Don’t Just Blame the Victim; Prosecute Her

A 17-year-old girl went to police at the urging of her friends after she was allegedly gang-raped by three men, including her boyfriend. The men testified that the act was consensual. After reviewing all the information and statements, prosecutors decided they didn’t think they could prove a rape allegation, and so declined to prosecute the case.

Instead, they prosecuted the victim for filing a false police report. Yesterday, she was found guilty.

The victim has never recanted her story. Instead, the decision was based on the judge’s opinion that the three men were more credible, in part because a police detective and the victim’s friends testified she did not “act traumatized” in the days after the incident.

In cases like this, people tend to draw their own conclusions, based on what’s reported, filling in the blanks in a way that satisfies one’s judgment. What are you thinking right now? That maybe it really was a false rape charge? That maybe the victim was just vindictive? That there had to be some reason that the judge found her guilty?

Let me give you some more information—something that is only a possibility because The American Street’s Kevin Hayden has known the victim nearly her whole life. He attended the trial. He noticed that the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the attackers as “boys,” even though they were grown men and the victim was 17. He noticed that the judge acknowledged he had found inconsistencies in all of their stories, but, inexplicably, decided that the same reasonable doubt that kept prosecutors from pursuing charges against the attackers wasn’t enough to keep him from finding the victim guilty.

He also noted what was, and was not, allowed to be introduced as evidence. Allowed: The 17-year-old victim’s sexual history. Not allowed: That one of the victim’s “friends,” her mother, has problems with alcohol and prescription drugs, provided her daughter with the alcohol she’d had that evening (which the mother had stolen from the store at which she cashiers), and was:

…awaiting her boyfriend’s return to her home within two months of the rape. That boyfriend was in prison for molesting his own daughter. That’s hardly a credible witness with any sympathy for victims of sexual assault…

Additionally, the two ‘friends’ were the ones who convinced the 17 year old that she should report it to the police. So if the young woman is guilty [of filing a false rape charge], the instigating accessories to her ‘crime’ are considered credible experts about how a rape victim should act.
Again: The judge decided that the victim was not credible because her friend and her mother said she did not “act traumatized” in the days after the incident. He then filed a charge against the victim which turned the two people he had deemed credible witnesses into criminal conspirators. That seems rather confusing, that two criminal conspirators could also be credible witnesses, and experts on post-rape trauma no less. Although, it is rather convenient for a judge and prosecutors who might want to make a point.

Even though the woman never said she lied or recanted her story, city prosecutors say they took the unusual step of filing charges against her because of the seriousness of her accusations.


Ted Naemura, the assistant city attorney who prosecuted the case, said the woman's false accusations were serious enough to lead to charges. The young men faced prison sentences of at least 7 years and a lifetime labeled as sex offenders. In addition, police spent considerable resources investigating the accusations.

Beaverton has no policy about prosecuting such cases, but reviews each one on its merits, Naemura said. The city prosecuted a similar case a year ago in which a judge ordered the woman to pay $1,100 in restitution for the city's investigation costs, said Officer Paul Wandell, a Beaverton Police Department spokesman.

The bottom line, Naemura said, is that people can't use the criminal justice system to further their own ends.

This case should not deter legitimate victims from reporting crimes, he said.
It shouldn’t, should it? Something tells me it just might, particularly when a judge admits he found inconsistencies in the stories of both the woman and her attackers, but decided nonetheless that the attackers were “legitimate” victims and the woman was not. As it is, only 10% of victims of sex crimes in Oregon file reports with police.

Kevin Neely, spokesman for the Oregon Attorney General's Office, said it was rare for alleged sex crime victims to be charged much less convicted of filing a false police report.

"Our concern is always with the underreporting of sexual assaults," he said, "not with false reporting. It's a safe bet that prosecutions for false reporting are rare."
Just how safe a bet? Heather J. Huhtanen, Sexual Assault Training Institute director for the Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force, reports that Portland police have found that 1.6% of sexual assault cases were falsely reported. By way of comparison, 2.6% of auto theft cases were falsely reported.

Here are some things we hear a lot: Vindictive women use rape charges to get back at men. Women’s sexual histories can be informative in a rape case. Women who were “really raped” are easily identified by the way they behave.

None of them are true.

Yes, there are some women (and men) who file false rape charges. They are, however, rare, usually quickly identified as false, and are almost always thrown out long before trial. In truth, many genuine victims of rape never see their cases reach trial due to lack of evidence; a genuine rape victim is exponentially less likely to see her attacker prosecuted than an erroneously charged man is to be prosecuted.

A woman’s sexual history has absolutely no bearing on whether she was raped—including her past sexual history, if any, with her attacker. A rapist doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether he rapes a virgin or a whore, or any of the majority of us who fall somewhere in between, which makes each of us as likely to fall victim to the crime as anyone else.

There is no such thing as a “typical” response to rape. Immediately following a rape, some women go into shock. Some are lucid. Some are angry. Some are ashamed. Some are practical. Some are irrational. Some want to report it. Some don’t. Most have a combination of emotions, but there is no standard response. Responses to rape are as varied as its victims. In the long term, some rape victims act out. Some crawl inside themselves. Some have healthy sex lives. Some never will again.

Now here are some things that are true. Rape is underreported. Reporting a rape is difficult, and can be embarrassing, shameful, hurtful, frustrating, and too often unfulfilling. Quite bluntly, there is very little incentive to report a rape. It’s a terrible experience, and the likelihood of seeing justice served is a long shot. Even if it is, it usually comes at great personal cost, with one’s sexual history put on public display amidst the dismay of reliving the attack—and an extended trial can necessitate living in a state of suspended animation, where moving on from that moment is all but impossible. The only real incentive one has is knowing the sacrifice might prevent the same thing from happening to someone else. Not a small thing, but a big personal investment.

And now, women have one less reason to come forward—the possible horror of watching their attackers go free while they are found guilty.

(Many thanks to Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest for giving me the heads-up on this story.)

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