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How do false accusations impact real victims of sexual assault?

Updated: Nov 6, 2018

Article by Lana Stukel

In recent months there has been a great push to highlight the violent crime of rape, prevalent in the U.S. and around the world. Movements such as #METOO have put a spotlight on sexual assault in Hollywood and spurred action across the country; however, the fight against sexual assault is far from over.

In a report released by the FBI, in 2017, an estimated 135,755 rapes were reported to law enforcement. This figure shows an increase of 2.5% from 2016 and an increase of 19.4% from 2013. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the number of victims of sexual assault to be significantly larger as many assaults go unreported. The surveys taken by the CDC reflects that approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will experience rape within their lifetime.

Sexual assault changes the lives of the victims forever and impacts those closest to them, as well. This can also be said for those falsely accused of sexual assault. Though seemingly rare, here are a few examples:

New York, 1992: VanDyke Perry and Gregory Counts were accused of gang rape. The two served a combined 36 years in prison before the accuser admitted her boyfriend pressured her into making false claims.

California, 2002: Brian Banks was accused of rape by a fellow classmate. Banks’ classmate and mother sued Polytechnic High School, where the incident had supposedly taken place and was awarded a $1.5 million settlement. Banks spent five years in prison and five years on parole before the accuser recanted.

Connecticut, 2016: Nikki Yovino. After having consensual sex with two other students at her university, Yovino claimed she had been gang raped in order to gain sympathy from a male friend. Following her recantation, Yovino accepted a plea deal in August of 2018 and will serve one year in prison. The two young men accused of rape lost their athletic scholarships forcing one to leave college altogether.

Recently, during the confirmation hearings of U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, several people came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. The validity of the claims have come under great scrutiny. One suggestion is that the accusations are politically motivated in an attempt to prevent a conservative judge from obtaining the coveted Supreme Court seat. Two accusers have since been turned over to the FBI for further investigation after the validity of their allegations came into question.

Many women’s rights advocates have come forward demanding that the victims should be believed. #BelieveSurvivors, a spin-off of the #METOO movement, has gained momentum across the country spurring protests. This begs the question: “Should all accusers be believed?”

As noted before, history has proven that people will lie under oath and falsely claim sexual assault. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) recently cautioned, in a speech relating to the Kavanaugh hearing, the necessity to follow the fundamentals of the legal process. Sen. Collins stressed the importance of due process, presumption of innocence, and fairness.

But, how do false accusations of sexual assault impact real victims? If the findings made by the CDC are correct, then there are already a significant number of sexual assaults that go unreported every year. This would suggest that victims often choose not to come forward, whether it may be due to their age, or relation to the attacker. Fear of not being believed may also be a major reason why victims do not report the crime. This would infer that casting a shadow of doubt over sexual assault claims may in fact discourage a true victim from speaking out. This could prevent the apprehension of a sexual predator and endanger others.

Sexual assault is not to be taken lightly and every effort should be made to protect victims and ensure predators are removed from society. That being said, maintaining the integrity of jurisprudence ensures that no individual will be the victim of unsubstantiated or unverified allegations. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is woven into the fabric of our legal system and must be preserved at all costs.

If you are a victim of sexual assault dial 911 or contact the Office of Women’s Health (OWH) at 1-800-994-9662, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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