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December 03, 2005

Don’t Just Blame the Victim; Prosecute Her

Shakes here...

A 17-year-old girl went to police at the urging of her friends after she was allegedly gang-raped by three men, including her boyfriend. The men testified that the act was consensual. After reviewing all the information and statements, prosecutors decided they didn’t think they could prove a rape allegation, and so declined to prosecute the case.

Instead, they prosecuted the victim for filing a false police report. Yesterday, she was found guilty.

The victim has never recanted her story. Instead, the decision was based on the judge’s opinion that the three men were more credible, in part because a police detective and the victim’s friends testified she did not “act traumatized” in the days after the incident.

In cases like this, people tend to draw their own conclusions, based on what’s reported, filling in the blanks in a way that satisfies one’s judgment. What are you thinking right now? That maybe it really was a false rape charge? That maybe the victim was just vindictive? That there had to be some reason that the judge found her guilty?

Let me give you some more information—something that is only a possibility because The American Street’s Kevin Hayden has known the victim nearly her whole life. He attended the trial. He noticed that the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the attackers as “boys,” even though they were grown men and the victim was 17. He noticed that the judge acknowledged he had found inconsistencies in all of their stories, but, inexplicably, decided that the same reasonable doubt that kept prosecutors from pursuing charges against the attackers wasn’t enough to keep him from finding the victim guilty.

He also noted what was, and was not, allowed to be introduced as evidence. Allowed: The 17-year-old victim’s sexual history. Not allowed: That one of the victim’s “friends,” her mother, has problems with alcohol and prescription drugs, provided her daughter with the alcohol she’d had that evening (which the mother had stolen from the store at which she cashiers), and was:

…awaiting her boyfriend’s return to her home within two months of the rape. That boyfriend was in prison for molesting his own daughter. That’s hardly a credible witness with any sympathy for victims of sexual assault…

Additionally, the two ‘friends’ were the ones who convinced the 17 year old that she should report it to the police. So if the young woman is guilty [of filing a false rape charge], the instigating accessories to her ‘crime’ are considered credible experts about how a rape victim should act.

Again: The judge decided that the victim was not credible because her friend and her mother said she did not “act traumatized” in the days after the incident. He then filed a charge against the victim which turned the two people he had deemed credible witnesses into criminal conspirators. That seems rather confusing, that two criminal conspirators could also be credible witnesses, and experts on post-rape trauma no less. Although, it is rather convenient for a judge and prosecutors who might want to make a point.

Even though the woman never said she lied or recanted her story, city prosecutors say they took the unusual step of filing charges against her because of the seriousness of her accusations.

[…]

Ted Naemura, the assistant city attorney who prosecuted the case, said the woman's false accusations were serious enough to lead to charges. The young men faced prison sentences of at least 7 years and a lifetime labeled as sex offenders. In addition, police spent considerable resources investigating the accusations.

Beaverton has no policy about prosecuting such cases, but reviews each one on its merits, Naemura said. The city prosecuted a similar case a year ago in which a judge ordered the woman to pay $1,100 in restitution for the city's investigation costs, said Officer Paul Wandell, a Beaverton Police Department spokesman.

The bottom line, Naemura said, is that people can't use the criminal justice system to further their own ends.

This case should not deter legitimate victims from reporting crimes, he said.

It shouldn’t, should it? Something tells me it just might, particularly when a judge admits he found inconsistencies in the stories of both the woman and her attackers, but decided nonetheless that the attackers were “legitimate” victims and the woman was not. As it is, only 10% of victims of sex crimes in Oregon file reports with police.

Kevin Neely, spokesman for the Oregon Attorney General's Office, said it was rare for alleged sex crime victims to be charged much less convicted of filing a false police report.

"Our concern is always with the underreporting of sexual assaults," he said, "not with false reporting. It's a safe bet that prosecutions for false reporting are rare."

Just how safe a bet? Heather J. Huhtanen, Sexual Assault Training Institute director for the Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force, reports that Portland police have found that 1.6% of sexual assault cases were falsely reported. By way of comparison, 2.6% of auto theft cases were falsely reported.

Here are some things we hear a lot: Vindictive women use rape charges to get back at men. Women’s sexual histories can be informative in a rape case. Women who were “really raped” are easily identified by the way they behave.

None of them are true.

Yes, there are some women (and men) who file false rape charges. They are, however, rare, usually quickly identified as false, and are almost always thrown out long before trial. In truth, many genuine victims of rape never see their cases reach trial due to lack of evidence; a genuine rape victim is exponentially less likely to see her attacker prosecuted than an erroneously charged man is to be prosecuted.

A woman’s sexual history has absolutely no bearing on whether she was raped—including her past sexual history, if any, with her attacker. A rapist doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether he rapes a virgin or a whore, or any of the majority of us who fall somewhere in between, which makes each of us as likely to fall victim to the crime as anyone else.

There is no such thing as a “typical” response to rape. Immediately following a rape, some women go into shock. Some are lucid. Some are angry. Some are ashamed. Some are practical. Some are irrational. Some want to report it. Some don’t. Most have a combination of emotions, but there is no standard response. Responses to rape are as varied as its victims. In the long term, some rape victims act out. Some crawl inside themselves. Some have healthy sex lives. Some never will again.

Now here are some things that are true. Rape is underreported. Reporting a rape is difficult, and can be embarrassing, shameful, hurtful, frustrating, and too often unfulfilling. Quite bluntly, there is very little incentive to report a rape. It’s a terrible experience, and the likelihood of seeing justice served is a long shot. Even if it is, it usually comes at great personal cost, with one’s sexual history put on public display amidst the dismay of reliving the attack—and an extended trial can necessitate living in a state of suspended animation, where moving on from that moment is all but impossible. The only real incentive one has is knowing the sacrifice might prevent the same thing from happening to someone else. Not a small thing, but a big personal investment.

And now, women have one less reason to come forward—the possible horror of watching their attackers go free while they are found guilty.

(Many thanks to Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest for giving me the heads-up on this story.)

December 3, 2005 in Life | Permalink

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» Rape Victim Found Guilty from Seeing the Forest
Updated with bloglist at the end This one is beyond belief. A judge decides that since he doesn't know who to believe he'll convict the woman for filing the charges in the first place. Judge rules teen filed false report... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 3, 2005 8:24:35 PM

» Rape Victim Found Guilty from Seeing the Forest
Updated with bloglist at the end This one is beyond belief. A judge decides that since he doesn't know who to believe he'll convict the woman for filing the charges in the first place. Judge rules teen filed false report... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 3, 2005 8:45:46 PM

» Young woman files false rape charge? from Accept No Substitutes
Some bloggers are outraged over a story about a young woman from Oregon being convicted of filing a false police report in which she claimed she was raped by three young men. Bloggers falling into the outrage category include: [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 4, 2005 10:05:41 AM

Comments

Thanks so much for writing on this story. I just graduated from college and I know a very familiar meme is that girls accuse guys of rape because they regret having sex with them after the fact. It's such a complete bullshit excuse, one of many that continues to let rape profilerate in this country. Seeing the 1.6% stat of false rape reports (albeit that's only for OR, I'd like to see a nation-wide one) really puts the weakness of that explanation to light.

It's just such an unbelievable and infuriating story.

Posted by: Kate | Dec 3, 2005 3:37:24 PM

The thing that always kills me is that the questioning one is put through in just reporting a rape, no less going through pre-trial hearings and a trial, are so thoroughly discomfiting (often to the point of humiliating) that the process alone discourages false reports from proceeding very far. You'd have to be a masochistic sociopath to put yourself through that just to "get back" at someone. Only someone who doesn't understand that process in the slightest could claim with a straight face that endless numbers of women line up to go through it because it's a convenient form of vengeance.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Dec 3, 2005 4:06:42 PM

If we exclude mental illness or other highly extenuating circumstances like that, I believe that there are virtually no falsely reported rapes at all.

Child-welfare agencies deal with false reports quite often, from both men and women, usually as a tactic during a divorce/custody battle. Why don't we villify all divorced parents as a result?

I can understand there not being enough evidence to prosecute. But there is a huge difference between that and prosecuting someone for filing a false report. If ours was not a culture accustomed to blaming women for everything that happens to them, the burden of proof for the false police report charge would have been impossibly high given the facts of the case.

Posted by: Stephen | Dec 3, 2005 4:17:19 PM

It gets worse. Have you ever wondered why so many social workers get out ? Stats suggest rape should almost be considered normal behaviour. Over 50% males are reported as sexually abused. Yes it's higher for females. These are violent assaults. Some charming species ; does it help that it isn't so far away from activities of "dumb brutes" ?

Posted by: opit | Dec 3, 2005 4:43:05 PM

I can understand there not being enough evidence to prosecute. But there is a huge difference between that and prosecuting someone for filing a false report.

Absolutely.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Dec 3, 2005 4:58:26 PM

How could this have happened? Thing go wrong with a criminal justice system, even when everyone is working with the best of intentions. Mistakes are made, etc, but how could things go so catastrophically wrong? We know that sometimes guilty men go free, and we know that sometimes innocent women are judged guilty, but what bizarre permutation of justice allows an innocent victim to be found guilty in lieu of her guilty attackers?

Did the judges, prosecutors, etc, read a bunch of Franz Kafka and think it would be amusing to try re-enacting some of it in real life?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 3, 2005 5:19:42 PM

I'm pretty sure this is a result of a judge convinced that there is a plague of false rape accusations while ignoring all the evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: TheDeadlyShoe | Dec 3, 2005 5:46:21 PM

What a horrible story.

She was allegedly gang-raped. Did the judge think the multiple intercourse didn't happen or that she consented to intercourse with three men, one of whom was her boyfriend?

It's not unheard of, but it's more likely that a woman wouldn't consent to that, even if she consented to sex with her boyfriend... or that she'd make up a story to that effect.

My point is, this isn't "he said / she said". It's "he said she consented to something very unsusual / She said she refused to do something most women would refuse to do". But the judge sides with him.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 3, 2005 6:50:24 PM

Whoops. What I meant in the second paragraph was that it's unlikely she'd make up a story about multiple intercourse unless it was true. And if it is true, than it's probably wasn't consentual.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 3, 2005 6:52:24 PM

Come to think of it, was even Mukhtaran Bibi ever prosecuted for her "crime" of reporting rape? I don't think even she went through that. She was raped, they tried to ignore her, and pressured her to drop the case, but I don't think they called her a criminal for it, at least.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 3, 2005 7:01:27 PM

Laura -- why is it unlikely that a woman would consent to sex with multiple partners? It does happen -- a lot, contrary to your prudish worldview. YOu don't know the woman so how can you say that she wouldn't consent to it.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 3, 2005 7:04:26 PM

Joe, I'd like to see your stats that women having sex with multiple partners in one sitting happens "a lot". Give me a break.

Posted by: Kate | Dec 3, 2005 7:12:36 PM

"A lot" is a relative term. Joe, I'm glad you have a good sex life, but do you really don't think the type of sex alleged in the rape makes no difference (we *are* talking about rape here, remember)? What if it had been five guys? 10? 12 and a goat? At what point does it become unlikely that it was consentual just on the grounds that it's not likely it would have been enjoyable? A woman is much more likely to have a miserable experience fucking her boyfriend and two of his friends than just the boyfriend. She might have agreed to it but it's much less likely. And the potential for (a) a horrible experience and (b) the use of force to complete the experience is a lot greater.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 3, 2005 7:41:08 PM

Well... lots of men like the idea of one of them and lots of women. I'm not sure women are as into the fantasy of one of them and lots of men, but I'd think it wouldn't be such a rare fantasy, if how common the male equivalent is is anything to go by (even if it's not even close to proportionally common). I feel like a bit of a creep discussing this matter on a thread about imprisoning a woman for having the nerve to report being raped, though.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 3, 2005 7:50:14 PM

Joe, I'd like to see your stats that women having sex with multiple partners in one sitting happens "a lot". Give me a break.

Kate, be reasonable. That kind of thing happens in porn all the time.

Ahem.

In truth, that this was a scenario with three men and one woman plays into the assumptions of those who like to believe false rape claims are ubiquitous. Women feel guilty later and cry rape, they are fond of saying. It's all too easy for those who believe rape fraud is more prevalent than legitimate accusations to believe a woman would consent to have sex with three men and then feel guilty about it later, thus turning it into a rape charge.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Dec 3, 2005 8:04:45 PM

You shouldn't claim the woman's sexual history is irrelevant but then argue that she was unlikely to consent to certain acts. The strength of this argument obviously depends on the woman's past. In fact the woman's sexual history is relevant if she has a history of consenting in similar situations (such as for example with a stranger she just met in a bar). Since many jurors probably think as you do, it is unfair to the defendant (assuming he is arguing consent) to exclude such evidence.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Dec 3, 2005 8:28:56 PM

On the other hand, if she has a sexual history of consenting to such acts, then why would she want to report a rape about it if she actually consented this time too? Under this hypothetical, yes, she may have a history of group sex, but she also has a history of group sex without falsely claiming to have been raped.

On the other hand, if she had a history of, say, rape-accusation based blackmail, as opposed to merely uncontroversially consensual acts of the same "form" as the nonconsensual one, I don't think anyone here would claim that was irrelevant to the trail.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 3, 2005 8:41:45 PM

According to the young woman, her sexual contacts were very few, less than you can count on one hand. She's tended towards longterm boyfriends of a year or more, from all I have ever heard or seen.

But most of the prosecutor's focus was on her behavior afterward. A year went by between the rapes and the notice she was being prosecuted. In that time, she dropped out of school, lived at half a dozen places, including her mother's house, her father's house, an employer's house and several friends, and underwent surgery on a kidney. She continued to socialize. She did not like talking about it or thinking about it, because any discussion caused her to relive it.

The lead detective was clearly disturbed that she was slow to return his calls and (he says) she never contacted him after the first month or so, though several of her friends disputed that.

The prosecutor painted her as a teen open to experiment - as many teenagers do - and that she simply felt guilty afterward and decided to cover her shame with the accusation. The girlfriend she was living with at the time of the rape said it didn't seem like a real rape to her, whatever that means in a 17-year-okd's mind, and that girlfriend's mom who said when the men dropped her off, the banter she heard outside seemed normal to her.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden | Dec 3, 2005 9:06:42 PM

How can the facts in this case possibly support a conviction against the woman who reported rape? The prosecution would have to *prove* beyond a reasonable doubt that the charge was knowingly false. None of the evidence adduced here even comes close to that. The judge's decision, in addition to being morally reprehensible, was incorrect as a matter of law. The state came nowhere near meeting its burden of proof.

Posted by: Firebug | Dec 3, 2005 11:29:33 PM

The thing is that her behavior is irrelevant--sexually adventurous women and non-adventurous women get raped all the time, probably about the same rates, I'd say. I get what you're saying about the unlikelihood, Kate, but what I think is critical to understand is that just because you've had group sex before doesn't mean that a gang rape accusation is more likely to be false.

What kills me about the "false accusation" crowd is the notion that women are eager to get "revenge" after bad sex. In what world? I'm at most eager to get him "out of my house", but that's it. The revenge story is a cover for an uglier truth, which is that rape apologists are apologizing for rape. They're characterizing seeking justice for being raped as "getting revenge". Well, too fucking bad. If you don't want a vengeful victim coming after you with law behind her, don't sexually assault her.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Dec 4, 2005 1:27:33 AM

Julian, just to worry the point, it doesn't matter if some women enjoy the concept of several men at a time in theory or practice. To each his or her own. It doesn't matter if the practice happens "a lot". What matters is that it's an act that, frankly, many women would not consent to, and if they felt "guilty" about it later, wouldn't be anxious to drag into a courtroom in front of the whole world. Rape is humiliating; suing for rape is also humiliating. That's why false rape allegations don't happen all that much. Frankly, I find the idea that a woman would falsely sue over a gang-bang preposterous.

Consent is always going to be a grey area. But the more unusual and potentially unnatural and unpleasant the act in question, the less likely the consent was genuine and the less likely the woman is going to air her dirty laundry in public without good reason (how strongly would you resist three guys as opposed to one? How much would you want to talk about it afterward?) And yes, that's a completely separate issue from the woman's sexual history.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 4, 2005 1:57:42 AM

Remember, girls. Be a prude, don't enjoy sex too much or too often, don't be all you can be. If you are, then if you get raped, some asshole will come along saying that your embrace of your Goddess-given sexuality means that you weren't really raped. That you consented to outre sexual practices before, in some other context, with some other mammals, means that an entirely different set of mammals in an entirely novel context could just assume you were into it and 'No' didn't mean 'No'.

It's just sense.

.....

Excuse me, I need to bleach my brain, I'll be back later.

Posted by: NBarnes | Dec 4, 2005 8:22:41 AM

This seems like the judge and prosecutor reached back into old English common law about "raising a hue and cry". A woman who claimed to have been attacked was not viewed as credible unless she had either cried out during the incident, or had gone out and reported it immediately afterwards. The thinking was that a woman who valued her virtue would be so injured and horrified by a rape or sexual assault that she would immediately go to any lengths to report it and see the perpetrators punished (cf. the rape of Lucretia in Roman history for an extreme example). Reporting a sexual crime a while after the fact suggested that perhaps the woman was a little bit ambivalent about her virtue and thus not protected by the law in the same way an upstanding virgin was. Plus ca change....etc.

Posted by: jonas | Dec 4, 2005 1:23:40 PM

Thank you for the heads up about this story ... I'm still shocked that her sexual history was allowed into the case. I don't know the details of the laws relating to rape cases, but that makes absolutely no sense. Are there not rape-shield laws?

Not to over-rely on pop culture, but I have this vague memory that rape shield laws were a huge part of the Kobe Bryant case in Colorado. The judge allowed a "limited inquiry" into the accuser's sexual history (which was insane), and that got me to thinking that rape-shield laws were the norm. Are people just not following them?

Posted by: Pepper | Dec 4, 2005 5:22:21 PM

Innocent until proven guilty, even in rape cases.

Now, was there evidence that proved that he was guilty beyond any reasonable doubt? Real evidence? If so, then let him hang. If not, then we allow them to walk, even if we feel they could be guilty. And the reason why is that it could be one of use next time and if that day comes, I want a system where I can get a fair shake and not be railroaded for a crime I didn't commit simply because the accusations concern the 'cause du jour' the panties-in-a-wad crowd is pushing this year.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 4, 2005 5:48:11 PM

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