A woman who didn't want to get in trouble for skipping work fabricated a story about being sexually assaulted on the side of the highway, leading investigators from multiple agencies to waste more than 100 hours searching for a suspect who didn't exist, deputies say.
Alexandra Anne Westover, 21, of West Boca, showed no remorse even after a deputy pointed out her lie created unnecessary work for the investigators, nurses and victim advocates, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office report. She did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Advocates for victims of sexual assault say that while false allegations are extremely rare – making up only 2 to 10 percent of all cases – they harm true victims. Tracy Cox, spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said such instances can stop people from reporting real assaults.
"Sadly enough, there is already a stigma associated with sexual assault and a lot of times, people who have been violated hesitate to come forward because they feel that perhaps they won't be believed," she said.
"There are a lot of barriers a survivor already faces coming forward, so when you have something like this happen, where someone made a false report, that can also impact them."
The story Westover told deputies was of a brazen attack that happened in broad daylight in the middle of the morning rush hour on Florida's Turnpike. She said she it happened after she had car problems around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and pulled over between the exits for Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter, the Sheriff's Office said.
According to Westover's account, a man offered help, then asked if she had a sharp object to pull off a hubcap. She leaned inside her car to look. The man pushed Westover in, ripped her dress, tore her underwear and sexually battered her, the story went.
She gave a detailed description of her alleged attacker. He was a heavy-set, 5-foot-10, 40-something Hispanic man with salt and pepper hair, green eyes and bushy eyebrows. He wore dark blue work pants and a light blue, short-sleeved shirt with yellow stitching on it, and drove a white truck with a black rack.
On Wednesday, Westover showed a deputy the route she supposedly took the previous day, pointed out where she pulled over and demonstrated how she was battered.
But there was a problem: Florida Highway Patrol troopers found no video footage of her vehicle on the Turnpike from northern Florida all the way to the Keys, according to the report. Still, Westover stood by her story – even when the deputy asked if she was lying.
The Sheriff's Office put out her account that night and asked anyone with information to come forward. Westover's dad called the deputy the next day, Thursday, and said she admitted making the whole thing up. Soon after, she came clean to the deputy. She said she did it because she didn't want to get in trouble for not showing up for work at her great uncle's house that day.
Westover, who had no criminal history in Florida, is charged with false report of a crime and perjury not during official proceedings. She spent about six hours in jail before being released Friday without bail, records show.