Thursday, August 27, 2009

Girl recants rape claim, charges dropped -- but she's still "the victim." Huh?

Prosecutors drop rape charges against man

Girl recanted her story that Allentown resident had sex with her for years.
August 27, 2009

The charges against an Allentown man accused of raping a girl a decade ago were dropped Tuesday after the victim recanted her story, the Lehigh County district attorney's office said.

Jorge Lopez, 42, had been charged with rape of a person less than 13 years old, indecent deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 13 years old, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault.

He was released from Lehigh County Prison, where he had been since charges were filed in April.

On Wednesday, he said he feels vindicated, but was upset about spending four months in jail and having everyone read about the accusations.

According to court records, the girl, who was between 4 and 6 years old from 1999 to 2001, confided to a friend's mother this year that Lopez had been having sex with her for years. Lehigh County Children and Youth officials were contacted by the friend and referred the case to Allentown police.

Charges were withdrawn Tuesday after the girl, who is now 14, recanted her story and prosecutors could not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, district attorney spokeswoman Debbie Garlicki said.

-- Manuel Gamiz Jr.



I write to express my concern about your use of the term "victim" to describe the former rape accuser who recanted her claim in "Prosecutors drop rape charges against man," August 27.

A man spent four months in prison based on the say-so of a child for alleged sex acts that occurred a decade ago. She has now recanted, and the charges have been dropped. Yet your news report refers to her as "the victim."

Language matters. By labeling her the "victim" when the prosecutor has determined there is insufficient evidence to proceed to trial, much less obtain an adjudication of guilt, you have implicitly declared her allegation to be factual, and the former accused to be a "rapist." Such a description does a grave disservice to (1) the presumed innocent man who is no longer subject to rape charges since, by necessity, he "must" be guilty-in-fact if The Morning Call labels his accuser a "victim"; (2) actual rape victims, because you trivialize rape when you include among its victims women and girls who have recanted and are likely, or at least may be, false accusers; and (3) your readers, who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when you transform a former accuser into a "victim."

It is well to note that the U.S. Supreme Court last year in Kennedy v. Louisiana recognized "[t]he problem of unreliable, induced, and even imagined child testimony" in child rape cases. The Court noted: "Studies conclude that children are highly susceptible to suggestive questioning techniques like repetition, guided imagery, and selective reinforcement." It also bears noting that every objective study ever conducted on false rape claims in general shows that they are a significant problem. Every single one, with apologies to rape counselors who continue to call false rape claims "a myth" and to cite a two percent statistic that has been thoroughly debunked in the law reviews and by everyone who has examined the issue.

The only fair manner of reporting on these cases is to refer to recanting accusers as exactly what they are: recanting accusers.

I implore you to exercise greater care in reporting on such stories, and to show sensitivity to the presumed innocent and their families, by not suggesting that when rape charges are dropped that depend on the say-so of a child, the former accused, the presumed innocent, evaded justice.

Thank you.

Pierce Harlan
False Rape Society