Monday, October 22, 2007

Is Recanting Of Rape Allegation Always True?

The Union Leader is making the assumption that the answer is yes.

By now you've probably heard the story. An angry dad rushed down to John Stark Regional High School last month and beat his daughter's boyfriend after learning the young couple had had sex earlier that day. Alas, there is more to the tale. The 15-year-old girl had told her parents she'd been forced to have sex. The father believed he was taking justice to a rapist, not merely the Romeo who'd bedded his underage daughter.

That changes the whole story.

Some are demanding that the girl be charged with filing a false police report. But she told her mother the lie, and mom called the police. If she directly told the police the same lie, she should face the music.

The problem here is that without a full investigation of everything that happened, through to the end of the recantation, there is no way of knowing whether the claim of rape (or claim of forced sex which might not meet the statutory standards for forcible rape) was indeed false.

For all those who complain about jumping the gun when a boy or man is accused of rape, the same danger exists when a girl or woman is accused of falsely reporting rape. Notice that this isn't called an alleged lie. She hasn't been charged, but she's being treated as if she were already convicted.

Because of her father's public attack on the boyfriend, there would be extreme pressure for the girl, if truly raped, to recant because if she doesn't recant and has to testify about the details of a rape, everyone in town will know who the unnamed victim would be. That's a huge amount of pressure from all directions.

Recanting can make that intense pressure evaporate.

Add onto that the fact that some investigators will directly push for a recantation to the point of coercion. Too many investigators immediately "know" what really happened and try to push the testimony toward their assumption. If the assumption in this case were the stereotypical "girl lying to protect her reputation" and if that investigator offered her a figurative carrot for recanting, her recantation would be totally meaningless.

The investigation would also be hopelessly tainted. Frankly, if the interview switched from one of a potential crime victim to a potential criminal, that alleged victim needs to be informed that they are now a criminal suspect.

I don't know if the retraction was factual or false. Neither does this reporter.

What I do know for sure is that leading and pushing witnesses in a desired direction is a recipe for disaster. Too often it is called effective policing when it is no such thing. None of the coverage I've seen on this case offers any insight into how the retraction was obtained. All the stories just assume the recanting was obtained because no rape happened.

This girl might face scorn at school as a liar but she also faces greater risk of rape because she has been clearly labeled as a non-credible witness in any future rape cases. Defense attorneys would jump to call her a pathological liar and too many people would ignore solid evidence in favor of character assassination.

I can't agree that this father was doing anything heroic by playing vigilante. I can understand his anger, but his expression of anger backfired -- predictably -- on him and on his daughter. If he believed his daughter was truly raped then he should have supported her as she faced the prospect of reporting to the police.

False rape reports are a serious and common abuse of the justice system. FBI data show that around 8 percent of rape claims are untrue. Some reports indicate much higher percentages, 25 percent or more.

This is guilt by association and questionable association at that. The FBI data is for the number of unfounded cases which is different from untrue cases -- a critical distinction. The reports which claim higher percentages of false reports are all questionable at best when it comes to determining how many who report rape are making false reports. They do measure something, but I believe they more closely measure the perception of those doing the labeling.

Assuming the FBI data is accurate about the number of unfounded rape reports, the perception gap would then be 17 percentage points or more. Since not all unfounded reports are false reports (IE. what was described really happened but it doesn't constitute a crime), the real perception gap has to be even wider. For those who claim that 50% of rape reports are false, that means their perception gap would be 42 percentage points or more.

Those are some serious numbers which explains why girls like this one don't get referred to as alleged liars.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:16 AM   1 comments links to this post


At October 22, 2007 5:55 AM, Blogger Mickle said...

Plus, it's her boyfriend.

Unfortunately, it's not like all those good feelings you have for someone go away just because they treat you like trash. Whose to say she isn't recanting because she's upset that her dad beat him up?

It's not like women are conditioned to believe that they don't deserve justice. It's not like women are conditioned to bend over backwards for other people. It's not like she would have conflicting feelings about how she wanted him to be treated. /sarcasm


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