Fabricated stories could harm true rape victims
A recent revelation that a Palm Springs teenager fabricated a story about a kidnapping and sexual assault is a costly back step in the cultural campaign to combat sexual violence, which some experts say may dissuade true rape victims from reporting their attackers to police.
On the evening of Oct. 1, a 15-year-old girl vanished while jogging in Palm Springs. After relatives reported the girl missing to authorities, police launched an emergency search using aircraft, a bloodhound and officers on horseback to comb parts of the valley for clues.
The missing girl was found the following morning in a vacant lot near the intersection of Ramon and Cahuilla Roads. When questioned by investigators, she said she had been abducted by a man in a pickup truck, then sexually assaulted.
In that moment, the investigation transformed from a search for a missing person to a manhunt. Palm Springs police asked the public for tips on the identity of the kidnapper. The FBI was brought in to assist with the case. Local schools warned parents to take extra precautions with their children.
Then the case went quiet, and the investigation moved behind the scenes. Months passed with no arrest.
This past Monday, the Palm Springs Police Department announced that its detectives' "meticulous" investigation revealed the girl had fabricated her story. It remains unclear where she was during her disappearance, but police said they are no longer looking for a suspect in her case.
'It hurts us'
False reports of rape are rare, but even a few cases can do incalculable damage to the nationwide efforts to expose and apprehend sexual predators. False reports make the public more suspicious of actual rape victims, and can disillusion law enforcement so they are less receptive to future reports of such offenses. The ramifications are magnified when a few false reports are given more media coverage than real cases of rape, which strike every day.
Worst of all, false reports make actual rape victims question whether their stories will be believed. Afraid to come forward, these victims are more likely to suffer in silence, leaving their attackers free to strike again.
"It hurts us," said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country. "False reports make the public doubt, and they make police more skeptical the next time a real victim walks in the door. Anytime police put a lot of energy into a case that turns out not to have been true, it is naturally going to discourage them and make them more suspicious next time."