Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Illegally copying a DVD can get you a five year prison term; lying about rape -- one year maximum


Depending on the jurisdiction, the maximum sentence for false reporting of rape is the same as falsely reporting that you saw someone steal a pack of gum. The maximum varies from state to state, but the range is generally six months to two years.

In this recent case, for example, a 36-year-old woman fabricated a rape story "that left officers racing through city streets to find the suspect." The news account notes: "Authorities said they planned to charge her with submitting a false report to law-enforcement officials. The charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor, carries a maximum sentence of one-year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500." Police stopped a Ford explorer and questioned the passengers (can you guess the gender of the persons questioned?), and released them. "After three interviews with investigators, the woman came clean, said police spokesman Sgt. Kelly Walker."

Fortunately no hapless male was arrested, jailed, or convicted. It would not have mattered: the maximum penalty for the false report would be the same regardless of what happened to any man or boy arrested. The gross injustice of this is demonstrated merely by reading through the stories we report on this site. There are innumerable examples of the terrible effects of false rape reports on innocent men and boys. Rape lies have caused males to be killed and to kill themselves; to be incarcerated often longer than their false accusers are legally permitted to be imprisoned when their lies are finally brought to light; to lose their good names, their jobs, their businesses, their life's savings, their wives, and their girlfriends; to be beaten, to be chased, to be spat upon, and to be looked upon with suspicion long after they are cleared of wrongdoing. It is often impossible for the falsely accused to ever obtain good employment once the lie hits the news: for the rest of his life, a falsely accused man will have prospective employers Googling his name and finding the horrid accusation. Virtually every falsely accused male will be affected by his ordeal. Many develop emotional problems that will plague them for the rest oft their lives; most will not be able to trust women, for at least a time and sometimes forever.

Now contrast that potential jail term for falsely reporting a rape with the familiar FBI warning found at the start of DVDs you buy. If you illegally copy a DVD, you can get a five year sentence. I use that example because everyone has seen that scary little warning at the start of DVDs and the contrast is both glaring and ludicrous. I could have easily illustrated all manner of other crimes. These are by no means the worst, just ones I have come across lately:

*Last year, a judge sentenced a man to six months jail time for yawning in his courtroom.

*In Georgia, a seventeen-year-old boy was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend (I am sure the girl's parents are happy the "monster" is locked away).

*The "drug free" school zone laws can be applied in ludicrous manners: possession of illegal drugs, even marijuana, within so many feet of a school -- often 1,000-- can get you multiple years behind bars in some places, so if you live near a school or day care center, you'd better not have marijuana in the house.

*The laws that tack on sentences for gun possession are another source of perfectly legal cruel and unusual punishments: In California, a 24-year-old man was sentenced to 59 years in prison for three marijuana sales of $350 each. On each occasion, he had a gun in his car, which tacked on 55 years to his prison term.

*The "three strikes" laws can have terrible consequences for people: a man was given a 50-year sentence for shoplifting videos ("Cinderella" and "Free Willy") for his children. In fact, in California, hundreds of individuals are serving life sentences for shoplifting small amounts of merchandise.

*In Florida, multiple juveniles are behind bars for life -- not for murder or even robbery: for burglary.

And we haven't even talked about the obvious: the incredible disparity between sentences for rape and for false rape claims, despite the fact that, depending on the case, the latter can do far more injury to a person than the former.

You get the picture. Society punishes far less serious crimes far more severely.  Just keep this in mind: five years for copying a DVD versus one year for destroying a male's life. Protecting someone's intellectual property rights in an insipid Hollywood film that tanked is worth more than the life of a man or boy falsely accused of rape. That's about what we should have expected, don't you think?

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Perhaps the single most glaring reason false rape accusations are not deterred is that our criminal statutes do not treat making a false rape report as a serious crime. Our criminal laws are statutory articulations of society's disapproval of various forms of misconduct. The maximum sentence for rape, for example, is typically second only to murder among all crimes. In contrast, the statutory punishment for false rape claims is a proverbial slap on the wrist.

Our criminal statutes often do not treat false reporting of rape any more seriously than false reporting of other crime. This is so even though: (1) the FBI tells us that false rape reporting is multiple times more common than false reporting of other crimes, and (2) a man or boy convicted of rape will serve more prison time on average than for any crime except murder.

It has become obvious to many people in recent years that false reporting of rape is a special problem in need of special attention. The brilliant legal scholar Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote the following: “Rape is such a serious crime that deliberately bringing a false accusation of rape should be an equally serious crime and women are not being punished for those crimes. I believe that being falsely accused of rape is as traumatic as being raped.”

When the laws requiring corroboration for a rape conviction were repealed, the power of a lone accuser was greatly enhanced. It became easier for her to get her rapist arrested and to send him to prison for many years. But it also became easier for her to send an innocent man or boy to jail for weeks or months and to prison for many years. Because of the political climate, it was verboten to discuss the possibility that the rape accuser might misuse her newly enhanced power, or to suggest that the misuse of this power should have serious consequences. Such sentiments, you see, were contrary to the culturally accepted myth that women don't lie about rape. In short, society handed theoretically every female in America the power to destroy theoretically any male above a certain age, but it didn't bother to change the laws to penalize the misuse of that power. So we are stuck with the old false reporting statutes that were in place back before the need for corroboration was eliminated from our rape laws.

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How do we respond to those people who claim increasing sentences will only prevent false accusers from recanting? We have been confronted with this argument many times at False Rape Society, and refusing to increase sentences for fear of putting off would-be recanters would only serve to perpetuate, indeed encourage, a vicious cycle of more and more and more false rape claims. The cycle must end. The solution to the false rape problem is not to continue to hand women and girls the power to lie and destroy with impunity the lives of innocent men and boys -- and I mean quite literally without punishment -- all in the hope that some of the false accusers could, or might, or possibly will decide, at their own whim and unilateral discretion, to recant and spare the falsely accused victim further pain.

The solution is to deter these lies from ever happening in the first place, as much as possible.

There are innumerable false rape cases where the accuser does not recant, despite the current absence of serious punishment for lying about rape. So, relying on recantations to spare falsely accused men is a slender reed on which to rest any argument opposed to increasing maximum prison sentences for false accusers.

We advocate a sliding scale for sentencing, allowing lenient punishment for recantations that occur before identifying a specific individual; greater punishment after identifying but before an arrest, etc. Early recantations should be encouraged and rewarded, but even they need to be subjected to more serious punishments than currently exist. This will have the salutary effect of encouraging early recantations.

It is well to note that fears about discouraging would-be recanters with increased sentences are based on the present state of our law and culture where false accusers know they can lie with impunity and there is no effective deterrence whatsoever. If the law is changed to impose greater sentences for false rape reporting, it will be clear that lying about rape is a serious crime, like rape, and there will be far, far fewer Dukes and Hofstras.

Every other criminal act is assigned a sentence to deter others from committing that act. The more serious the crime, the greater the need for deterrence, and the greater the sentence. (There are, of course, other purposes for sentencing as well, but deterrence is one of the most important.) Underlying the claim that increasing sentences will hurt innocent men seems to be an unstated belief that deterrence simply does not work. That belief, of course, bucks centuries of collective wisdom. I am not prepared to agree.

False rape accusers lie because they can, and because they believe they have some need to do so. If we convince them they can't lie without serious consequences, it is likely we'll see a significant decrease in false rape claims.

In addition, it is a matter of simple justice that false rape claimants deserve to be punished in a manner consistent with the serious harm they cause. At present, that isn't happening.

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Political correctness be damned: women do lie about rape, and frequently. The fact that we have given females the power to destroy men and boys means that we need to hold them accountable for misusing that power. As Professor Dershowitz said, they are not being held accountable. We need to amend our criminal statutes to impose greater penalties for false reporting of rape and sexual assault. Only then will false accusers be deterred. Only then will they be punished justly. And only then will we treat the victimization of our sons with the seriousness that we treat the victimization of our daughters.