09 October 2009

False accusations provide aid and comfort to actual criminals

Ryan Sager | Neuroworld | Rape-Rape:

Over at Slate, Emily Bazelon and Rachael Larimore ask the question: “How often do women falsely cry rape?” What’s more, they ask why it’s so hard to come up with solid numbers in answer to their first question." [...]

Here’s the thing, though: The actual number doesn’t matter that much. Certainly it matters in the sense that we’d like the number of false reports to be extremely low. But it doesn’t matter inasmuch as even a tiny number of false rape reports can be unbelievably corrosive to the justice system. Take this email Bazelon and Larimore reprint in their article, from an army attorney:

False reports have an incredibly corrosive impact on how sexual assault accusations are policed. Police treat sexual assault accusers badly—much worse than the lawyers do—much worse than the courtroom does. Forget what you see on “Law and Order SVU,” the police end absolutely discourages victims from reporting. Why is this so? Because cops suspect just about every victim is another false accuser, because either he/she has personally dealt with such a problem, or has heard stories from his or her cop buddies to this effect (and yes, in my experience female cops can be even worse offenders). This police behavior is bad, and counterproductive—but it’s real. Putting a real stigma on false reports might combat this a bit—and make it a little easier for actual victims at the police station.

False reports also have a disproportionate impact on juries. How I’d hate to be prosecuting a sexual assault right now. Often in sexual assault prosecutions there’s no debate as to the sex, but everything falls on proving lack of consent—and can only be proven through a convincing and persuasive victim’s testimony. Often, that victim’s testimony has to overcome some less than ideal circumstances—she was drinking, people observed her flirting with the perpetrator etc. That’s something she can own up to, and overcome on her own. What she can’t do on her own is extinguish jury members’ memory of reading of some spectacular false accusation case in the newspaper last month. Every false accusation that makes it into the news makes it that much harder for the real victims to receive justice.

To harp on a Neuroworld favorite, what we’re talking about here is the availability bias. For every Hofstra case, cops are a little more suspicious, juries are a little more dubious, and victims are a little more reluctant to come forward.

[Emph. his]

Amen. We need to hammer home the fact that false accusations not only do egregious harm to the accused, they make life even more difficult for every future rape victim. While the rapist harms one victim greatly, the false accuser harms a great many victims marginally more.

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