Saturday, November 7, 2009

Finally, a chance to reduce false rape claims

We frequently talk here about how the crime of making a false report of rape is treated so cavalierly. Finally, as shown by the article below, some state legislators are looking to do something about it.

Contact Rep. Murt, lend him all the support you can:

District Office:19 South York Rd.Hatboro, PA 19040
Phone (215) 674-3755Fax: (215) 674-3021

Capitol Office:429 Irvis Office Building
PO Box 202152Harrisburg PA 17120-2152
(717) 787-6886

Here is the bill in question:

Look on the face of the bill and find the bill's co-sponsors: lend them any support you can, too: List of Pennsylvania state legislators

Now read the news story:

Proposed Law Would Protect The Falsely Accused

By Susan Brinkmann, For the Bulletin
Friday, November 06, 2009

The persistence of an Abington teacher whose life was nearly destroyed after being falsely accused of raping a student, has led to the proposal of a new law that could make would-be accusers think twice before filing a false claim.
A chance encounter at a seniors meeting at St. David’s Church in Willow Grove last spring between the wife of retired Abington School District teacher Mike Gallagher, 71, and Rep. Tom Murt, R., Montgomery/Philadelphia, led to the introduction of H.R. 2600. The bill, introduced on Sept. 25, will upgrade the offense for giving police false information about a crime from a second or third degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony.

“It’s very painful to see someone get charged unfairly,” Rep. Murt said. “I don’t know why people would ever do that and I don’t know why anyone would go after someone like Mike Gallagher because I’m sure he was a very dedicated and very caring teacher. But sometimes people just do cruel things.”

More than 10 years ago, the lives of Mike and Betty Gallagher were turned upside down when a student accused Mike of repeatedly raping her while she was a fifth grade student at Willow Hill Elementary.

“It was December of 1997 when two detectives showed up at my house to say there was a complaint against me and I’d have to come down to the station,” Mike recalled.

He was told that the student had accused him of raping her more than 20 times during the 1985-86 school year.

He knew the charges were untrue, but that didn’t stop police from arresting him on Jan. 22, 1998.

“I was thrown in jail for a couple hours, then paraded in handcuffs to the District Justice’s office with every major news channel there,” he said. “I remember Vernon Odom sticking a mike in my face and asking, ‘Are you guilty of this crime?’”

For the next 10 months, he lived a teacher’s worst nightmare, suspended without pay, racking up $45,000 in lawyer fees and, worst of all, watching his good name scorned and his family humiliated.

In the end, the student’s story unraveled and law enforcement realized it was all a lie.

She was never charged and walked away scot free. The Gallaghers didn’t have it so easy. They were left with the tattered remains of their life and a conviction that something needed to be done to help other victims of the same injustice. For years, they helped others who were falsely accused, and lobbied Pennsylvania lawmakers to toughen penalties for those who knowingly make false allegations.

While statistically difficult to pin-point, national figures for false reports of rape range anywhere from two to 50 percent only because most reports don’t distinguish between women who deliberately misreport and women who mistakenly identify innocent men.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report states that eight percent of reports of forcible rape are found to be false, but that pecentage doesn’t include cases where an accuser fails or refuses to cooperate in an investigation or drops the charges.

No one knows better than Mike Gallagher that every statistic represents a life forever changed, so when Rep. Murt came to a senior’s meeting at St. David’s church in Willow Grove last spring, Mrs. Gallagher didn’t hesitate to ask if he thought there might be any interest in the House in upgrading the offense for making a false report.

Rep. Murt looked into the issue and discovered that there had been attempts to pass a similar law prior to 2007, but the effort did not succeed. He decided it was worth another try and assembled a bi-partisan coalition of 20 co-sponsors who were willing to sign on to H.R. 2600. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

“We think the bill has merit,” Rep. Murt said. “I think it will discourage people from making untrue claims about somebody with a motive of ‘shaking the money tree.’ It’s a pretty serious thing to damage someone’s reputation and integrity with a charge that’s not true.”

It will also cut down on the amount of wasted time and resources spent by law enforcement chasing down false claims, he said.

“This is time and money that can be spent on patrol work and crime prevention.”

But for families like Mike and Betty Gallagher, this law will spare innocent citizens something even more precious than time and money - their good name.