without implying that Kane was guilty.

This is not a mea culpa so much as a way to bring up a problem that happens in blogging: You see the news, you have to formulate an opinion quickly, and then you publish it. Many blogs have a political undertone, and The Frisky is one of those. The political slant of the blog can color that quickly-formulated opinion, and that can lead to some less than stellar journalism.

Over the last few years, women’s blogs have been grappling with the assertion by online misogynists that false rape accusations are extremely common. We – to the extent that I can speak for my colleagues and peers – know (in many cases from our own experiences) that plenty of rape accusers have in fact been raped, that they don’t always pursue legal recourse, and that the standard of evidence required for pursuing a rape investigation can be scrutinizing and re-traumatizing. We don’t believe that false rape accusations are as common as, say, Reddit “red pill”-ers would like people to think, and the scant data that is available from the FBI seems to be on our side.

We also have to sit through news cycles in which stories about girls and women whose rapes were caught on video and shared on social media are reported with utmost sympathy for the accused rapists. It is stomach-churning and heartwrenching. Maybe Steubenville made us feel like we had to use our position as bloggers and journalists to advocate for the rape victims, since the mainstream media coverage of the case was, as the Columbia Journalism Review put it, “dismal.” The Jada story affirmed this view.

But more often than there’s video or photo evidence of a rape, and more often than there are long-standing and voluminous testimonies about an accused rapist (as in Bill Cosby’s case), there are cases in which it’s not clear what happened, like Kane’s. Or there are cases like Conor Oberst’s, in which the accuser eventually completely recanted her story. Our coverage of the Oberst story was called “hugely irresponsible” as part of a larger criticism of online reportage about rape accusations. Internet reportage –blogging – does a lot of speculating based on authors’ own personal beliefs rather than on the facts.

And yes, the facts are not always readily available, partially because it sucks to participate in a rape investigation and many victims opt not to, and the case goes unreported. But my view, at this point, is that instead of reporting things we don’t know, instead of speculating, we should be reporting on how paltry the data about rape really is, how much we don’t know about how this crime happens. Instead of trying to advocate for rape victims one accuser at a time, we should be advocating for more and better data, and then we should be reporting on that data accurately and intelligently.

As much as it hurts to hear that someone has been raped, as members of the media, it’s not our job to be champions for those alleged victims. It is our job to seek out the facts, to disclose where the facts aren’t available, and to criticize systems that get in the way of good reportage, like obfuscation, bad data, and in the case of rape, harassment that has a chilling effect on victims’ willingness to speak publicly or pursue recourse.

Inasmuch as that’s the case, I’m sorry that I didn’t do my job with the story about Patrick Kane, and that I contributed negatively to public discourse about the case. In the future, I’ll stick to reporting what I know.

[Columbia Journalism Review]
[Daily Dot]

[Image via Getty]

Send me a line at rebecca@thefrisky.com.