Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Philadelphia policy: 'almost never' arrest false rape accusers

When police in Philadelphia determine that alleged rape victims are "outright lying," Captain John Darby, the head of Philadelphia's special victims unit charged with investigating rape, "almost never" arrests them "because it stops other victims coming forward . . . ."

This blog is replete with true stories about the unspeakable harm visited on innocent men and boys by false rape claims, yet, Captain Darby has publicly given false accusers license to destroy our sons by awarding them blanket immunity for their misconduct. This policy flies in the face of the penological interests of punishment and deterrence.

There is no evidence of any correlation between arresting for blatant false rape claims and underreporting of rape. It is erroneous to think that police can't wage war on rape and battle the injustice of false rape claims at the same time. The one has nothing to do with the other, and justice should never be regarded as a zero sum game. The suggestion that one crime must be ignored in order to combat another not only is the worst kind of political pandering, it's bad law enforcement.

Captain Darby's misguided policy of picking which laws to enforce and which to ignore not only is unjust to our sons, it does no favors to our daughters. It undermines the public's confidence in the way rape claims are handled, and that can only hurt rape victims. When the public believes that the system doesn't provide adequate safeguards for the innocent, jurors are all the more wary about convicting men and boys accused of rape even in those instances when evidence supporting guilt may warrant conviction. While the public insists on harsh punishment for rapists, it does not tolerate a system that destroys the innocent.

Moreover, rape victims loathe and detest false rape accusers, and to suggest that the interests of victims and rape liars somehow are allied is an affront to the victimization of survivors of rape.

Michael Zenquis

We not surprised that the City of Philadelphia should adopt such a policy in light of its other attitudes about rape. On a steamy day in June of 2009, an innocent man named Michael Zenquis was beaten by an angry mob in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood after he was wrongly accused of raping an 11-year-old girl. A female onlooker yelled, "Rapist!" He heard someone say he deserved to die while others shouted, "Kill him, kill him!" Michael was stomped on and beaten with sticks and a baseball bat. He kept yelling, "I'm innocent, I didn't do anything." When the vicious attack finally ended, Michael was bleeding and had sustained injuries to his back, eye, shoulder, and foot. The police took Michael away but quickly discovered they had picked up the wrong guy.  So what do you think they did? They dropped him off back in the same neighborhood where the mob had beaten him. Getting out of Kensington alive became a terrifying ordeal for Michael.

In light of this despicable atrocity to an innocent man, what did the Mayor do? What did the police commissioner do? They did nothing. Worse. The next day, a different mob caught up with the actual rapist. Can you guess what happened? The mob gave him a brutal beating that lasted several minutes until the police got there.

Did the mayor or the police condemn the vigilante justice in light of what happened to Michael Zenquis? Exactly the opposite: the police gave two of the men who helped "apprehend" the real rapist $5,750 each. Further, the Police Commissioner announced he would not pursue criminal charges against the mob because the man's injuries were not life-threatening (the new test for assault in Philadelphia?), and, after all, emotions were running high.

And the message this sends to people predisposed to vigilante justice is . . . what, exactly?

Michael Zenquist filed suit against Philadelphia, alleging that the Philadelphia police told people in the Kensington neighborhood that Zenquist was a child rapist even though he wasn't, and that the neighbors were free to assault Mr. Zenquist.


Charges against false accusers of rape and 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 bring charges when he or she reasonably believes to a moral certainty that the report was false.

But when there is moral certainty of falsity, the police need to do their job and charge the offender. They owe that to our sons, and to our daughters.