Today in Rape Culture

[Content Note: Sexual violence; child abuse; death; malicious prosecution.]

This is one of the most catastrophic police failures in a rape case about which I've ever read, which is really saying something.

Lara McLeod was raped by her sister's fiancé Joaquin Rams, who himself conveyed to police that the rape had happened by denying it before they even asked. The police compelled Lara to file a report, then they disbelieved her, despite the fact that Rams had a criminal history that included being suspected of two murders and abusing his older son, based largely on "evidence" in the form of a recording of the rape which was provided by Rams and was clearly edited. So they charged her with making a false report and accused her of conspiring with her sister Hera McLeod, who had a son with Rams, to invent the accusation to assist in a custody battle (that wasn't even happening until after Rams raped Lara). That eventually aided Rams in getting visitation with his younger son with Hera, who subsequently died while in Rams' care.

It continues to be a real fucking mystery why lots of rape survivors don't want to report the crimes against them to police.

And after destroying this family, the police defend their actions and refuse to apologize:
In a private meeting with the McLeods, the chief of police admitted the department bungled aspects of the investigation...but he stressed that women do lie about rape, so it was important for officers not to be too credulous — and that it was only his "personal opinion" that police shouldn't have pressed charges.

"It is not uncommon for people to make false, malicious, salacious allegations of sexual assault," he said. "That does happen."

...The family had specific requests: Train officers on how to properly respond to sexual assault. Discipline the detectives that charged the sisters. Make a public statement, so someone who googles Lara — a potential employer, say — would not see the outlandish charges.

"A few of your concerns, I think, have been corroborated," Chief Hudson told Hera in the meeting, a recording of which was obtained by BuzzFeed News. He admitted that the decision to allow Joaquin to recover the video was "improper" and "violates our policies on handling evidence." Hudson said the police report was "sloppy" and he thought some aspects of the investigation had been "shortcutted."

"I think fatigue played a part in this," he said, "and not a good part."

Hudson admitted that the detectives had "reached a conclusion and didn't pursue it further" and that, "in hindsight," he would "prefer that the charges not have been made."

"One of the shortcomings in this case is the fact that they didn't do further investigation on the specific charge against you," he said to Hera. "To leap to the conclusion that you needed to be charged at the time you did I thought was cut short."

But he said there was nothing "technically improper" with the charges brought against Hera and Lara, as it was the detectives' "judgment call." And, he said, even if the police hadn't charged them, Joaquin still wouldn't have been arrested for rape. When Hera asked whether it was common for the department to charge women with falsely reporting rape, Chief Hudson said that he didn't know if he would "call it an aberration." The department deals with about 9 or 10 charges of false reporting a year out of 80–100 reports, he said.

As for the idea that his officers needed further instruction on handling sexual assault cases, he said their training was already "cutting edge." He said they would address some issues internally but could not elaborate on what or how.

"Is there nothing your department can do to say 'we made some mistakes and we're fixing them?'" Hera asked.

"I would certainly think that it would be possible for me to say, in this investigation we uncovered some concerns about the methods used in the investigation that we are addressing administratively and internally," Chief Hudson said, but he would have to ask their attorneys. "That's probably about as far as I'd be able to go." He couldn't say Hera and Lara should never have been charged at all, because that was just his "personal opinion," he said.

...In July, Prince William Detective Samuel Walker said it's standard protocol to arrest people for falsely reporting rape because the department tries "to deter false allegations," but "only if they can determine that the person is at fault." However, he said, the department does not track how often it arrests people for falsely reporting sexual assault to a police officer, making it impossible to know how big — or how small — the problem actually is. Walker also said the department would be unable to provide BuzzFeed News with data detailing the number of women who report sexual assault per year to the Prince William police, or with a clear breakdown of how many of those reports are deemed "unfounded" and why.
Let me just say for the eleventy millionth time: That a rape cannot be sufficiently "proven" to authorities does not mean a rape didn't happen. That even many police officers evidently believe that if they can't "prove" a rape happened it means the report must be false is terrifying. And hardly consistent with the "cutting edge" training the officers handling Lara's case are supposed to have had.

Would that we spent as much time talking about rapists who are fucking liars, cops who understand or care shit about the rape culture and rape victims, and the extraordinary courage it takes for survivors to report because of the colossal risk of being disbelieved and punished, legally and/or socially, for reporting, as we do talking about the vanishingly small percentage of false reports, most of which are actually not even truly false reports but accounts of actual rapes that are simply disbelieved by the people tasked with justice.

I take up space beside Lara and Hera McLeod, and I believe them.

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