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Op-Ed: False allegations hurt genuine rape claims

Judges, juries and prosecutors are losing patience with people who make false allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault. So far in 2017, three women have been charged with felony false reporting after they falsely claimed they had been raped. These cases took place in Connecticut, Michigan and Texas.

In addition, there have been at least three seven-figure awards so far in 2017 for false sexual assault allegations. In August, a jury ordered a woman to pay $8.4 million to a retired Army colonel she falsely accused of raping her 27 years earlier. The jury award included $5 million in punitive damages because, according to one juror, “we need to make sure nothing like this will ever happen again.”

In June, Rolling Stone magazine agreed to pay a University of Virginia fraternity $1.65 million for a story it published that implicated the fraternity in a gang rape hoax. This settlement came shortly after the magazine settled a related case brought by a dean at the school who was defamed by the same story. The details of that settlement were not disclosed, but the settlement came after a jury awarded the dean $3 million in damages.

In January, the North Dakota Supreme Court allowed a defamation case to proceed against a woman who falsely accused her ex-husband of sexual assault in an effort to win custody of their children. The false allegations resulted in her ex-husband being tried and acquitted of rape.

In a related decision, the North Dakota Supreme Court earlier approved a trial decision that awarded custody of the couple’s children to the falsely accused ex-husband. The trial court found the wife’s report of sexual abuse was untrue and nothing more than her attempt to get custody of the parties' children.

The court also found that she lied to the children about her allegations, which alienated the children from their father and may have damaged his relationship with them. The court found her lies were strong evidence of her moral unfitness because the children had to deal with news accounts of their father’s criminal trial and the intrusions of supervised parenting time, and the lies put their father at risk of going to prison.

The North Dakota Supreme Court also approved a significantly unequal division of marital assets in favor of the ex-husband. According to the court, “a party's dissipation of marital assets is an important relevant factor in an equitable distribution of property. [The wife’s] lies dissipated marital assets. It would be inequitable to put on [the husband’s] side of the ledger in the property division any of the marital assets he spent” defending himself from his ex-wife’s false allegations. The court also approved the trial court’s refusal to award the ex-wife any alimony.

In January, two women were ordered to pay a chiropractor $112,100 after they falsely accused him of indecent exposure. The two women were friends and one owed the chiropractor $12,000 in unpaid bills. The false allegations resulted in the chiropractor facing criminal charges (which were subsequently dropped) and having his license to practice suspended for two years.

In December 2016, a woman was sentenced to a year in jail for creating a false Facebook account in her ex-boyfriend’s name, which she used to send herself threatening emails, after she was kicked out of their home for assaulting her ex-boyfriend.

In September 2016, a mother was sentenced to jail for felony custody interference for hiding her two daughters from their father for 2½ years. She abducted the girls after her ex-husband was granted custody, in part, because of false domestic violence allegations made against him. Several people who helped the mother abduct the girls were also convicted and given jail sentences.

False allegations have a devastating impact – they hurt those who are falsely accused and their families. They also hurt real victims of domestic violence and sexual assault because they make it harder for real victims to be believed.

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