Sunday, October 18, 2009

Heene family must not be charged for hoax as it would deter other families from coming forward when looking for help in a rescue

The Heene family hoax from last Thursday, involving a Colorado couple that claimed they thought their six-year-old son was inside a large helium balloon that inadvertently got away and traversed the sky for fifty miles, has been given more newspaper ink than any false rape claim in recent memory except maybe Duke lacrosse. That, in itself, tells us something is terribly wrong with the priorities and political bent of the American news media. Although the balloon hoax caused police and rescue resources to be diverted to the Heene's little show, a false rape claim is often far more serious because when specific males are targeted, a false rape claim plays Russian roulette with the life of an innocent man or boy.

The local sheriff is disappointed in the Heene case, according to this news report, "that he couldn't level more serious charges in the incident . . . . 'We were looking at Class 3 misdemeanor, which hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances," [Sheriff Jim] Alderden said. 'We are talking to the district attorney, federal officials to see if perhaps there aren't additional federal charges that are appropriate in this circumstance.' Alderden earlier said the family could be charged with making a false report to authorities — a Class 3 misdemeanor — if it was determined the balloon saga was a hoax. The low-level crime carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $750 fine, with a minimum sentence of a $50 fine."

I have two questions: First, when was the last time we heard a law enforcement official express disappointment that he or she couldn't level more serious charges for a false rape claim? I follow false rape news stories closely, and I must say I am drawing a blank. What we often hear instead are excuses why they can't charge a particular false rape accuser (e.g., Duke lacrosse, Hofstra, etc.). On the other hand, I can think of a multitude of false rape claims that did far more serious harm, by any objective measure, than the balloon hoax.

Second, do you think anyone will opine that charges shouldn't be brought because it would deter other families from reporting that their children are in need of rescue? I suspect that inane question hasn't crossed anyone's mind, except mine (and only to make a point). No one will be deterred from asking police for help when they need it for fear they won't be believed. Nor is there is any evidence that significant numbers of actual rape victims do not report being raped because they are fearful of not being believed. The difference between the Heene case (where no one would even think to make such an asinine assertion) and false rape claims (where that asinine assertion is made repeatedly) is that the latter have been gender politicized while the former has not. It is well to note that police do not charge rape accusers with making a false police report without actual evidence of falsity beyond the word of the falsely accused male (the exact reverse of rape charges -- where males are routinely charged based on nothing more than the word of the female).

If you want to see how false claims are handled for non-politicized crimes, watch the Heene case. It might just be a model for how false rape claims ought to be handled.