Note: This post contains graphic quotes from a newspaper article about things a serial rapist did to some of his victims. If that bothers you you’ll want to skip this post.
You know that often-cited statistic that half of all rape charges filed by women are false accusations? After doing a bunch of research I’ve concluded that this is pretty much true. Yes, there are a lot of qualifications and very careful definitions, but in formal academic criminology terms early half of all formal accusations of rape really do turn out to be false!
This tidbit, plus the absolutely draconian social and legal ramifications that befall anyone so accused, have been used over the years not only to discredit all accusations of rape but, further, in support of increasingly harsh criminal penalties for false accusations.
Here’s a really lovely story about why making it harder, and harder, and harder to report rape and other sexual assaults perversely decreases rather than increases the likelihood of true accusations.
First, some triggery but necessary context. According to this morning’s Seattle Times
A man facing a potential life sentence in Colorado for a string of violent sexual assaults has been charged with two brutal rapes in Kirkland and Lynnwood [last clause redacted for dramatic effect.]
Prosecutors in both states say O’Leary frequently took photos of the victims and threatened to post them on the Internet.
O’Leary is facing nearly 40 criminal counts in connection with sexual assaults in several cities in Colorado, according to The Denver Post. If convicted in Colorado of the attacks that started in fall 2009, he is facing a sentence of life in prison, prosecutors said.
O’Donnell, in charging documents, called O’Leary “a serial rapist” who engages in “violent and egregiously degrading conduct toward his victims.”
Investigators also say that they found [one of the Washington-State] victim’s name on O’Leary’s computer, Kirkland police Sgt. Todd Aksdal wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.
According to The Denver Post, O’Leary has been charged with sexual assaults in the Colorado cities of Aurora, Golden and Westminster and of attempting to assault another woman who jumped out of a window of her home to escape. The victims were stalked, sometimes for months at a time, and the attacker broke into their homes while the women were sleeping, the newspaper reported.
O’Leary remains in custody in Colorado, where he will be prosecuted before being transferred to Washington state, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
Source: Seattle Times, Sept. 14, 2011
Pretty brutal, right? This guy is one of the out and out bad guys. And you’d think one could have nothing but sympathy for his victims. Now the important part, also from the same article (emphasis mine.)
In the Lynnwood case, the 18-year-old woman said she was awakened by a stranger on Aug. 11, 2008, and was bound, gagged and blindfolded. She said that the attacker photographed her and threatened to post the photos on the Internet, Snohomish County charges said.
The victim reported the attack to Lynnwood police, but for some reason she later recanted. Lynnwood city prosecutors charged her with false reporting, and she pleaded guilty. The woman was ordered to complete court-ordered counseling and pay a $500 fine.
Cornell wrote that the Lynnwood Police Department “recently” reimbursed her the $500, according to charging paperwork.
“Suffice it to say, certain pieces of information just led investigators to the wrong conclusion,” Lynnwood police Cmdr. Steve Rider told The Herald of Everett in April.
Suffice to fucking say! He wasn’t just guilty, when he was arrested police found photographic evidence proving beyond any possible doubt that he was guilty, that it wasn’t a he-said/she-said “communications error,” that he did it, she didn’t want it, and that she was unambiguously a victim of what Whoopie Goldberg fatuously termed “rape-rape.”
Her story didn’t hold up. The police came down on her like a ton of bricks. She plead guilty for filing what turns out to be a 100% well-documented true accusation!
Yikes! What the fuck are we doing?!?!
As you read this article from the Seattle press, and others from Colorado where the perpetrator was more active and where he was finally caught by authorities, what comes to mind isn’t so much that the victim recanted her accusation under pressure from the police. It’s that she went to the police in the first place!
Two reasons for that. First, because of her attacker’s particularly meticulously prepared and violent methods that included not only photos and threats of additional shame (posting photos) and violence (not just against her but her loved ones.) But second because the laws both in favor of perpetrators and, increasingly, against accusers meant she had to be incredibly foolhardy to come forward without the kind of concrete evidence it takes to be taken seriously even after a violent sexual assault.
In other words, in the current climate you have to be either really badly, visibly injured or else really fucking brave and determined to file a truthful report to the police.
The only other people likely to be determined enough, let alone incredibly foolhardy enough, are… people who are so incredibly angry, outraged, vengeful, or else so incredibly “busted” under compromising circumstances, or just plain incredibly stupid, or incredibly attention hungry that they’re willing to file a false report either to intentionally harm someone or else to avoid being compromised for something the would otherwise be held accountable for.
Quick note: Think this is a gendered question? Really? We masculinists — feminist friendly and otherwise — correctly spend a lot of time pondering society’s disregard for male victims. Yet absent ironclad evidence we men are even less likely than women to be believed. With the result that to the extent we’re able to encourage victims to step forward we’re almost certain to see what will look to outsiders like an equally unacceptable increase in false accusations. But to the extent one recognizes how desperately underserved male victims also are by current attitudes towards reporting, one can scarcely take the position that it’s better that ten guilty people go free than one innocent be falsely accused.
Either way, whether traditionally gendered or genuinely gender free, the other side of destigmatizing and decriminalizing accusations by all victims will be a far more realistic, far less artificially induced ratio of true to false accusations against all assailants.
What we’re doing right now isn’t working. Time to try something else.