False Rape Accusations
Why on earth would a woman possibly lie about being raped? That was a valid question that was raised in comments to my last post. I could wax poetic about the sacred presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the right to have a unanimous jury decide guilt or innocence. But I won’t. It would fall on deaf ears.
The fact is that rape accusations are such that they are basically presumed to be accurate by the vast majority of the public in virtually every case. That’s partly because people can’t understand why women would make this stuff up only to then be put through the wringer of a criminal prosecution and all that that entails.
When I asked my divorce attorney law partner that question just now she said, “You’re asking me? Why on earth would they? That’s a sexist question. I can’t believe you would ask me such a stupid question. No offense.”
So, there ya go.
So, let’s just talk about that: Seven Reasons Behind False Rape Accusations.
This is soooo obvious. Criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil cases only require proof by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. 50%). Therefore, once a criminal case is proven, either after trial or by guilty plea, a civil case is automatically proven.
In virtually any criminal case victims have an independent cause of action for civil damages in a personal injury lawsuit. They can sue guilty defendants for damages. If that defendant has been adjudicated guilty in a criminal case, the money is just sitting there waiting for anyone who has a claim; i.e. victims.
This issue comes up a lot with famous Defendants, like Michael Jackson or Kobe Bryant. Is it so inconceivable that the millions (or even thousands) of dollars could be a tempting target for fraudsters?
2. Child Custody
Equally obvious. This one happens daily. If any sort of assault charges are brought against a spouse in a divorce or custody case, a protection order is automatically granted in the criminal case that will preclude even supervised visitation. Presto chango, no need to go through all those pesky divorce court hearings. The problem parent is instantly frozen out of the picture.
True, custody modifications can be made through the family court case, but still… It is a quick and easy way for one spouse to gain the upper hand, and the kids. The fact is that it works. People know this. And when the stress and angst of a contested divorce start to take over, they do some strange, and sometimes nasty, things. This is why I always say that I’d rather to handle a murder case any day than a divorce: much less nasty.
Simply put, is it not beyond comprehension that in this contentious context a false rape accusation might be made.
This one is subtle. I realize it sounds a bit extreme but it’s true. It might be something as simple as a one night stand where the guy never calls again, making the woman feel jilted and used. Emotions build up and regret over ever having a one-night stand with such a loser take over. Eventually, it’s possible to see that initial night of passion as something else instead, a night of unwanted and therefore non-consensual sex.
Or it might be that years of living together and constantly fighting and being verbally abused have taken their toll. Maybe the accuser just wants to punish the horrible person she once loved, and now hates for ruining her life. Maybe getting even is all that’s left.
Again, stranger things have happened.
This one may also seem far-fetched. But if you wonder what lengths people will go to to prostitute themselves for fame, just flip on your TV and find The Kardashians. If people are willing to have cameras filling up their lives every second of every day, broadcasting every fight, meal and potty break with equal gusto, entirely destroying their privacy, then a few court appearances and depositions may seem like nothing. Add money to the equation and you have a formula for false accusation. You get fame and money with just a 911 call. That must be irresistible for some people.
5. Mental Illness
This one is sad, and fraught with peril. That’s because in Washington State at least, if someone is so mentally ill that they are incapable of giving consent, it is Rape Second Degree. Just as it is if they are too intoxicated to give consent.
But if they are technically not so mentally ill that they are capable of giving consent, but at the same time mentally ill enough to either falsely remember what happened or seek some unhinged satisfaction through filing a false complaint, then we have a different situation.
It is entirely possible for someone who hears non-existent voices and hallucinates at times to make mistakes about what did or did not happen. It is a fine line, which is why it is perilous. Practically speaking, I would be just as worried that a valid rape accusation might be dismissed out of hand if the victim is “crazy”; but if the accusation is false then it might ruin an innocent man’s life.
Peril either way.
We criminal defense lawyers call it “eviction by 911 call”. This one happens a lot in domestic violence cases of every kind. Once that criminal complaint is lodged, the virtually automatic protection orders put in place, the defendant barred from going home, it’s all over.
Before anyone gets outraged about this idea, let me tell you it is so common that it makes my head spin. I have seen so many cases where sketchy accusations have led to a homeowner being more or less permanently prevented from living in his own home, even when the alleged victim (who has taken over the residence and is slowly destroying it) has never made a house payment, or even known the actual homeowner for more than a few weeks. This happens so much more than most people can comprehend. Drop a dime. Get a free place to live. Indefinitely. Kinda tempting, don’tcha think?
And rape is the ultimate form of domestic violence – so the protection orders are severe and lengthy. Do the math.
Think married women and teenage girls who willingly engage in sex with men but then get caught and need an excuse.
Like all of this, stranger things have happened.
What better defense to being busted than to blame the other person? This applies to everything from little kids throwing rocks to big kids having affairs. Granted, the extra marital affair is a much less common and more exotic scenario than the teenage girl. But they both happen. I’ve handled both kinds of cases.
In fact, I’ve handled every kind of scenario I have described above.
You name it, I’ve seen it.
For example, the mentally ill “victim” who claimed to have been kidnapped and stabbed by my client, before being sexually assaulted, but who then filed another false report after being found bleeding profusely on their kitchen floor next to a broken window the night before our trial.
When the police investigated, they discovered the window had been broken from the inside. It quickly became clear that the entire crime scene had been staged, which the “victim” eventually admitted before then admitting to doing the same thing to my client.
For weeks, months in fact, I had been trying to tell the prosecutor that the “victim” was a “cutter” (self-mutilator) who had made up the whole kidnapping story about my client. Early the next morning, he called me to ask my approval to sign off on a Dismissal Order. I approved it.
So, I speak from extensive, and often bizarre, personal experience. One of the commenters to my last post stated that 2-8% of rapes are false accusations. Personally, having spent a career analyzing and working on major criminal cases, I have no idea how they get these numbers. How on earth do you find and then determine whether or not accusations are false? Guilty people go free and innocent people get locked up every day. Still, those numbers sound about right.
Which brings us back to the central problem: false rape accusations are real. Rape is real. When either of them happen it is horrible. Which is why the best way to guard against both of these things happening is to follow the rule of law.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, cross examination, jury trials and the rest of it are the best way we have to make sure that rapists are caught and punished while also making sure innocent people are not convicted.
And being open minded and presuming defendants innocent is the best place to start.