Thursday, April 15, 2010

Newspaper tackles problem of false criminal reporting

Here's an article from of Fort Wayne, Indiana that tackles the issue of false crime reporting.  More stories like this are needed, and the paper is to be applauded for tackling a subject so terribly frustrating.

But the story missed a golden opportunity to highlight the concerns we constantly underscore here; principally, the absence of deterrence for false reporting; the fact that false reporting often doesn't differentiate based on the severity of the offenses falsely reported (a false report of rape is often treated with the severity of a false report of stealing a pack of gum); and persons falsely accused of rape suffer the destruction of their good names and related, terrible losses and should be afforded anonymity unless they are convicted. 

With the avalanche of rape reforms in the past several decades, we made reporting of, and convicting for, rape easier than ever; by eliminating the no-corroboration rule, we enhanced the importance and power of a lone accusation.  Sadly, nobody bothered to consider what we should do if accusers abuse that power.  Far too many have, with disastrous consequences for the falsely accused.

Let's look at some of the article's assertions:

"Police investigate alleged crimes that didn’t happen on a weekly basis, costing valuable time and resources. But little can be done to deter the activity, they say. Furthermore, prosecution of fabricated crime is often not pursued because of a lack of evidence and laws that provide mild penalties, according to local officials."

FRS Comment: Do you notice the problem?  Little can be done to deter the acitivity, the article says.  The answer is found in the very next sentence -- penalities are too mild. Why not increase those mild penalties?  For every other act that we, as a society, want to deter, we increase the penalty.  Why are we resigned to wringing our hands when it comes to false reporting?

Back to the article:

“Most of the time it’s in the world of a personal accusation,” said Fort Wayne police Capt. Paul Shrawder, who heads the department’s detective bureau.
. . . .
One high-profile case, Shrawder recalled, did result in an arrest.

In 2007, a 14-year-old girl lied to police about being raped at the Georgetown branch of the Allen County Public Library. Police were called to the library on East State Boulevard for a report of teenagers misbehaving. When officers arrived, one of those teens, a girl, said a boy pushed her into the library’s restroom and forced her to perform a sex act.

“It actually became a big deal,” Shrawder said, adding that the alarm it caused locally warranted the charge against the teen. “She got caught up in it and didn’t really know what she was doing.”

The girl later recanted her story and was convicted of false reporting.

False reporting of a crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. False reporting can be upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor, Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said, if the offense substantially hinders a police investigation or results in harm to someone. That offense nets up to a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

FRS Comment: Compare that sentence for false reporting to the sentence the boy would have received if he was found guilty of rape. Also, note the officer's comment that the girl didn't really know what she was doing.  Lies are easy to tell.  And that's precisely why we need a public awareness campaign that teaches that the "r" word should never be uttered lightly because of the extreme harm it can cause once it's unleashed.  And to remind people, especially young girls, that it's a crime.

Back to the article:

Police say rapes and sexual assaults are among their most common fabricated reports. Teens might lie about non-consensual sexual activity to justify a pregnancy. Adults might lie about sexual activity to hide an affair, Shrawder said.

But most sexual assaults show no sign of visible injury, according to Michelle Ditton, chief nursing officer for the Sexual Assault Treatment Center.

“That’s the part that’s really hard,” she said.

When people come to the center for an evaluation, they receive a physical exam and medical interview. The treatment center cannot determine whether the crime happened. They merely pass their findings to police, Ditton said.

“If a person reports a rape, how do you prove it’s false?” Richards said, adding that these cases are often most difficult to prosecute.

FRS Comment: First, we see the people in the trenches discrediting the common canard that false rape claims are no more common than any other crime. This has been demonstrated in a multitude of ways, yet the lie persists.But the following line is perplexing, and dangerous: “If a person reports a rape, how do you prove it’s false?”  Hmm. Exactly why are we proving there was no crime?  Should we be seeing if we can prove there was a crime beyond a reasonable doubt?

Back to the article:

Conflicting views

[Allen County Prosecutor Karen] Richards said that in her eight years as prosecutor, she can recall – aside from the case involving the 14-year-old girl – only one or two other cases in which police asked that charges of false reporting be filed against a person. Neither case was prosecuted.

Richards said these cases are difficult to prosecute because they are often a case of he said, she said.

"So many crimes are committed without any witness except the person that reports the crime,” Richards said. “Just because Person A says one thing and Person B says another thing, doesn’t mean it’s a false report.”

Other times, prosecutors choose not to file charges because the person who reported the crime has signs of mental illness, she said.
. . . .
Before charging a person or closing the case, police determine whether a story makes sense and whether the reported victim took steps that made sense when they reported the offense, Shrawder said.

“It’s a matter of doing a good investigation,” Shrawder said. “Sometimes the most outlandish story can turn out to be true.”