Thursday, December 9, 2004
Several interesting articles on sexual assault. The first is by CrimProf Michelle J. Anderson of Villanova, one of the legal academy's most perceptive and prolific scholars in this area. Her latest work The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault proposes a number of reforms to make institututional discipline more efficient. (CrimProf blogged an expose of UVa's system). One startling point in the paper was that no reliable statistics exist on the frequency of false rape claims: "As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown." (See pages 33-35). Professor Anderson's conclusion is noteworthy in light of the often repeated claim of advocates that this information is known definitively: "false accusations account for only 2% of all reported sexual assaults. This is no higher than false reports for other crimes." Although the article asserts that "no study has ever been published which sets forth an evidentiary basis for the ‘two percent false rape complaint’ thesis," even universities repeat this statistic, and it shows up in such important venues as the legislative history of VAWA. Pub. L. 102-199, S. Rep. 102-197 n.48 (Oct. 29, 1991).
The other articles in this area which caught my attention are about an Ohio case in which my co-blogger Mark Godsey is counsel. A man is serving a long sentence for rape in spite of the absence of any physical evidence connecting him to the crime. According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial on Sunday supporting an expedited parole hearing, the inmate has passed a voice stress test while asserting his innocence and the victim has repeatedly failed the same test, and the victim's former boyfriend "has come forward to say she has a history of self-mutilation in attempts to gain attention." According to the paper, the victim now claims that "she actually died during the attack and was brought back to life by Snow White," which suggests she may be an unreliable reporter.
In my monitoring of this month's worth of Google News archives, I found stories about admitted or proved false rape allegations from California, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, two from New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Canada, England, New Zealand, and the Philippines; an alleged asylum fraud ring in the Washington area also employed apparently false rape claims.
There were many, many more stories about actual sex crimes, and these anecdotes hardly show that false claims are common. The stories also may suggest that law enforcement successfully identifies most false claims; here's the chapter on "Unfounded Cases and False Allegations" from the training manual Successfully Investigating Acquaintance Sexual Assault, written by the National Center for Women and Policing. However, the stories also suggest that false accusations do sometimes occur, and in the absence of any reliable information about how often, it seems that additional research would be worthwhile. [Jack Chin]