Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Wrongly Accused?

Dear Dr V,

I’m writing to you because I want a female perspective on this. I’m now in between semesters at college, I’m about to start my senior year. My roommate is a good friend of mine who I met right when I got to school and we’ve been rooming together for two years. Recently, he’s been accused of date-rape. He denies it, and I believe him. His accuser’s being very vocal about everything, speaking out against him online and she’s trying to get the school newspaper to run a story on the incident (she’s very active in campus politics and could make that happen). This also makes me question the truth of her story. It’s also time for us to renew our lease, and my parents think I shouldn’t room with this person anymore, as they’re concerned his bad reputation will rub off on me. (our place has already been vandalized a few times because of this) I’m not sure what to do. As of now, I believe my friend, and I want to be there for him, but I also don’t want to get involved in any kind of trouble that’s not my business. What should I do?


Dear Todd,

That’s quite a reality check to be given just as you’re preparing for your final year at school. It is certainly a complicated set of circumstances on many different levels, yet, even without your parents applying additional pressure, you are in a situation that calls for you to make a decision that will directly affect your immediate future, and possibly beyond. So I think it would behoove you to very carefully consider just what course of action you will take before you move ahead with it.

You also say you believe your roommate’s claims of innocence. Why? Is it something you can feel and know in your heart, or do you simply want to believe he’s innocent because the alternative is too unpleasant to even consider? I agree with our legal system that all are innocent until proven guilty, but that is the job of the court. As such, there may not be a legal resolution to this issue until long after the deadline to decide your living arrangements has passed. And this will not be an easy decision. Loyalty to friends is an admirable trait, but when that loyalty begins to have a negative impact on your own life, I believe it would be wise to think about how far we are willing to go in the name of “being there” for someone. You’ve mentioned that your place has been vandalized. I’m sorry to say this will probably continue for as long as this issue remains unresolved, and perhaps even beyond, depending on the outcome. And, right or wrong, there’s a reason the phrase “guilt by association” developed. It might be wrong, perhaps even unjust, but the reality is that if you remain closely associated with this person throughout the coming ordeal, you may not be immune from the resulting fallout.

Without assuming your roommate’s guilt or innocence, I would like to address something you said in your question that concerns me. In not so many words, you said that the fact that your roommate’s accuser is being vocal about what allegedly happened leads you to believe that her allegations might in fact be false. Is this because she’s not behaving the way a rape victim is “supposed to” behave? By supposed to I’m referring to the de rigueur Cop Show portrayal of the victimized woman feeling so paralyzed with shame and trauma that she’s barely able to speak when the Detectives ask her what happened. Needless to say, it’s not uncommon for women (and really anybody for that matter), to shut down like that after a horrific trauma such as a rape. However, we are all individuals, each with our own unique emotional wiring that dictates how we respond to the world around us, and what happens to us in it. It is possible that this woman finds moving into a place of vocal and active anger to be cathartic for her? Rape is an act of violent disempowerment. Perhaps, if this crime did occur, this young woman is trying to find the equilibrium and control she lost over her life by reasserting herself as a strong young woman on the outside, while inside she may in fact be torn to pieces. You also might want to consider why anyone would want to put themselves out in the public eye as a rape victim if in they are not?

This of course does not mean you should abandon your friend in his hour of need, especially if you remain convinced of his innocence. However, you must find a balance between caring for your friend, and caring for yourself. Unless you feel that you can cope with the vandalism and harassment, perhaps it would be wise to find somewhere else to live. Cases such as this often become maelstroms of controversy for those associated with the persons directly involved, as until there is some kind of official ruling from the court, it is largely a case of gossip and hearsay deciding the issue in a court of public opinion. While moving out could cause friction in your relationship, the stress might be eased somewhat if during and after the move you made it abundantly clear to your friend that you were still emotionally supportive and available.

Your friend and roommate is now in some serious trouble, of a potentially life-altering variety, and more importantly, this is a situation that you are not responsible for, nor is it something that you really have anything to do with. Yet, because of your close association with a young man who is now an accused rapist, you are potentially connected to it. Regardless of how it plays out for the two parties involved, this awful mess is not of your making. It would be unfortunate if you had to pay for a wrong you did not commit. In seeking to be just and fair to your friend, I hope you don’t unintentionally wrong yourself in the process.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

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