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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Assault taboos must shatter

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 23, 2004

Educating people about sexual assault is never easy. It's a taboo subject that seems to unsettle even the most confident people. There are others who don't want to listen because they claim to have heard everything about sexual assault before. Then there's the issue of false reporting. Rarely in a discussion regarding rape and other forms of sexual violence does this topic not come up; no doubt, it is a valid issue to bring to light.

With the recent case of UW-Madison student Audrey Seiler, those working in the sexual assault awareness movement - - and those who are not - - were again reminded that in cases of violent crime, people lie. I cannot and will not claim that there are not false reports of sexual assault. However, I would like to clarify two main points. First, exactly what the rate of false reporting is, and second what effect false reporting has on survivors.

Government websites, depending on year of publication and department, cite different rates of unfounded claims of sexual assault; the data and statistics used here are taken from the FBI and Department of Justices Uniform Crime Statistics using data from 1997-2001.

These rates vary from five to eight percent, but that statistic is deceptive. Notice that it is not a measure of false, but unfounded, reports. Unfounded reports are cases in which the elements of a crime could not be met or established. Of course this could include lying, but there are other reasons why reports of sexual assault are declared unfounded.

These circumstances include a survivor who is uncooperative or recants, not enough evidence to bring charges, or finally, if those taking the complaint consider the act to be improbable (California's code).

As a result its hard to tell what proportion of sexual assaults are really lies, and which are not able to be thoroughly investigated. Getting survivors to report to the police becomes very difficult; government websites name the percentage of sexual assaults actually reported to police to be between 16-30 percent of those actually committed. Asking survivors to come forward and report is difficult because, in most cases, the assailant is someone known to them.

Occasionally, some survivors do not wish for charges to be pressed  or they might change their minds about the best way to deal with the violence. Many survivors stay with the perpetrators, or resume their relationship later. This only makes reporting and full cooperation with the authorities more difficult. Taking all of these realities into consideration, it seems that the already low rate of unfounded cases diminishes further when the discussion turns to outright lies.

Its clear that false reporting hurts survivors. Perhaps I should now say that false reporting hurts us all. Those people who file false reports only add fuel to the already roaring fire of stereotypes that surround sexual assault survivors: They are doing it for the attention, money or any other kind of personal gain. Why, in truth, do survivors report?

They do it to take a little piece of terror out of their world, to gain justice for a violent crime that was directed against them. The media also feeds this fire by sensationalizing, to the point of nausea, the minute minority of cases that are false reports. If every founded report of sexual assault was handled in such a fashion we would never hear news of any other kind.

Revisit the percentage of survivors that actually do choose to report. That statistic means that for every reported rapist there are another three to six walking the streets, working, dating and studying beside us. That is beyond my comprehension. I am outraged at people like Audrey Seiler who lie about being victims of violent crimes.

On the other hand, I am more outraged by the sheer number of perpetrators who are allowed to interact with us every day and benefit from our stereotypes, our indifference and our ideas about survivors or those who hurt them. I am outraged that the biggest benefit to perpetrators of sexual violence is our sheer lack of indignation that assault happens here and our inability to trust those brave survivors who name their violence.

Contributing writer Eleni Pinnow is a senior from Oswego, Ill. She majors in psychology.

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