Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When police wrongly charge a rape victim with filing a false report, it's a national outrage

Police very, very rarely wrongly charge a rape complainant with filing a false report. It is an extremely uncommon and isolated event. It happened in Lynnwood, Washington, when a young woman's story kept changing and even people who knew her expressed doubts about her story. She was charged with, and pled guilty to, filing a false report. She received a deferred sentence and was ordered to undergo mental health counseling and pay a $500 fine.

Subsequent information caused police to reopen the case and to arrest a serial rapist.  See here

The fact that this was not an onerous sentence does not mean that we should dismiss it as acceptable, or that we should minimize the pain this women experienced as a rape victim and as someone not believed by the police. Based on the information we know the police had, they had reason to be skeptical because the pattern of changing stories is so common to false rape claims. To be clear, this blog preaches that there needs to be strong evidence that a claim was false before charging a woman for making a false claim. Even some recantations do not merit a false rape claim because they are dubious.  But let's not forget that she pled guilty. Clearly this was an unfortunate case.

We cite this case here because of the ensuing reaction.  Ms. Magazine felt that reopening the case and nabbing the apparent rapist wasn't enough. More needed to be done so it started a petition calling on the Lynwood police department "to issue a public apology and to implement policy to ensure that this travesty not repeat in the future. Specifically, they wanted the department to provide a trained victim's advocate for any person reporting a rape and to mandate sexual assault training for all officers, so that they understand how to talk with victims — and that not all victims tell their stories in the same way."  See here.

And, of course, the police chief in Lynnwood acceded to the politicized forces that dominate the public discourse on rape. "[Chief] Rider expressed remorse regarding the situation and a dedication to seeing justice for the victim and re-education for the officers. He has reminded his department of “the importance of conducting these types of cases professionally, thoroughly and with a great deal of sensitivity for the victims." Furthermore, training for all officers and detectives by the county Special Assault Unit is planned."  Id.

But where is the public apology to the countless young men who are arrested and treated as criminals based on nothing more than the allegation of a lone accuser before an investigation is concluded? 

Can you say Hofstra?  Duke Lacrosse?

When the police get it wrong by automatically believing the rape accuser -- as happens all too often -- hardly anyone characterizes it as a tragedy warranting a public apology. Most people shrug it off as the police "just doing their job," even when the police have acted with reckless indifference to the rights and liberty of some hapless male.

But the usual suspects picked this case to jump all over the police for getting it wrong. "It's a striking example of the harm that can be done by a widespread tendency among law enforcement to blame or disbelieve victims." Id

The insistence that rape complainants are not believed is wholly belied by the massive evidence of false rape cases accumulated in this blog. The problem isn't that women are disbelieved, it's that they are too readily believed, all too often causing an innocent young man to be arrested.

The real agenda of the persons behind this petition seems to be to dissuade police from charging any woman with filing a false rape report. If that happens, what is to stop other rape liars? And what will that do to the integrity of every legitimate rape victim? In false rape case after false rape case after false rape case, judges and law enforcement personnel bemoan the fact that every rape lies diminish the integrity of every legitimate rape claim. Yet, some prominent feminists have made it clear that they don't want any false rape accuser even to be charged for their crimes, much less subjected to a custodial sentence.

And finally, with all due respect to the young woman who was wronged, the harm to her by the police was de minimis compared to the harm to many young men who are arrested for rapes they didn't commit. All of those young men face the most agonizing uncertainty imaginable -- the possibility of years and years of incarceration for a crime they didn't commit -- incarceration where they stand a good chance of being victimized behind bars, brutally and repeatedly, by the very crime they did not commit.

In contrast, the young woman in this case never faced the uncertainty of a lengthy prison sentence because, despite its destructive power, filing a false rape report is not deemed a serious crime under the sentencing codes of any state.

In addition, even those young men falsely accused who come out of jail relatively quickly routinely face other agonies that this young woman was spared, including the unspeakable stigma of being a vile rapist (and even when they are cleared of the charges, the stigma sticks to them like a tattoo). Presumptively innocent men accused of rape often lose their wives, their girlfriends, their friends, their businesses, their jobs, and their money defending the false claim. Some are beaten, chased, spat upon, and even killed. Some kill themselves.

In sum, a young woman was erroneously charged with a minor offense because the evidence suggested she made a false rape claim. She was wronged twice -- by her rapist and by an imperfect law enforcement system that can't always get at the truth. Let us hope that the angry purveyors of misandry, who regard the community of the falsely accused with disdain and as a myth, does not deter the Lynnwood or other police forces from doing their sworn duty and holding women who lie about rape accountable for their awful prevarications.