October 7 update: Readers coming from Minding the Campus should know that I take issue with KC Johnson’s gloss on this post. I’ve submitted a comment to that effect over there, and written a follow-up post here as well.

In a new post this morning about last week’s Hofstra rape case — in which a student initially said she’d been raped by five men, then withdrew her allegations — Jaclyn Friedman writes the following:

There’s a widespread assumption that recanting an accusation means that you’re admitting you lied. But in reality, lots of victims recant not because they made it up, but because they come to the unfortunate realization that it will cost them more, emotionally, to pursue justice than to let it go.

We’ll probably never now what happened in this case, but it’s entirely possible that she was threatened by the accused perpetrators or their associates, interrogated by the police about her sexual history or what she might have done to “provoke” the attack, or blamed and slandered by the media or people in her community. All of these things happen all too often to rape victims who speak out. Let’s not ignore the possibility that they happened here.

This is important stuff to keep in mind, and Friedman makes other good points along the way. But I’d like to take it a step further: Even if the Hofstra student lied in her original statement to the police, it doesn’t automatically follow that she wasn’t raped.

The cultural pressures that lead women to falsely recant rape charges are the same pressures that lead women to blame themselves, or expect blame from others, when their rapes don’t follow an accepted narrative. If a woman is raped by a man she’s been intimate with before, or raped in the course of a sexual encounter that began as consensual, or raped in circumstances in which her judgment may be called into question, she can expect to be disbelieved, shamed, and attacked, and that expectation may lead a rape survivor to alter her story to make it more palatable to police, or to a jury, or even to her friends and family.

I don’t know what happened that night, and I expect that I never will. I’m not accusing any of the five men who were named of anything, and I’m not saying that the fact that they were accused means they must have done something wrong. I don’t know, and I’m not interested in speculating.

I do, though, want to say clearly that the question of what happened isn’t a binary one of “she told the truth, and they’re guilty” vs. “she lied, so they’re innocent.”

It’s possible that she lied and that some or all of them are guilty.