Excerpt from ‘The Whole Truth’

The following is Chapter 17 of Bob Harvey’s “The Whole Truth: The Tainted Prosecution of an American Fighter Pilot.” Read more in the free sample available on the Amazon page for the Kindle edition.

 

Chapter 17: False Allegations

“I know there’s evil in the world, and there always has been. But you don’t need to believe in Satan or demons to explain it. Human beings are perfectly capable of evil all by themselves.”
— Tess Gerristen, “The Mephisto Club”

False allegations happen. To think otherwise is naive and foolish or to be so blinded by an agenda as to deny the truth.

The issue of false allegations is complex and disturbing. Why would a woman falsely accuse a man of sexual assault? Research shows that false allegations in rape cases occur in somewhere between 2 and 45 percent of all cases.[1] Unfortunately, the statistics vary greatly depending upon the political position of the group reporting. According to Wendy McElroy, author and editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., while men’s groups sometime cite statistics much higher: “Politically correct feminists claim false rape accusations are rare and account for only 2 percent of all reports. Men’s rights sites point to research that places the rate as high as 41 percent. These are wildly disparate figures that cannot be reconciled.”[2]

Just as McElroy said, groups like Protect Our Defenders say false allegations occur in 2 to 8 percent of cases:

“As an organization that works with victims of rape and assault, we have done extensive research on this matter and can assure you that the generally accepted studies on this indicate the percentage of rape allegations that are false runs between approximately 2 and 8 percent.”[3] (Author note: protectourdefenders.com does not cite any studies to support this claim.)

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McElroy is correct in that these widely differing numbers may not be able to be reconciled. But there is evidence the rate is far higher than 2 to 8 percent. However low Protect Our Defenders would like people to believe the false allegation rate is, actual statistics point to a rate significantly higher than 8 percent — maybe even as high as 45 percent.

According to the Los Angeles Daily Journal, research shows almost half of rape allegations are false: “A Washington Post investigation of rape reports in seven Virginia and Maryland counties in 1990 and 1991 found that nearly one in four were unfounded. When contacted by the Post, many of the alleged victims admitted that they had lied.”[4]

Former Colorado prosecutor Craig Silverman said: “For sixteen years, I was a kick-ass prosecutor who made most of my reputation vigorously prosecuting rapists. … I was amazed to see all the false rape allegations that were made to the Denver Police Department. … A command officer in the Denver Police sex assaults unit recently told me he placed the false rape numbers at approximately 45 percent.”[5]

The Air Force itself conducted a study of 1,218 reported rape cases between 1980 and 1984 in which the conclusion stated, “approximately 45 percent of the total rape allegations were false.”[6]

Of the total reports, 212 were found to be “disproved” as the alleged victim convincingly admitted the complaint was a “hoax” at some point during the initial investigation. The researchers then investigated the 546 remaining or “unresolved” rape allegations, including having the accusers submit to a polygraph. Twenty-seven percent of these complainants admitted they had fabricated their accusation just before taking the polygraph or right after they failed the test. (It should be noted that whenever there was any doubt, the unresolved case was re-classified as a “proven” rape.) Combining this 27 percent with the initial 212 “disproved” cases, it was determined that approximately 45 percent of the total rape allegations were false.[7]

A 1996 study published by the U.S. Department of Justice, “Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial,” documented twenty-eight cases of individuals who were convicted by juries and, then, later exonerated by DNA tests. The study states: “Every year since 1989, in about 25 percent of the sexual assault cases referred to the FBI where results could be obtained, the primary suspect has been excluded by forensic DNA testing. Specifically, FBI officials report that out of roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases since 1989, about 2,000 tests have excluded the primary suspect…”[8] Twenty-five percent! Twenty-five percent of those sent to prison for rape where DNA was later matched were proven to have been falsely convicted.

Numbers can be misleading. This finding does not mean 25 percent of all rape allegations are false, but it certainly does prove innocent men do sometimes get convicted.

The FBI study continued, “These percentages have remained constant for seven years, and the National Institute of Justice’s informal survey of private laboratories reveals a strikingly similar 26 percent exclusion rate.”[9] Wendy McElroy said “the FBI data is as close to hard statistics that I’ve found on the rate of false accusations of sexual assault.”[10]

To clarify, this study, conducted after the discovery of an ability to analyze DNA, went back to cases where evidence was available to test DNA evidence to determine if the correct person had been convicted. The FBI states 26 percent of the men in prison for rape were innocent. This was in cases in which they had evidence so DNA tests could prove guilt or innocence. Twenty-six percent of men in prison were innocent. What could the wrongful conviction rate be for cases without DNA evidence? Protect our Defenders offers no evidence to support their assertions or to dispute the FBI study conclusions.

Finally, the Department of Defense conducted a study in 2012 that found that 17 percent of sexual assault investigations (allegations) were “unfounded,” i.e., false allegations.[11] Two percent to 45 percent is a wide range, but these studies do bound the estimates of false allegations.

Documentation appears to indicate 17 to 26 percent is more accurate, meaning approximately 17 to 26 percent of allegations and convictions of sexual assault are false.

Does the exact percentage of false allegations matter? If one in ten accusations of rape is false, is that a dangerously high rate or an acceptably low one? Is it more likely a false allegation was filed if the rate is 40 percent? Or is it less likely if the rate is only 8 percent? Neither. The actual statistic is not as important as the fact that false allegations do happen. To put this in perspective, if we use the Bureau of Justice Statistics that show about 200,000 rapes in 2008, at only 10 percent, we could be looking at as many as 20,000 false accusations; at 26 percent, that number could be 52,000.[12] The point is these studies prove that sometimes women lie. It is undeniable that there is a possibility of a false allegation (and therefore wrongful conviction) in this case.
It is not worth arguing a specific percentage of allegations that are false. That is not my purpose. My purpose is simply to show that false allegations do happen. These studies, with facts and evidence to support them, prove that some women do make false allegations. Investigators, JAG officers and military commanders owe a duty to all military members to investigate the possibility of a false allegation just as vigorously as the possibility of guilt, and nothing less.[13]

Our system of justice is designed to err on the side of innocence, thus the standard of “reasonable doubt.” It is intended that our society let a guilty man go free rather than incarcerate an innocent man. We should at least investigate the possibility of innocence.

Two more quick points before moving on: It is not just the accuser who lies that contributes to false convictions. Prosecutors and investigators have also been a part of the problem. In 2008 in Simi Valley, California, Tracy West staged a sexual assault on herself and accused her former boyfriend and father of her five-year-old son of rape. West and her new husband reported the alleged attack to the police. The former boyfriend was immediately arrested and spent 83 days in maximum security jail awaiting trial. His defense team, with the help of a forensic investigator and an honest cop, proved that West was lying. They found witnesses, security cameras, phone records and bank withdrawals that fully accounted for his whereabouts on both the morning and afternoon of the alleged rape. This compelling evidence notwithstanding, prosecutors pushed ahead with the rape charge based solely on West’s accusation. Fortunately, in April 2008 — just one day before a preliminary hearing in the case — prosecutors dropped the charge because their only witness, Tracy West, had been admitted to a local hospital following a “suicide attempt.” She didn’t want to face the defense team, which had put together clear and convincing evidence that she had lied about being raped by her boyfriend.[14] The point is, despite proof of innocence, these civilian prosecutors pushed forward with the prosecution. This type of overzealous behavior is not limited to attorneys, accusers or investigators or the civilian courts.

There is also the case of Ron Williamson of Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, made famous by John Grisham’s book The Innocent Man. Williamson was convicted, some say railroaded, by bad cops of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter. “On the flimsiest evidence, Williamson was charged, tried, and sentenced to death — in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence.”[15] The Innocent Man is a fascinating story of bad cops, incompetent public defenders, and a justice system that put an innocent man within days of execution.

Just as in our civilian society, for whatever reason, military investigators, prosecutors, judges, etc., sometimes bend the rules, rationalize bad behavior and wrongfully convict innocent men.

ENDNOTES

[1] Bazelon, Emily and Larimore, Rachael, Oct. 1, 2009, “How Often Do Women Falsely Cry Rape? The question the Hofstra disaster left dangling,” Slate.com, downloaded, May 28, 2013, from: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2009/10/how_often_do_women_falsely_cry_rape.html

[2] McElroy, Wendy, “False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought,” May 2, 2006,  Downloaded March 21, 2013, from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194032,00.html

[3]Nancy Parrish, Protect Our Defenders, email to author, March 5, 2013

[4]Angelucci, Marc, and Sacks, Glenn, 2012, “Research shows false allegations of rape common,” Los Angeles Daily Journal, September 15, 2004, downloaded June 30, 2013, from: http://www.glennsacks.com/research_shows_false.htm

[5] Silverman, Craig, Feb 2, 2004, “Craig’s Court: I Call Them As I See Them,” downloaded June 2, 2013 from: http://web.archive.org/web/20050404230831/http://www.thedenverchannel.com/kobebryanttrial/2812198/detail.html

[6] Gross, Bruce, PhD, JD, MBA, “False Rape Allegations: An Assault On Justice,” downloaded March 15, 2013, from: http://www.theforensicexaminer.com/archive/spring09/15/;

[7] Gross, Bruce, PhD, JD, MBA, “False Rape Allegations: An Assault On Justice,” downloaded March 15, 2013, from: http://www.theforensicexaminer.com/archive/spring09/15/;

[8] McElroy, Wendy, “False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought,” May 2, 2006, Downloaded March 21, 2013, from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194032,00.html

[9]McElroy, Wendy, “False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought,” May 2, 2006, Downloaded March 21, 2013, from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194032,00.html

[10]McElroy, Wendy, “False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought,” May 2, 2006, Downloaded March 21, 2013, from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194032,00.html

[11] Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, Volume 1, Fiscal Year 2012, exhibit 16, pg 80, downloaded May 30, 2013, from: http://www.sapr.mil/media/pdf/reports/FY12_DoD_SAPRO_Annual_Report_on_Sexual_Assault-VOLUME_ONE.pdf

[12] Bazelon, Emily and Larimore, Rachael, Oct. 1, 2009, “How Often Do Women Falsely Cry Rape? The question the Hofstra disaster left dangling,” Slate.com, downloaded, May 28, 2013, from: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2009/10/how_often_do_women_falsely_cry_rape.html

[13] McElroy, Wendy, “False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought,” May 2, 2006, downloaded March 21, 2013, from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194032,00.html

[14] Floyd, John and Sinclair, Billy, August 25, 2012, “Cry Rape: False Allegations Destroy Lives,” downloaded March 21, 2013, from: http://www.johntfloyd.com/blog/2012/08/cry-rape-false-allegations-destroy-lives/

[15] Grisham, John, The Innocent Man, 2006, Doubleday, Random House, Inc. http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Ron_Williamson.php

 

[end of excerpt]

 

Bob Harvey’s “The Whole Truth: The Tainted Prosecution of an American Fighter Pilot” is now available in paperback and e-book.
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