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False Rape Reports

After my Rape and the Police post, I said I’d do a follow-up on false reports of rape.  I do this for two reasons.

  1. False reports do happen, albeit rarely.  Rare or not, they’re worth discussing.
  2. By posting this discussion here, the next time I talk about rape and someone starts to derail the conversation by talking about false accusations, I can redirect the commenter to this post.

The issue of false accusations used to come up every time I spoke to men about rape.  It’s come up in almost every rape-related blog post I’ve written.

I worked with one rape counselor who told me flat-out she didn’t believe anyone would ever falsely accuse someone of rape.  However, I find there’s nothing so heinous that someone, somewhere, hasn’t done it.  (After all, look at the number of people who commit rape.)

I’ve been told only 2% of reported rapes turn out to be false, but I’ve never found a reliable source for that statistic.  A 1996 FBI report found that “Eight percent of forcible rape complaints in 1996 were ‘unfounded’ …”  This includes complaints found to be “false or baseless” … and therein lies a problem.

What qualifies as an unfounded report?  Many reported rapes aren’t prosecuted because those in the legal system don’t feel there’s sufficient evidence.  That doesn’t mean the accuser lied.  Likewise, is “baseless” the same as “false”?  How do we categorize or even identify cases where victims are bullied or intimidated into retracting their statements?

Playing fast and loose with definitions is how you get “Men’s Rights” groups reporting highly inflated numbers of false reports in order to show that rape is exaggerated and used as a weapon against men.

I believe false reports of rape are rare, but they do happen.  I wrote about one case in Michigan, back in 2004.  A student falsely accused a teacher of rape.  The teacher’s name was published in multiple newspaper articles.  The accused teacher’s fiancee was quoted as saying the false charges “took their toll on him,” and he later died of a heart attack.

I can’t imagine the fear and the anger and the stress he must have experienced.  The fact that he was exonerated and his accuser was arrested and sentenced for filing false charges doesn’t undo the pain he went through.

Here’s another example from Maine, which was reported only yesterday.  A woman allegedly made up a story of being raped by five men after a fight with her partner.  I can’t help noticing this line…

“[Police Chief] Craig said he plans to have the woman charged with filing a false report and plans to push for the maximum penalty.”

… and thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if police departments took real rape cases this seriously?

Lying about rape is a horrible thing.  It hurts the one accused, and it hurts victims of rape by giving fuel to those who would use false accusations to deny the reality of rape.  I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who deliberately and maliciously makes up an accusation of rape, for whatever reason.

I wonder though, how many anecdotal stories of false accusations are truly false.  When someone comments how a friend’s cousin’s buddy was falsely accused of rape, what does that mean?  Were charges filed and dropped?  Did the accuser retract her (or his) accusation?  Did the accused say “She’s lying!” and everyone simply chose to believe him?

False accusations are in many ways the reverse of rape cases.  Rape as a crime tends to be underreported and disbelieved.  Stories of false accusations, on the other hand, seem to be both widely believed and incredibly common … which makes sense, in a way.  After all, the first thing someone’s going to say when accused of rape is, “Oh, she’s lying.”

Discussion welcome, as always.  But as with other rape-related discussions here, I’ll be watching the comments and will moderate as needed, so please keep things respectful.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

jhetley
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
Updated reporting on the Maine case, with further details:

http://www.pressherald.com/news/back-cove-assault-a-hoax_2010-07-21.html
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jim. I got your note, but didn't get the chance to go in and modify anything in the post before it went live.
ginmar
Jul. 21st, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
I once read of a rape case where one of the jurors refused to convict because the rape occurred in an upright position and the victim was a virgin. The juror in the case had been married thirty years and did not believe sex, much less rape, could happen that way, nor that a woman could be raped and that no one would hear her screaming. Or that she wouldn't scream.

I posted a comment up above about a case in Maryland, where a woman was raped in her home by a burglar and accused by the police of making it up when she failed the polygraph test they demanded. A month later another woman was raped under nearly identifical circumstances by a rapist with the same M.O.,.

A couple years later the detective who was so skeptical and ready to declare her a liar was accused, charged, and convicted of at least two sexual assaults committed while he was working as a rape squad detective. He got four years. I wonder about the men he served with. I wonder if they noticed anything---and why not.
jhetley
Jul. 22nd, 2010 01:25 am (UTC)
In this particular case, the police are catching criticism for taking her seriously. They went public with the original accusation, right off, as a warning to citizens and a request for witnesses. The location of the reported crime is used by a lot of people . . .

I picked up the reports on my LJ because of the racial overtones. "Rapist black men" is a flashpoint.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)
Is she white? If you want to spot a false rape charge, look for the classic rape that everybody loves---strangers, violence, weapons, etc., etc.,
jimhines
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
I believe she was black, though that detail was left out of the initial report.
jhetley
Jul. 22nd, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)
If you read the followup report, you'll find that she is black. Which has caused the local NAACP chapter president to mutter, publicly, about racism within minorities . . .

When she was considered a victim rather than a perp, she was not identified in any way. This is standard police and press procedure in Maine.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:15 pm (UTC)
Just based on my own reading, I'd guess that most sexual assaults---contrary to myth---are intra racial rather than inter racial, even though I find the whole concept of race deceptive. And from what I've read about this case---which admittedly, is not substantial---I wonder about the circumstances of her recantation. I've heard some awful stories about the pressure put on victims to recant for the sake of the men or 'the race.'
jhetley
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
As far as her retraction goes, I don't believe the police have any physical evidence or any witnesses to an attack that was alleged to have happened in a very public place.

The racial aspect gets tangled -- the police chief happens to be a black man, and he has been left out "dangling in the wind", to use a very touchy metaphor in this sort of case. As Maine is about 95% white, most rapes and most crimes of any kind would be intra-racial.
ginmar
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
What seems possible often has little relation to what actually occurs, I find. I get very nervous when people say, "Oh, it couldn't have happened like that..." because you know? Yeah, it could. People are wrong, people have biases, people get the time wrong, or are just fucked up.

Sadly, having the same skin color doesn't mean much. Sexism really works for men most of the time.

One thing that absolutely astonishes me, repeatedly, is that people don't understand the effect trauma has on people. I've seen rape victims accused of 'changing their story' when what happens with trauma is that it often comes back bit by bit as the brain deals with it. In addition, eyewitness ID---especially across race---is just about useless. I've also seen rape cases dismissed because there was no evidence, when in stranger rapes, the rapist often has difficulty maintaining an erection, often doesn't reach the point of ejaculation, and may in fact not leave much evidence behind----or did and the evidence team was not headed by Horatio Caine.

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