Image from RAINN
As if rape weren't sufficiently traumatic and reporting rape weren't sufficiently challenging and trying, police in one Virginia city added a third ordeal for rape victims to face: the assumption that they are lying. When a 22-year-old woman reported her rape to the Norfolk, Virginia police, they responded by treating her like a liar. When the police arrived at the woman’s house, where she had been raped by a stranger, one female officer pulled the woman aside and said, “If we find out that you’re lying, this will be a felony charge.” Then, the police refused to let the woman undergo an evidence-gathering medical exam (a rape kit) until after they questioned her. During the interrogation, they further challenged the veracity of her account, saying, “You’re telling us a different story than you told the other detectives …. This only happened hours ago, Why can’t you remember?” The woman left the interview. After scaring the victim away, the police closed the case.
Amazingly enough, the woman had the strength to go back to the department and issue a written statement, at which point the police reopened the case. And they wound up finding her attacker, Roy Ruiz Loredo, a serial rapist, and charging him with several cases of sexual assault. He pleaded guilty to the Norfolk rape case and has been sentenced to 31 years in prison. He will also be tried for other cases of sexual assault.
Norfolk police chief Mike Goldsmith apologized to the victim for the police’s “inappropriate” behavior and on Tuesday announced a much-needed and long overdue policy change. Shockingly, Norfolk police were classifying all sexual assault claims as “unfounded” or not true by default. Norfolk police will now: (1) allow victims to have a rape-crisis advocate present during interviews, (2) be trained in how to deal with post traumatic stress disorder and rape trauma, (3) make sure a victim is taken to the hospital and medically examined within 72 hours, and (4) classify rapes and sexual assaults as founded, or true, by default.
The 22-year-old victim is happy about the policy change: "I kind of feel great that this is working out the way it's happening because now I don't expect anybody in the future to go through what I went through when you're totally innocent. I just hope they take it as serious as they say they are."
The assumption that someone who reports a rape is lying, especially galling given the rarity of false accusations. Though they are sensationalized and focused on disproportionately by the media, false claims make up 2-8% of reported rapes. The problem isn’t false reporting, it’s underreporting. According to RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network), most cases of rape (54%) are not reported to the police. And in light of police policies like the one above, combined with the shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault, it’s no surprise that people are so reluctant to come forward. Who knows how many rapes were never reported, how many victims were dismissed as liars, and how many crimes remain unsolved? Sex criminals roam free and continue to rape and assault women, thanks to the policies of the very people who are supposed to protect us.