Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Troubling Police Interview With Alleged Rape Victim

This Atlanta case is deeply troubling.

The woman said in a written statement to the press that she did not report it for a few days because of her "youth, mental anguish and disgust." She said she went to MARTA police on Oct. 8. They questioned her for hours, and she said she felt as if she were the suspect, which she said left her so "steaming" that she recanted.

This scenario unfortunately doesn't surprise me and is a remnant of the era when police were routinely trained to try to break down those who reported rape because they were told that most women who reported rape were lying.

The problem is that breaking someone down is not the same thing as doing a competent investigation and getting to the truth. When dealing with someone who has recently been raped this breaking of the alleged victim can be pathetically easy. The woman's claim that recanting was the price she'd have to pay to leave an obviously hostile environment is unfortunately plausible. Hopefully, this treatment comes from lack of training and is not an official tactic that new officers are trained to perform.

The same strategy which can be used to get false retractions can also get false confessions. Sloppy policing all around yet there is far more outrage when there is an allegation of a false confession to committing a violent crime.

Getting the answer: "She recanted" is not the same thing as getting a true and verifiable answer. A documentary in the UK several decades ago (can't remember the name) captured one of these interrogations and the public outrage over the blatant disrespect and verbal abuse sparked major changes in how those who reported being raped were treated.

MARTA spokeswoman Joselyn Baker said that in addition to the woman recanting her statement, "there is video evidence that contradicts" her report of the incident. Baker said she could not provide details because of the ongoing investigation.

The alleged victim said in an interview Monday that the night she reported the incident, by the end of the police questioning she wanted to leave, but MARTA police said she couldn't. "They said you can't go because we want to get it when it's still fresh in your mind and it won't take long," she said.

This contradiction between the woman's testimony and video needs to be dealt with professionally and not through disrespectful treatment of someone who reports being raped.

I've seen too many cases where the alleged victim is asked about exact times as if every one of us knows the time of every action we take down to the minute (and that time is magically synchronized to the clocks used to try to discredit the alleged victim).

If they have proof that she made a false report then the statement that there is an ongoing investigation is a lie. There would also be no need for a long interrogation since they supposedly already have the proof they need to prove the charges against this woman.

Too often not having irrefutable proof that a rape happened gets twisted into the claim that there is irrefutable proof that no rape happened. These 2 are NOT interchangeable. Any cop who doesn't know this needs to go back to school or needs to leave the force.

No matter what really happened in this alleged rape case, there needs to be a serious review of the MARTA police policies and personnel. Subjecting those who report a crime to an interrogation should be a firing offense since they effectively pollute the alleged victim's testimony, making it worthless. They also actively drive away rape victims who can't or won't risk being thrown in jail for telling the truth.

Too often it seems like the police who use these tactics are hostile to those who report rape because they want to protect the image that their jurisdiction is safe more than they want to protect those within their jurisdiction.

I've heard people say that it is possible to judge whether an alleged rape victim is lying by that person's manner, but this is guesswork and a bad substitute for competent investigations. Show me a cop who can take one look at a woman reporting rape and know whether she is lying and I'll show you a cop who operates on stereotypes and bigotry.

Many times this bigotry is based on who the cops have previously broken to the point of recanting or who they can quickly scare off. So one injustice ends up being the justification for the next injustice. If complete investigations which result in credible evidence of a rape only happen for those who are instantly seen as honest that will again feed into the next injustice.

There have been many developments in training those who do rape investigations so there is no viable excuse for those who use practices which have been discredited.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:12 AM   2 comments links to this post


At November 05, 2007 5:25 PM, Blogger ArthurLB said...

All this talk of the "alleged victim" is only ever found in rape cases. You don't read about the "alleged robbery victim" or the "alleged murder victim," but you hear all the time about the "alleged rape victim." This is a subtle way of blaming the victim and hope very much that you are using the term sarcastically here. The way crimes are supposed to be talked about are by referencing the "alleged perpetrator." Goddamn patriarchy!

At November 05, 2007 6:47 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

ArthurLB,I'm using the term because that's the limbo state rape victims get stuck in until there's a conviction or the police or it's decided, like in this case, that the person should be the one charged with a crime.


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