Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A reason for refusing to come forward about rape is closely allied to a reason for false rape claims: shame

Sometimes, women report they've been raped but then decide not to testify. The reasons they change their minds vary.  A 17-year-old rape victim was recently jailed in order to force her to testify. Today, her testimony led to the man being found guilty. Why was she reluctant to testify?

Based on the information available to us, shame. The girl admitted on the stand that portions of her initial story were a lie. The girl initially told investigators she was kidnapped by the man while waiting for a light rail train, but she wasn't.  At trial, she testified she was actually prostituting on that night when she got into the man's truck.  The jury believed that she was raped before she was able to escape his truck.

Based on the information available to us, we have no basis to question the jury's decision in this particular case. Jurors typically have difficulty crediting an accuser's story in a he said/she said rape cases, and we are not aware of any evidence here that they blew it.  A juror told a television station after the verdict that despite originally lying, the teen was believable after admitting she was a prostitute.  Another prostitute also testified that the man picked her up in his truck last June, took her to a secluded location and raped her.

Perhaps more often than we'd care to admit, shame is a motivating factor for both making false rape claims (example, Danmell Ndonye in the Hofstra case) and in deciding not to testify, as here. 

In the Hofstra case, as we previously explained, the false accuser's boyfriend was trying to call her at the very moment she was urging four strangers to have sex with her, so she lied and said she was raped because she was ashamed.

Here, the accuser wanted to keep from airing the truth because she was prostituting.

Shame about one's sexual misconduct is an impulse that few would advocate eliminating, but when it comes to rape, we, as a society, need to preach that the truth is a more important virtue than modesty. And, we also need to preach tolerance -- so that the truth isn't distorted either by claiming a rape was committed when it wasn't, or by refusing to tell a jury that a rape occurred when it did.

Society should be very glad that this girl testified. She has likely spared other innocent girls a harrowing ordeal.  Everyone should be deeply disturbed at the idea that a rapist might not be brought to justice because the victim was too ashamed to testify that she was selling her body.

The community of the wrongly accused does not benefit when rape charges are dropped because the alleged victim was ashamed of what she was doing when she was raped. When society perceives that rapists escape justice, that perception only diminishes confidence in our justice system, taints the community of the wrongly accused, and makes the awful stigma of a rape accusation all the more difficult to remove.