May 15, 2009

False Allegations and the Media

Posted in Current Events, Rape Culture at 7:13 pm by sacetalks

The news media here in Edmonton are buzzing over a teenage girl in Drayton Valley who RCMP say lied about a sexual assault. The girl told officers that she was abducted and sexually assaulted by a man in a silver extended-cab pickup truck. Police took her to hospital to be examined. They say that the next day, the girl retracted her story, saying she made it up to avoid getting in trouble with her parents. The teen now faces public mischief charges.

Some Calgary media are similarly worked up after police there stated that a girl who said she was sexually assaulted after being dropped off at school was not telling the truth. The story has made province-wide news as well.

The girls in these cases may not have been telling the truth, but so many other women do report their assaults and are not believed. In other cases, police can’t pursue charges because there’s simply not enough evidence to go forward, so even if they do believe the survivor’s story, there’s nothing they can do to prosecute the case. Yet somehow, this does not garner the same level of media attention as one false allegation.

Crown prosecutors tell us that at the court house, the media generally show no interest in sexual assault trials unless they are sensational in some way. Most cases go unremarked in the local news.

The disproportionate response to one false report over so many cases that make it to trial (the ones with the strongest evidence, generally) only helps to inflate the myth that many people lie about being sexually assaulted. In reality, the number of false allegations is very low as a percentage of overall assaults. According to Statistics Canada, sixteen percent of reports are declared “unfounded” by authorities; this means that police concluded no violation of the law took place or was attempted. However, that might mean there was not enough evidence for police to decide there was a crime (a “he-said, she-said” situation), or it might mean the survivor retracted her or his story for other reasons such as fear or discomfort with the process.

Rarely, false reports happen. But the storm of attention when a false allegation hits the media misleads people, encouraging attitudes that call survivors’ honesty into question and further mask the very real cases that go unremarked every day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: