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Jan-17-2010 03:30printcomments

Does Media Focus on False Rape and Kidnapping Case Really Help Anyone?

Where should police and courts draw the line on bragging rights?

Scene from Heavy Metal
Scene from Heavy Metal where "Harry Canyon" is turned away by police because he didn't bring enough cash to buy their services. In real-life practice, a mistake by sloppy police or overzealous prosecutors could lead to crime victims being billed for the service they didn't get.

(AURORA, Ore.) - Police are publicizing the conviction of an Oregon woman this week who filed what turned out to be a false report, stating she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted over a three day period by an unknown assailant.

Some may applaud this, and perhaps they are right, but I question the implications.

I have written extensively about an author named Coral Anika Theill who in her previous life, was a battered and abused mother and wife in rural Polk County Oregon[1]. When she reported to the local authorities that she had been systematically abused and raped by her husband, they threatened to arrest her.

I know Coral would be repulsed to know that this woman's name was being blasted across every screen and print page in the state right now. What I referenced above is only part of her horror story at the hands of Oregon's law enforcement and justice system.

I am not questioning the court's verdict, but I will cut to the chase and say that publicizing this story gives future rape and sexual assault victims the wrong message. If the woman in question made the story up then she needs some kind of help, and media publicity is not likely it.

Coral's oppressors could not possibly have known that she would go on to write a book about her ordeal that would become an unofficial American PTSD survival guide, and I do believe that is a fair description, especially since the book has become very popular with Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan[2].

The point is that police investigations are not always unbiased, and they are subject to error. I know of a recent situation in Salem where a restaurant owner assaulted an employee out of sight of witnesses. The deputy assigned to the case immediately made the victim feel uncomfortable for reporting the crime, and never brought any charges against the assailant.

That's because our system is frequently out of whack.

Courtesy: anjuthomas.com

All crime victims roll the dice when they choose to call law enforcement in this country. Your level of service is basically dependent on how good of a day that particular tax funded servant is having. There is very little to expect in some cases.

And each negative story about police that the public hears, increases the reluctance of victims to involve the system. There is no area where victims are less likely to report crime than sexual assault.

A 1999 United States National Crime Victimization Survey shows that only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police. A 2007 report from the UK indicated that between 75 and 95 per cent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.

In fact, CBS News reported that police weren't called for over half of all violent crimes in the year 2000. This is partly attributed to a more vibrant economy in place at that time, and also to an increasing reluctance to contact police[4].

The rate at which women reported rape to the police fell 19 percent in 2001.

I am not questioning the court's verdict, but I will cut to the chase and say that publicizing this story gives future rape and sexual assault victims the wrong message. If the woman in question made the story up then she needs some kind of help, and media publicity is not likely it.

Link to FBI crime data released for 2008

On an extremely simple level, the message to women is that if they report being raped, they could end up in handcuffs, is it not? And never forget the financial side; the woman in this case will be repaying thousands of dollars in restitution.

Having to pay police back; I'm not sure this is a good idea. It seems like the practice could open the door to an endless number of problems.

In fact it reminds me of a scene in the rock-n-roll fantasy cartoon from the 1980's Heavy Metal that is set in the future, where you need a minimum payment for police before they will even think of investigating a crime.

Sensational news items like this, along with similar stories over the years, absolutely erode faith and could potentially influence women to not report crimes that have been committed against them. Perhaps it also gives false courage to potential and current sex assailants?

Of course "false rape" is a political issue, even a conservative cause of sorts. A quick scan of Google brings the headline, from FOX News: False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought. Rape should not be a political issue, but it is, and Oregon police and courts are certainly conservative[5].

False Sexual Assault and Kidnapping

Linn County Courthouse in Albany

In the news release, we learn that a Linn County Circuit Court convicted the woman for Initiating a False Police Report. They say, "multiple agencies investigated an alleged report she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted last summer."

It is further stated that police spent ten days investigating the reported crime, after the 28-year old woman went to the Albany General Hospital emergency room to report she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted over a three day period by an unknown male.

The court sentence included an order to repay over $8,000 to police agencies for costs incurred to investigate the original complaint. A press statement indicates that OSP detectives were called out in "the middle of the night" to initiate an investigation, then spent ten days investigating the alleged sexual assault. State Police detectives say they required assistance from Aurora and Scappoose police departments.

The woman had also been reported missing by family members to Aurora Police. The investigation determined that she consensually spent the weekend with a male friend and that led to the subsequent charges.

The woman in this case was sentenced in court to 36 months probation, 48 hours in jail, court costs, and she was ordered to pay $8,034.40 in restitution to OSP and Aurora Police Department.

It sounds like she screwed up, and I assume that this woman confessed to investigators that the story was concocted. If not, I would like to hear from the 28-year old woman in this story, my email is in my bio at the bottom of the page.

It is my opinion that most girls or women who come forward with stories of sexual abuse are not lying, but in the rare cases where that does take place, I still have to question how publicizing it helps. There is no falsely accused person to clear the name of, since she didn't try to accuse an innocent party.

I readily agree that it is the public's right to know how their money is being used, and the police and courts should be commended for saving taxpayer revenue.

But the risk to the credibility of people of any gender who are victims of any crime is big. Those who are 'on the fence' over reporting an incident to police, can hardly be encouraged by this case.

Maybe somebody from the law enforcement community will take the time to explain how the need to publicize this case outweighs the potential risk. I'm all ears. Keep your comments on topic and respectful and they will be approved.

[1] Abuse Under the Watch of Oregon's Justice System - Tim King Salem-News.com

[2] Amazon.com: BONSHEA: Making Light of the Dark

[3] Rape statistics From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4]CBS News: Millions Of Crimes Go Unreported

[5] FOX News: False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

Falsely accused in Salem September 20, 2011 11:44 pm (Pacific time)

"On an extremely simple level, the message to women is that if they report being raped, they could end up in handcuffs, is it not?". No, it isn't. The message is, if you make a false report you could end up in handcuffs. False accusations betray/rape real victims of resources and reek havoc on the real victim- the falsely accused. In a state with minimum sentences of 100 months, 48 hours....speechless.

John March 12, 2011 12:09 pm (Pacific time)

The media reports it because it's news. Have you heard of the innocence project? It uses DNA evidence to exonerate convicted men. These are men who are convicted even though there is exculpatory evidence. Wouldn't stories like this remind people of the assumption of innocence. Something people like you fail to believe in.

Mr. Magoo November 1, 2010 11:25 am (Pacific time)

Wow, it never ceases to amaze me that you fanatics (not advocates) blame the Police for exposing a convicted criminal of making a false claim and costing the taxpayers nearly $10,000. This woman claimed she was abducted and raped when in fact she cheated on her boyfriend and wanted a cover story. While I agree that rape and sexual abuse is under reported, education and protection so one can report would be a good use of your efforts not blaming the Police...get your story right next time.

Daniel January 18, 2010 9:10 pm (Pacific time)

The media should report on CONVICTIONS not on those who may be innocent but have not had there day in court ! Even in the salem news I have seen many arrested for sex crimes , I seldom see a follow up on if there was a conviction or not . Once a person makes the press there life may be destroyed EVEN IF FOUND INNOCENT ! Do not confuse the proven guilty with those who have not been to court . After conviction then make a report , focus on the proven guilty , these are the real monsters !

Harris January 18, 2010 10:29 am (Pacific time)

Ultimately it is the media who decides what they are going to report. All police arrests and county prosecutions are public record, so maybe it's the editors or other news gatekeepers who need to explain why they report more on some cases over others? It is really a shame that victims of any crime feel frightened to report a crime.

Claudine Dombrowski January 18, 2010 8:42 am (Pacific time)

Tim, as usual you are 'dead-on'. Bernadette Parker's memory- triggered one with me. I was arrested three times after I was assaulted, but one time (and the last time I reported)- was when my daughter was barely a month old. I reported the rape and battery, I was arrested, stripped and forced to stand naked in an 'in processing' room, bleeding and lactating.As well as recovering from the Emergency C-Section just three weeks prior. There were no chairs, no mattress. I was forced to stand the 6 hours completely nude until I was finally given an orange jail suit. Oddly, this particular time the perp was convicted, although he never was arrested, or jailed, and was later given early release from probation for "good behavior". Thank you Tim for this, as so many Nationally are suffering irreparable harm because of the few very rare and highly publicized 'bad press' like what your article reports. Thanks for shining the light on this. http://www.stopfamilyviolence.org/pages/308

Anonymous January 18, 2010 8:05 am (Pacific time)

How is it that this fairly lengthy piece made no reference to the effects of false accusations on those wrongly arrested, convicted and sentenced as a result of the investigations? Certainly it's clearly an opinion piece, but I'd be happier if it made some fleeting recognition of the flip side of the coin here. As is, I find it unconvincing.

Gene Deutscher January 17, 2010 6:52 pm (Pacific time)

What kind of insanity is law enforcement community involved in ? Oregon should be ashamed.

Bernadette Parker January 17, 2010 5:16 pm (Pacific time)

Thanks for the rape story. I was a victim, I don't have the emotional energy now and you don't need to hear the story anyhow, the main thing is that I agree with you about the focus on the nutty woman being dertimental to women. Suffice it to say, once i didn't go to the police from fear, and once I did and wished I had not. The cops made me take a lie detector test which I failed, made me sit in wet clothing in their office for 8 hours without food or drink, and when i went to court I was of course attacked by the defense attorney. i would never go to the police again. It is hard enough to get over without them too.

Nice One; LOL January 17, 2010 3:01 pm (Pacific time)

I'll disagree on this one. That's exactly why the police had to go public because of that many false reports. They got finally fed up. Because of such individuals looking for some kind of adventure, we had to wait the whole day for police to show up after reporting home invasion in progress and had to chase those thieves ourselves. That was a good exercise though. But jokes aside, did anybody ask this woman "Why?". She's not a teenager explaining to her parents where she's been. And who exactly "family members" are? Probably her husband, since nobody mentioned that, staying politically correct. Should've thought of a better lie not involving police and money.

Ersun Warncke January 17, 2010 2:33 pm (Pacific time)

Pierce Harlan, although you claim to be an attorney in Little Rock Arkansas, you are not registered as a licensed attorney in Arkansas, and I can find no professional website for your law firm or a law firm that employs you. While your compilation of media reports on false rape has an impressive heft to it, your own apparently false claims about your professional status tend to undermine your credibility in my mind. Would you care to clarify as to what State you are licensed to practice law in, and what your actual professional status is?

Ersun Warncke January 17, 2010 10:15 am (Pacific time)

Tim, you are absolutely right to question the conduct of the media and police here. Singling out a false report of rape for prosecution and public airing is a highly dubious act for all involved. Police get false reports all the time and devote all sorts of time and money to investigating false information, rumors, etc. It is part of the job. The real question here is for the prosecutor and the District Attorney's office that made the charging decision and conducted the prosecution. How many false report prosecutions have they conducted? How many times did they decline to prosecute with evidence of a false report? Do police even bother to forward most false reports to them? Do they think that it is a good use of their time to be conducting false report prosecutions against harmless individuals? Have they prosecuted every single other violent crime that they have evidence on? I would think that maybe they should focus on investigating and prosecuting criminals instead of trying to make public statements against women who falsely report rape.

Mike January 17, 2010 12:23 pm (Pacific time)

Innocent until proven guilty is our system. Sure it helps to have plenty on money if you are a defendent, but the burden of proof in criminal cases "beyond a reasonable doubt" will certainly have some blowback on victims but there are many liars out there that make false charges as the public record clearly documents. There are advocates for women to come forward and file rape/domestic violence complaints. No system is perfect. Of course the public record is what it is, and should be transparent in all criminal cases.

Pierce Harlan January 17, 2010 11:08 am (Pacific time)

"It is my opinion that most girls or women who come forward with stories of sexual abuse are not lying, but in the rare cases where that does take place, I still have to question how publicizing it helps." Your piece underscores how far we have to go. You would do well to educate yourself by spending several weeks readging through my website, False Rape Society, which gives voice to persons falsely accused of sexual crimes. False rape claims are America's silent epidemic. Every single objective study that is not tainted by the financial interest of the sexual grievance industry confirms this. Yet persons falsely accused of sex crimes are treated as a myth, and their unique problems are brushed aside because people like this author have decided that the victimization of our daughters is more worthy of our attention than the victimization of our sons. You know, one can be opposed to both rape and false rape claims. It isn't "either/or." Sadly, the sexual grievance industry has gender-politicized rape to the point that it has become a symbol of women's subjugation and oppression, far bigger than any crime. It would better serve rape victims, and false rape claim victims, if we started to treat crimes like crimes instead of political movements. It is likely that false rape claims are more common than rape. The fact is, men, boys, and even some women falsely accused of rape have unique problems that are ignored because of efforts like this. They are routinely arrested with bail set so high as to insure they won't get out until trial based on no evidence beyond the word of even mentally unstable women. Too many of those arrested turn out to have been falsely accused and their lives are destroyed by their wrongful arrest ordeal. The reputational harm from false rape claims exceeds any other crime by several orders of magnitude, yet the presumed innocent accused of these crimes are not afforded anonymity. And false rape accusers are not deterred -- very rarely are they even charged and hardly ever do they receive significant prison time despite destroying the life of an innocent man or boy.  For no crime aside from rape do we suggest combatting one crime by ignoring another. Continuing to treat the falsely accused as a myth undeserving of even publicity is morally grotesque. Your piece is truly shameful.

Tim King: Shameful?


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