When Sexual Assault Victims Are Charged With Lying
The women accusing the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct have faced doubt and derision. Other women, who have alleged sexual assault or harassment by powerful men in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and elsewhere, have become targets for online abuse or had their careers threatened. Harvey Weinstein went so far as to hire ex-Mossad operatives to investigate the personal history of the actress Rose McGowan, to discourage her from publicly accusing him of rape.
There are many reasons for women to think twice about reporting sexual assault. But one potential consequence looms especially large: They may also be prosecuted.
This month, a retired police lieutenant in Memphis, Tenn., Cody Wilkerson, testified, as part of a lawsuit against the city, not only that police detectives sometimes neglected to investigate cases of sexual assault but also that he overheard the head of investigative services in the city’s police department say, on his first day in charge: “The first thing we need to do is start locking up more victims for false reporting.” It’s an alarming choice of priorities — and one that can backfire.
In 2015 we wrote an article for ProPublica and the Marshall Project about Marie, an 18-year-old who reported being raped in Lynnwood, Wash., by a man who broke into her apartment. (Marie is her middle name.) Police detectives treated small inconsistencies in her account — common among trauma victims — as major discrepancies. Instead of interviewing her as a victim, they interrogated her as a suspect. Under pressure, Marie eventually recanted — and was charged with false reporting, punishable by up to a year in jail. The court ordered her to pay $500 in court costs, get mental health counseling for her lying and go on supervised probation for one year. More than two years later, the police in Colorado arrested a serial rapist — and discovered a photograph proving he had raped Marie.
What happened to Marie seemed unthinkable. She was victimized twice — first raped, then prosecuted. But cases like hers can be found around the country. In 1997, a legally blind woman reported being raped at knife pointin Madison, Wis. That same year, a pregnant 16-year-old reported being raped in New York City. In 2004, a 19-year-old reported being sexually assaulted at gunpoint in Cranberry Township, Pa.
In all three instances, the women were charged with lying. In all three instances, their reports turned out to be true. The men who raped them were later identified and convicted.
Read more here.