Monday, March 11, 2013

Misguided advocates want false rape charges dismissed against Melisa Vistain

Last March, Melisa Vistain of Jackson County, Illinois, reported she was raped. Several weeks later, charges were filed against Vistain for falsely reporting sexual assault. Investigators said Vistain knew the story surrounding her sexual encounter wasn't true, and they charged her with felony disorderly conduct for making a false report.

Rape crisis centers across the state of Illinois are speaking out in protest. Megan Jones-Williams, Rape Crisis Services Coordinator at The Women's Center in Carbondale, said: "We believe someone who makes a report of a sexual assault shouldn't be charged with a crime."
Rape Crisis Services of The Women’s Center stands in support of Melisa Vistain. Rape Crisis Services wants women who are victims of sexual assault to know that Rape Crisis Services believes them, believes sexual assault victims should not be penalized for reporting acts of sexual violence to law enforcement, and believes perpetrators of sexual assault should be held responsible for their crimes. We applaud Melisa’s courage in reporting the violence committed against her, and urge the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s Office to drop all charges against Melisa Vistain.

COTWA is attempting to learn more about the substance of this case. This blog speaks out in support of women wrongly accused of making false rape claims. See, for example, our post on Sara Reedy.

Unfortunately, the rape victims' advocates calling for the charges to be dropped against Vistain aren't helping us learn about the substance of the case. They are intent on arguing that a person who makes an accusation of sexual assault should not be charged with making a false report under any circumstances. This would include occasions when the report was demonstrably false. This is a woefully misguided tactic that is unjust to victims of rape lies and that does rape victims no favors.

Charges against false accusers of sexual assault should not be brought in unfounded "he said/she cases" or merely because law enforcement doesn't believe the accuser. A prosecutor should only be brings charges when he or she reasonably believes to a moral certainty that the report was false.

But a failure to charge a sexual assault accuser in the face of clear evidence of falsity only undermines confidence in the way rape is treated, and that hurts rape victims. Every rape lie diminishes the integrity of every rape victim. Rape victims have expressed support for the work of this blog for that very reason. If the public believes that accusers are given license to lie with impunity, and that the system doesn't provide adequate safeguards for the innocent, jurors will be all the more wary about convicting men and boys accused of rape even when the evidence supporting guilt is compelling. While the public insists on harsh punishment for rapists, it does not tolerate a system that destroys the innocent.

Our jurisprudence is premised on deterrence for wrongdoing. This blog is replete with false rape claims that unfairly harmed innocent men and boys. As it is, rape lies are very rarely charged, and society must not give false accusers license to destroy our sons by announcing that there will never be any consequences for their misconduct.

There is no evidence that false rape charges deter women from reporting rape. Since very few women are charged with making false rape claims, and, in our experience, good faith reports of sexual assault are hardly ever charged as crimes, there is no evidence of any correlation between underreporting of sexual assault and charging for false reports.

In those rare instances where women are improperly charged for making a false report, justice needs to be done, and the charging authorities need to be sanctioned. But that extremely uncommon occurrence is scarcely a valid justification for adopting a blanket policy of never charging for actual rape lies.

It is a mistake to think that we can't wage war on rape if we simultaneously battle the injustice of false rape claims. It is not a zero sum game. But we should not wage war on rape by elevating the victimization of our daughters over that of our sons. That not only is unjust to our sons, it does no favors to our daughters.