Lack of trust in women is still a huge problem (a very sad rape story)

Here is the link to the story. It is quite long – here is how I would sum it up:

A teenage girl who had a rough and troubled early life was assaulted in her home. She reports it to the police. In their interviews with her, the cops go after things they think are discrepancies, and pick at her story relentlessly, and since she’s not terribly confident and probably still in shock, she starts to worry she actually might have dreamt it. She recants the story, and the police end up prosecuting her for wasting their time. She agrees to a plea deal and has to pay a fine and probation.

In what appears at first to be an unrelated case in another state, cops find and arrest a serial rapist. This rapist kept trophies in his home, including underwear and photos of his victims – and one of the photos is of the girl in the previous paragraph, who had recanted her story and been prosecuted.

The first cops recognize their mistake, and tell the woman what happened, and she sues them and gets a modest ($150K seems modest for that sort of hell to me) judgment.

I can’t help wondering how common this is – how often do police officers treat victims (especially women victims, and even more especially disadvantaged and troubled woman victims) like perpetrators? How often are actual rapes dismissed by police because the victim isn’t terribly confident, or is in shock, or doesn’t have a perfect memory, or has a troubled past? For every incident like this that is eventually “corrected” (as much as such a blunder can possibly be), how many are not?


Prosecuting her for filing a false report seems a little harsh. OTOH she told her ex-boyfriend that she called him on the phone by typing with her toes, which seems like a funny detail to be wrong about.

It turns out, apparently, that even though this was not a credible witness, she was telling the truth about being raped, and not telling the truth about dreaming it.

If it went down the way the article says it did, then it is a terrible thing. Sometimes crazy people are telling the truth. They obviously shouldn’t be prosecuted for it, but how is this a “huge problem”? She said she was raped. From the description in the article, it doesn’t appear that the police slighted on the investigation. They didn’t find any evidence, because apparently there wasn’t any evidence to find. Her story had at least one unusual discrepancy, and when they confronted her about it, she recanted her story (apparently, falsely). No doubt that is because she came from the unstable background you mention, instead of being because she was lying in order to get a better apartment. But how are the police supposed to know that?

Prosecuting her was clearly a miscarriage of justice. Is $150K enough to make up for it? I dunno - how much would be appropriate? I don’t see any bad faith on the part of the police.

It’s one of those “it sux but what can you do?” situations. Excrement occurs, and it is not always someone else’s fault.


Sadly rape is the serious crime that goes most unreported and the crime with the most false reports. Police must find a way to separate the false reports from the real ones because resources that go into investigating false reports mean real rapes may stay unsolved longer.
The woman in question was 18 and had developed a close bond with her former foster mother. It was the foster mother who called in to the police with her suspicions that the woman was making it up. This, combined with her strange affect, likely due to her awful childhood is what made the police suspicious. Her story was not consistent and she confessed to making up the whole thing after not much pressure.
The assailant was a serial rapist who raped a number of other women, all of whom were believed. The story of this young lady was awful at every turn, but it does not indicate a systemic problem absent other evidence.

From the article, Sgt. Mason had this to say after everything: “It wasn’t her job to try to convince me. In hindsight, it was my job to get to the bottom of it — and I didn’t.”

I don’t think this kind of mistake needs “bad faith” to be a serious problem – cops might legitimately doubt her story due to a variety of reasons, including her demeanor, her past, anonymous accusations, and the like… and if they do, then in my view that’s very problematic. It also sounds like they interrogated the victim (after having doubts) – sex crime specialists recommend that victims not be interrogated or threatened with a lie detector test. When she recanted her first recantation, police threatened her in several ways (from my reading). That doesn’t seem right to me, if the account is true – police officers should absolutely not threaten people who claim they have been victimized in any way, in my opinion.

As to “shit happens, what can you do”? You can not prosecute folks like this; not threaten them; and discipline officers (including perhaps suspensions and firings) who do threaten victims.

EDIT: This is in response to Shodan.

But iiandyiiifi, you’ve come here with one story and then told us this is a “huge problem”. It may very well be, but don’t you think you need to present some sort of data to prove that?

I think it often goes unreported because of incidents like this – women are afraid they will be threatened, pressured to recant, attacked in their communities, or even prosecuted for wasting police’s time.

There are statistics about unreported rapes, rapists going free, and related things, but that’s not really what I’m trying to discuss. Forgive me if my title was misleading – I wasn’t sure what to call it. I want to discuss the phenomenon, which I believe might be way too common, of law enforcement not trusting women as much as they should when it comes to sexual assault. This is hard to quantify, since statistics on unreported rapes, recanted rape reports, and the like, are a lot harder to find then simple crime rates and the like, and even if we had all such statistics, it’s even harder to quantify trust. Based on reports like this one, and statistics on unreported rapes like from RAINN (which have to be estimated to some degree), and other reports from women, I think it’s highly likely that mistrust of reporters of rape and sexual assault occurs too frequently in law enforcement.

In hindsight, sure.

And the fact that her story had discrepancies, and the person closest to her thought she might be making it up, and that they couldn’t find any evidence, and the fact that she changed her story from “it really happened” to “maybe I dreamed it”. What else do you think the police should use to evaluate if the story is true, or not?

It depends on what you mean by “threatened” and “interrogated”.

The police started off investigating the story. They found some (to their mind) significant problems with the story. Both the women who raised the victim doubted her story, and one contacted the police to tell them so. Her foster mother said she had a history of attention-seeking behavior. That’s not unusual - lots of traumatized teens do. But “maybe she made this up” is not IMO an unreasonable question to ask yourself, and if she starts saying “maybe I dreamed it” when you broach the subject and then write out a statement that says it never happened.

Also, according to your cite, the victim is the one who requested the lie detector test -

The police didn’t threaten her with a lie detector test - she requested it, and they threatened her with what would happen if she failed it.

I would agree with the “not prosecuting” part. Disciplining the officers? For what, for asking her if it really happened after they had reason to disbelieve her, and after investigating it as if it did happen and finding almost nothing?

Like I said, this sux, and the police were apparently wrong to doubt her. But doubt was not, AFAICT, an unreasonable or uncaring response.


I believe the threats were unreasonable and uncaring – that’s what the officers should have been disciplined for, IMO (though it was years later, which makes it even more difficult). IMO, she was treated as a perp and not a victim once the cops had some doubts, and I don’t think that’s right. That she requested the lie detector doesn’t make it right that the officers threatened her if she failed it – they shouldn’t have threatened her at all, in any way whatsoever.

Thing is, even if they were jerks about it they did her a favour to dissuade her from doing a lie detector test. As your article mentions they are particularly unreliable in rape cases let alone with a woman as unstable as this.

I don’t know that the police here followed a very different investigative procedure than for many crimes.

If you report a kidnapping, they’ll wait 24 hours before pursuing it at all. Then their first questions will be along the lines of “Are you sure? Your kid didn’t just wander off to the mall? You didn’t just forget that your ex had custody this weekend?” If the kidnap victim never shows up and/or there are substantial inconsistencies, it’s virtually certain they’ll consider how the evidence fits you as a murderer of your own child. Most of the time they’ll even be right to do this in a kidnapping case.

So I’m not sure that rape is necessarily seen differently by law enforcement, it’s just that rape 1) is generally private with no witnesses, 2) has a lot of overlap with consensual behavior, 3) may not leave objective evidence behind.

Also keep in mind that police questioning is slanted toward what the prosecution will need. If the victim is also the only witness and has trouble keeping her story straight, then taking this to court would be a colossal waste of time regardless of whether it happened or not. Charging her with a false report was not appropriate, but testing the consistency of her story is a proper part of what police do.

I am not sure this is true, especially in the case of pre-adolescent children.

I am sure he was thinking of a missing person report. If you report some guy got grabbed and tossed in a van I seriously doubt they give it 24 hours before investigating.

Looks more like a procedural muddle than a basic mistrust in females. I’m trying to see in the story whether or not the girl was accompanies by legal counsel during her talks with the police. Looks like she had but didn’t sound effective.

I disagree. Rape is one of the very worst crimes, but to be falsely accused of it is terrible. There are women who make upstories of rape, and the consequences can be devastating - including suicide - on the accused. So prosecuting someone who makes a false allegation is absolutely something that should be done. Remember though, that presumption of innocence still applies, and that the allegation has to be proved to have been false. Not “We can find no evidence of rape, so no rape happened.”

So you think they did the right thing in prosecuting this woman?

Earlier this year I heard in the news about how a backlog of old rape kits in Ohio were finally being tested for DNA. There was an interview on Fresh Air with Rachel Dissell, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who’d investigated the backlog of untested kits. The full interview is here, but here are a couple of quotes about what she learned.

Serial rapists are more common than had been thought:

Serial rapists deliberately prey on women who are unlikely to be believed:

In the first few days after a rape, victims are often too traumatized to assist with investigation:

Sadly, all this means that even a well-intentioned cop may handle a rape investigation badly due to mistaken beliefs about both rapists and rape victims, lack of resources, and the fact that most rapists are trying not to get caught and may be intentionally targeting victims who’ll seem unreliable.


I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but AFAICT this woman didn’t falsely accuse anyone in particular - the police just thought she had made up the story of being raped.

But maybe that is something to consider when deciding when to prosecute someone for filing a false police report of rape - does she falsely (perhaps maliciously) accuse someone in particular, or just make up a story? I can see prosecuting if she accuses her ex-boyfriend of rape and it turns out he was in Cleveland at the time, but just “I was raped/maybe I dreamed it/it didn’t happen” probably not. Even if the police spent a lot of time investigating what they believed to be a false report - because in this case it appears they were wrong to think so, and because of iiandyiii says about not discouraging women from reporting rape. Even if it never gets proven one way or the other.

Lamia - were these mostly stranger rapes that the reporter was talking about?


I agree. Falsely accusing a particular person of rape is a serious crime, and there are certainly cases where it should be prosecuted. Making up a story, or maybe having dreamed it and confusing a dream with reality, should not generally be prosecuted. It’s rather bizarre and disconcerting that the police prosecuted this woman.