Sunday, January 17, 2010

The camera doesn't lie: the importance of video evidence in protecting against false rape claims

The following is a lengthy piece that should frighten the daylights out of anyone possessing a Y-chromosome, and anyone who cares about someone possessing that dreaded chromosome. It underscores the dangers posed to innocent men and boys by false rape claims -- and reminds us that sometimes, the only thing that protects them is the happenstance that a video exists that will prove their innocence. Before getting to the scary part -- a summary of recent news stories where video evidence was used to clear men and boys falsely accused -- let's examine the problem.

The problem

In days long gone, to make a rape charge stick, corroboration beyond the lone accusation of the alleged victim was required. Innocent men and boys were not subjected to the possibility of wrongful arrest and conviction based solely on whether their accusers presented a convincing story. The rule requiring corroboration was ditched during the feminist revolution starting in the 1970s with the justification that rape should be treated like other crimes. The fact that rape isn't like other crimes was too politically incorrect to discuss. The fact is, the very act of rape is the same act that constitutes the universal union of love and procreation that has been continuously performed throughout the world since the beginning of time. Without corroboration, the act of love can be easily transmogrified into a rape claim based solely on the assertion of a female who actually consented to it.

The result of the rule change was that presumably more actual rapists were arrested and convicted, but the trade-off was that more innocent men and boys were also arrested, and some were convicted as well. There was scarcely any debate about whether this trade-off was worth it. The wrongly convicted men and boys were considered necessary collateral damage in the far more important war on rape, and to assuage skittish men that they wouldn't be unjustly arrested, the persons who dominated the public discourse about rape insisted that false rape claims are a "myth" even though they aren't.

By then the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction, and we turned the former reality on its head: the accuser no longer needed corroboration of the crime but the accused now needed corroboration of his innocence. Police, under intense political pressure to treat rape more seriously than any other crime, routinely arrested and jailed men and boys based solely on the lone accusation of even mentally unstable women. Arrests were made before evidence that would tend to exonerate the accused was even examined. Since rape is often a "he said/she said" crime, the only thing protecting innocent men and boys from having their lives destroyed by a false rape claim was the good will of women to not falsely accuse them.

The reality is unpleasant and grossly unfair, but it has been confirmed too often to deny: to protect themselves from unjust arrest for false rape charges, innocent men and boys require corroboration of their innocence. And not just any corroboration. If a woman accuses multiple males of raping her, the denials of each of the males won't be sufficient to stave off an arrest.

The solution

So what evidence of corroboration works? The testimony of disinterested third parties can be dispositive, but it's far from ironclad and often isn't enough. The best evidence for corroboration of innocence is not human -- it is DNA (but only where the accused denies the sex act), phone records, emails and text messages showing the "victim" was communicating with others while she was allegedly being "raped," or otherwise evidences that the sexual act was consensual.

But the best evidence is probably video evidence. Men and boys may be presumed to be liars when they are accused of rape, but the camera doesn't lie, and video evidence has secured the freedom of countless accused males.

Is a man justified in breaking the laws that exist in various states by secretly videotaping a sexual encounter in order to have proof of consent in case he is arrested on a false rape charge? We will let you decide that. But it cannot be denied that numerous cases in the very recent past indicate that many innocent men and boys might have had their lives destroyed by a false rape claim if it weren't for video evidence.

Recent cases

On September 10, Hofstra student Danmell Ndonye's vicious rape lie led to a rush to judgment and the no-questions-asked-incarceration of four innocent young men. Days later it was revealed that a video of the act showed it was consensual. That didn't stop one feminist writer from asserting that the young man who made the video that prevented the falsely accused young men from serving multiple years in prison for a crime they didn't commit, "is the most twisted" one of all.

Three 17-year-old boys were arrested after Victoria Salter, 26, told police they raped her. She even shaved her head and claimed the boys had used hair removal cream on her. Fortunately, one of the boys filmed the incident, which proved the sex not only was consensual but that Salter was participating enthusiastically.

After Neeneev S. Youkhana, 22, was stopped by police for speeding, she reported she had been fondled during a pat down search after a traffic stop. Police reviewed video from a dashboard camera in his squad car which showed the entire 10-minute traffic stop. At no time did the officer touch Youkhana. "When confronted with the video, Youkhana began to cry and started punching herself in the face and head, police said. Youkhana retracted her statement . . . ." A police officer explained: "Here's an example where we really see the value of a video camera in a squad car. The officer did not touch her at all. It exonerated the officer and protected the village against a false lawsuit."

Louise Johnson drove Andrew Tutty to the brink of suicide after he was arrested and suspended from his job because of her false rape claim. He was only cleared later when a video proved he was with his son at a train station 160 miles away when Johnson claimed he turned up at her home with the knife.

Louis Gonzalez, senior vice president of a Las Vegas bank, was falsely accused of rape by his former girlfriend Tracy West during a child custody dispute. West told police that Gonzalez ran up to her at her home in Simi Valley, California, hit her on the head and knocked her unconscious, then dragged her in the house and sexually assaulted her, burned her with matches and committed other violent atrocities. Mr. Gonzalez was arrested and held in jail without bail until a judge dismissed the charges almost three months later. Video recordings showing him in a Las Vegas bank and airport helped save him from the possibility of five life sentences in prison.

Natalie Jefferson's claim that she was raped in a back alley caused an innocent man who had never been in trouble with the law to be arrested and held in custody as a sex suspect before video cleared him. It turned out Jefferson had a considerable psychiatric background and a problem with alcohol.

An unnamed woman claimed that a man forced her to perform a sex act on him and then raped her in her living room. At trial, he was cleared after the court was shown footage he had taken on his mobile phone during the encounter which his barrister said showed the woman 'actively' performing a sex act on him.

Erin Conley, an Indiana State University freshman, claimed that a man selling magazines in the student union approached her and convinced her to show him around campus before raping her in her dorm. The police reviewed video of Conley speaking with her alleged assailant, and noticed discrepancies in her story, including the color of his pants. When she was questioned again a week later about those inconsistencies, Conley admitted that her report was false. Conley had consensual sex with the man and didn't want her boyfriend to know.

A video showed that four young women falsely accused a cab driver of rape after they refused to pay a $13 fare. The innocent man worried about what might have happened to his job and his marriage without that video evidence.

A young woman accused a cab driver of raping her when he threatened to go to police and report that she and her date refused to pay their fare. Police then stormed into the cab driver’s home to arrest him. The woman later recanted her story about the alleged rape when she learned that a surveillance camera mounted in the taxi had recorded the couple leaving the vehicle without paying.

Joanne Rye accused a totally innocent cab driver of rape, causing him to be arrested at his home and taken to the police station where intimate samples, DNA and fingerprints were taken. Her claim only fell apart after video evidence showed it could not have happened the way she described.

Ashley Fulton's rape accusation fell apart when the accused showed a sheriff the cell phone video of the alleged rape -- the video showed a consensual sex act during which Fulton even looked at the phone’s camera and smiled.

Motorist Ali Sid Abdilahi stopped to give a ride to a bleeding girl who flagged him down. He gave her some money and dropped her at her destination. Two days later, the 14-year-old girl went to police and claimed that Abdilahi and another man had tried to drag her into their car. Her claim fell apart after a security video from a gas station showed Abdilahi shortly before he encountered the girl. He was alone -- there was no second man.

Jessica Smith made up a horrifying story of abduction at a gas station and a series of rapes over the next four days. Police reviewed the surveillance video from the gas station at the time she claimed the alleged attack occurred, and she never appeared. Just in case she was mistaken about the day, police looked at two days' worth of video, and she never appeared.

Alyshia Shannyn Clyne's claim that she had been dragged through the streets and raped by an unknown man was disproved by video surveillance footage.

Deborah Davies' claim that she had been raped by one man and subjected to an attempted rape by a second stranger in an alleyway fell apart when video of the scene showed that no such attack occurred. When arrested for perverting the course of justice the 35-year-old brazenly said: "That's why women don't report rape."

Gina Jaurique's claim that she was forced into the men's bathroom and sexually assaulted at a Wal-Mart was disproved after store surveillance video showed that she went willingly into the bathroom. the woman then changed her story, saying she had consensual relations with a "male subject she did not know," but that he then failed to pay her for the act.

A 13-year-old school student claimed Latino students attacked her because she made a sign protesting illegal immigration, but she was seen on a surveillance video inflicting scratches on herself. Two students corroborated the false story, underscoring the importance of the video.

Sarah-Jane Hilliard, 20, lured Grant Bowers, 19, to have sex with her, then cried rape and applied for £7,500 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. A video of the alleged "rape" clearly showed Hilliard and Mr. Bowers kissing and holding hands.

Kirsty Woods, who had a history of mental health problems, cried rape after having consensual sex. The innocent man was jailed, but released when video of the scene of the alleged attack confirmed his story.

Emma Deamer claimed that the man with whom she had consensual sex raped her because she got angry that he went downstairs to talk to his flatmate instead of staying in bed with her. She told police he was a stranger, and he was arrested. The case was dropped after video footage from a train station showed them walking arm-in-arm.

Erin Casson falsely told police her lover forced his way into her house, threatened to kill her and then raped her. The claim was shown to be false after video footage was uncovered that belied the claim and showed the pair laughing and joking.

Chloe Dolton, 22, accused two strangers of raping and attacking her, causing them to be arrested, but the claim fell apart when a video showed Dolton had met the two men before the 'alleged attack' and that the men had not grabbed and assaulted her.

A female college student reported she was allegedly forced into a van at gun point and raped by three black males, but the claim was not pursued after video surveillance did not support it.

Erica Donohue lied that she was raped by an acquaintance in order to conceal a consensual encounter with another man -- which, thankfully, was videotaped.

Shabnam Masood's rape claim fell apart when a video at police headquarters showed her behaving in a carefree manner when she didn't think anyone was watching and only pretended to be the suffering victim when police came around.

An alleged rape at a gas station was proven false by video from the business, but the lie started a viral email hoax.

Video footage helped disprove Emily J. Petersen's claim that a police officer beat and raped her after she was kicked out of a bar.

Mandy Whittle falsely accused her former partner of rape, for reasons known only to her, forcing him to revert to drugs and alcohol before video footage showed him elsewhere at the time.

An 18-year-old woman who claimed she had been dragged into an alley and raped, made up the story, police concluded, after video of the scene revealed no sign of the incident.

And, of course, there is the famous video of a false rape claim of a police officer shown on MSNBC. The video is chilling because the false accuser is terribly convincing.

A 19-year-old man was arrested after Charlotte Lane falsely cried rape because she regretted having sex with him. Video footage helped clear him.

Lori Anne Koehler claimed she was sexually assaulted while working at two different stores. During an investigation of one of the allegations, Koehler received a package that she told the store was offensive. In the package were condoms, rope and lubricants. It turned out a post office videotape showed Koehler mailing the package to herself.

Bruce Barclay, a former Pennsylvania County Commissioner, was falsely accused of rape by a 20-year-old man, Mr. Barclay's housemate. In the course of the police investigation over the rape charge, Mr. Barclay admitted that he'd secretly filmed sex acts occurring in his home. "The [rape] accusation was contradicted by a video shot by a hidden camera in the bedroom of Barclay's Monroe Township home, police said." The video showed the men engaged in apparently consensual sex. Police said Barclay's alleged admission during the rape probe that he'd secretly filmed sex acts prompted further investigation. The investigation uncovered multiple videos of Barclay engaged in sex acts with men, apparently shot without the consent of the other men. Barclay was cleared of the rape charge but he was charged with wiretapping and other offenses in connection with secretly videotaping his sexual trysts. Barclay resigned his political post. As one commentator said: "Sadly, his vindication was his undoing."

The law should encourage video evidence that disproves false rape claims

Countless innocent persons have been spared a prison sentence for rape because of video evidence. But how many innocent men and boys have had their lives destroyed due to the happenstance that they didn't have the benefit of video evidence? Police are the first to recognize the utility of videos in protecting them against false rape charges, so why can't all men legally protect themselves in a similar fashion? Why should a man's freedom depend on the happenstance that the evidence of consent occurred in a public place where the events are legally videotaped as opposed to a private place where secretly videotaping is illegal? Given the prevalence of false rape claims and the tremendous harm averted by videotaping sexual encounters, how absurd is it to suggest that videotaping all sexual encounters as a matter of course would greatly reduce not only false rape claims but rapes? And such a practice would inject certainty into an area where proof is often elusive.

A more modest question is this: should there be a law excusing the secret videotaping a sex act if this video evidence is material in clearing the videotaper of a false rape charge? I think a valid argument can be made in favor of such a law.

There are strong public policy justifications for excusing the criminality of videotaping the sex act in that instance, given that we, as a society, should want to nab false rape accusers and the video would be a sure way to do that. We should not do the slightest thing that could discourage an innocent man from revealing the video's existence if it is illegal in the jurisdiction at issue. Moreover, the only "victim" of the secret videotaping is the false rape accuser -- but she should not be heard to claim that she's a victim of the very thing that disproves her vile lie.

Some will say that such a law would only serve to encourage men to secretly videotape sex acts. I am aware of that. And that is what we have come to. We are stranded in a culture where men are frequently falsely accused of rape and the sole issue in dispute is consent. More and more men feel that a video record is a necessary evil to protect them them from having their lives destroyed by a false claim. That assertion would sound like a gross, hyserical overreaction if we didn't know about case after case after case where video evidence helped an innocent person clear his name. If a video saves one male's life from being destroyed, isn't such a law worth it? The ultimate question is this: which is worse -- having a consensual sex act secretly videotaped, or allowing a man's life to be destroyed by a false rape claim? The question scarcely survives its statement.