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'A False Report' Highlights How Women Who Report Sexual Assault Are Treated

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Believe all women. That's been the rallying cry of the #MeToo movement. It's been embraced by some but viewed by others as just too naive. This tension over the credibility of women is nothing new, especially in rape investigations. Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller explore this tension in their new book 'A False Report: A True Story Of Rape In America.' The story begins with Marie, a young woman in Washington state who told police there she was raped at knifepoint in her apartment in 2008. A week later, police confronted Marie with inconsistencies in her story and they pressured her to recant. She did. The terrible thing was Marie had not lied, and her attacker went on to rape several more women.

...ARMSTRONG: When the police began doubting Marie, they turned on her. The focus of the investigation became her credibility. And instead of interviewing Marie as a victim, they began interrogating her as a suspect. Marie buckled under that pressure. It was the easiest way out for her. So she recanted. And the way she describes it, when she did recant, it came with this tremendous sense of relief. It was almost as though she had unburdened herself.

CHANG: Like a switch went off.

ARMSTRONG: That's right. That's what - the way she describes it, that a switch went off. It became the easiest way out of a terrible situation for her.

CHANG: And she ended up getting charged with a crime, the crime of false reporting. How often does that happen, law enforcement imposing criminal penalties on a woman for lying about rape?

ARMSTRONG: We don't have definitive numbers on that. What we can say is that Marie's case is not unique. It is not an aberration for police to doubt a rape victim's account and to even go so far as to file charges.

CHANG: Along the way, when you were reporting on Marie, you bumped into a fellow journalist, T. Christian Miller, who became your co-author for this book. And Miller was focused on police in Colorado who were trying to catch the serial rapist who had attacked Marie. It turned out to be him the whole time. How is that police investigation different than the one conducted in Marie's case?

ARMSTRONG: The police in Colorado got it right. They did not begin by doubting. They listened to the victims there. They showed respect. They reserved judgment. And then they investigated thoroughly. Maybe most important, what the police in Colorado did is they shared information. Instead of being turf-conscious, they teamed up with detectives and analysts working across jurisdictional lines. That allowed them to spot patterns - shoe prints, glove prints, the presence of a white Mazda pickup. And that proved critical in solving the case."

Read the full interview here.