Saturday, January 05, 2008

Exonerations Show Flip Side Of Injustice Against Those Who Report Rape

For many of those who view the efforts of anti-rape activists with hostility, the exoneration of Charles Chatman, the 15th man cleared in Dallas County, Texas through DNA analysis after nearly 27 years in prison is seen as evidence that those who want better rape laws and better rape investigations are in the wrong and are partly responsible for injustices against wrongfully convicted men.

This so-called proof has it dead wrong.

Their mistake is in not seeing that the problems victims have when they report or when they cooperate with the criminal prosecution are symptoms of the same underlying problems: Cases that get pursued or dropped based on perception, bigotry and faulty processes rather than being pursued or dropped based on full untainted evidence and investigations.

Those who attack estimates that the number of deliberately false rape claims is about 2% often claim to only want an accurate number -- whatever that number is. However, when I see someone scoffing at the 2% estimate, or the statement that there is no evidence that false reports of rape are higher than any other type of crime, I also see them advocating for the response to reports of rape to be opposite to the response to reports of non-sex crimes.

This desired response is bigotry in action and it is why some state laws such as in Virginia still allow investigators to force rape victims to take a polygraph exam before the report will be investigated. For some people these barriers put in the way of those who report rape are viewed a necessary part of ensuring justice and for people like Glenn Sacks this overt unequal treatment are a "backhanded admission from Virginia police that false rape claims aren't rare."

Institutionalized bigotry and general support for that bigotry tends to skew official results. This is something Glenn Sacks believes selectively. He believes that rape convictions can be skewed, resulting in wrongful convictions, but he acts as if any negative labeling of those who report rape must be 100% accurate.

One reason [for polygraph of alleged rape victims] is probably that these crimes are often more intimate and less likely to have witnesses. But another reason is probably that the officers, through their own experiences, have seen that false accusations of sexual assault are much more common than false accusations of other crimes. Feminists insist that false rape claims are not any more common than false claims of other crimes.

If an investigator believes that nearly half of all those who report rape are telling malicious lies that investigator will soon find excuses to weed out half of the reports as quickly as possible if allowed to do so. The interviewer may feel justified in attempting to coerce a recantation "for everyone's sake" from a girl or woman who doesn't look or act like a "real" rape victim should.

No need for pesky and costly investigations in these cases. After all, these investigators have seen the proof of this belief through their own experiences. They treated a large number of those who reported being raped with open hostility and most of those people went away exactly as the investigator expected. And I bet these same investigators shake their heads trying to figure out what is wrong with so many rape victims who refuse to report their rape to law enforcement.

Because of bigotry that interviewer will have no awareness of the number of rapists cheering this treatment of those who report rape and who are depending on these sorts of investigators who want to avoid investigating all reports of rape to help them escape legal accountability for their crimes.

The problem that many people can't or won't see is that a system which supports stopping investigations based on bigotry and intimidation of witnesses (that's what the polygraph test requirement is at heart -- a scare tactic) is a system which will support continuing investigations based on bigotry even if the suspect doesn't fully match the victim's initial description and it will support trying to coerce witnesses into identifying their chosen suspect.

Under this bigoted model, if law enforcement believes the report of rape (possibly because of the severity of the victim's injuries) then it must necessarily disbelieve those who are suspected of committing this verified rape.

Too many of those who demand fairness for rape defendants will with no awareness of their own unfairness say about a case they hear about, "Women like that aren't honest so she is guilty of filing a false police report and she should have the book thrown at her." Statements like these are an open call for unfounded and false convictions. Something these people claim to be 100% against.

"Women like her" do get raped no matter what characteristic makes someone a "woman like her."

The only way to minimize the number of defendants wrongfully convicted of rape or other crimes is to ensure proper treatment of all of those involved in criminal cases and reports of crimes.

It must be all about the skilled and ethical collection and handling of all the evidence (including testimony), stupid. Those who want only alleged rapists to be treated fairly are advocates for injustice against crime victims and by that action they become supporters of injustice against those accused of rape.

Once you allow sloppiness and bigotry into the system, you can't completely control who it will hurt and who it won't.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:08 AM   0 comments links to this post

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