Monday, March 05, 2007

How Our Response To Hoaxes Differ

This story from Minnesota has gotten some attention in the blogosphere, but the conclusions I've seen are ones that I don't agree with.

Police in St. Paul have announced that a rape purportedly committed at a Selby Avenue business was a false report.

A 40-year-old female psychologist reported the rape last October. She told investigators a man she didn't know made an appointment to meet her at her Selby Avenue office. When he showed up, she said he grabbed her by the hair, tied her hands and raped her. [...]

Investigators said the two met on the Internet and had consensual sex that night. It was the first time they'd met in person. He never came forward. Police found him during their investigation, along with physical evidence they said proved a rape never happened.

"If you report a crime, we are going to take you seriously," said Walsh, "We're going to assume you're telling us the truth."
To some people this case indicates that police should nullify this assumption that those who report rape are telling the truth, but that nullification would help no innocent people. What did help in this case was a thorough investigation that didn't dismiss any evidence. The police started with an assumption but they weren't blinded by it.

Emily Huemann has been helping rape victims for twenty years as the coordinator for St. Paul/Ramsey County Department of Public Health Sexual Offense Services. She said she's never seen anything like this.
With the number of rapes that occur each year in this metro area, to have one case like this in 20 years indicates that this behavior by an alleged rape victim is a very small percentage.

While this case did cost the police money, it did not in fact endanger anyone's life. Contrast that with this case:
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- The Coast Guard on Friday suspended its search for six boaters and said it was investigating the distress calls about their small craft taking on water as a possible hoax.

The calls came in late Thursday as strong wind and driving rain from a deadly storm swept into South Carolina. Helicopters searched Thursday and Friday but found no boat or debris on the beach or in the water, the Coast Guard said. "Coast Guard crews last night risked their lives to go out," Petty Officer 1st Class Donnie Brzuska. "It's a very serious crime."
Nobody would be cheered for suggesting that this single hoax distress call justifies treating all distress calls as if they were hoaxes, but too many people suggest just that when they hear of a false rape report.

If you believe the non-hoax is a real problem, you don't use hoaxes as an excuse for advocating that emergency responders, nurses, investigators, the court systems, etc. must deal with alleged victims as if most of them are liars.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:49 PM   3 comments links to this post


At March 06, 2007 8:01 AM, Blogger sailorman said...


Good post.

As I'm always telling people, not everything is a zero sum game. MOST things are (most things which enhance convictions do so at the expense of defendants, and most things which enhance protections for the innocent do so at the expense of victims). But better investigations are beneficial to all parties, no matter what they find.

the message from this isn't that "victims lie," or the reverse. It's that "good investigations enhance the probability of finding the truth." And that's a good message to bring up.

At March 07, 2007 1:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not see enough evidence in the article about the rape hoax to convince me that it was indeed a hoax. I still see the possibility that she was telling the truth.

At March 12, 2007 10:32 PM, Blogger RachelsTavern said...

I think I may find myself agreeing with sailorman and marcella--this may not happened for a while.


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