Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From the trenches: police frequently investigate false claims of sexual assault, but they're rarely prosecuted

To properly understand the false rape epidemic, it is well to listen to the persons in the trenches who confront false rape claims more than anyone, law enforcement officials. A 20-year veteran detective sergeant in a suburban police department writes about his experiences, and he recently had this to say about false claims of sexual assault:

Police frequently investigate reports that turn out to be false. False police reports are generally motivated by a desire to escape responsibility for one's actions, a need for attention, or vindictiveness.

Most of the fake reports I've seen have been claims of sexual assault and robbery or theft. The robbery and theft reports were made to account for money spent on gambling, women, drugs or booze (in that order). I'm not talking about people making a false report to conceal a crime that they committed--I'm talking about people making a false report as part of an elaborate excuse for their own weakness.

I've seen false allegations of sexual assault made out of shame or religious conflict--"I'm a good girl, I couldn't possibly have had 9 Jager bombs and a few Long Island ice teas and gone home with a stranger, I must have been raped!" I've seen sexual assault allegations made to get attention from parents and boyfriends. We've also investigated more than a few cases that involved people who made reports because they needed treatment for an STD or physical injuries they'd sustained during consensual sex, and were too embarrassed to go to the family doctor.

Most of the time, people who make these false reports don't get prosecuted. In some cases it's an obvious mental health issue, and to prosecute would seem like piling on to an already deeply troubled person. It helps if we catch the lie early enough that we don't have to spend time and energy investigating it. If the investigation expands, generates media attention, and creates public alarm, it's more likely the false reporter will be charged.

A good example would be the case of Audrey Seiler. In 2004 Seiler, a University of Wisconsin student in Madison, claimed she was abducted at knifepoint. The investigation cost the Madison Police Department nearly $100,000.


FRS COMMENT: The loose criteria mentioned by the officer for whether or not to charge the crime of false reporting nowhere mentions the single most significant factor: whether an innocent person was harmed by the the lie. Was an innocent man or boy targeted, or arrested?

In addition, the comment about "piling on" is perplexing. Would a police officer say that about the perpetrator of a crime that almost exclusively hurts women? The answer is "no." And that is irrefutable.

We've noted on this blog repeatedly that law enforcement officials generally do a wonderful job of weeding out the vast majority of false rape claims before they become an issue. But it would greatly help end the false rape epidemic if police stopped viewing themselves as chivalrous protectors of frail women. Only when false rape claims are treated as what they are -- serious crimes -- will the epidemic cease being an epidemic.