The other day, I read an article that was shared to Facebook that was frankly, outright stupid, foolish, and dangerous. I’m not even going to share the link because such nonsense doesn’t need to be spread. The headline basically said “The numbers are in, 20% of accusations are false!” Inside the article, the writer referred to the well-researched statistics showing that allegations are false about 2% of the time and claimed it was inaccurate because his new source said it was really 20%. Two percent is very different from twenty. The 2% quote comes from long-term scientific research published by the American Bar Association and echoes research done by domestic violence researchers. That twenty percent quote that the writer claimed was factual? It came from one cop in a small Ohio tourist town near Cedar Point–a town that is clearly not the average town. And that twenty percent number? It was the guesstimate of a police chief who claimed that a good cop can easily tell which accusations are false. And the writer didn’t even quote it properly seeing as the original article said “less than” twenty percent. That hardly overrules actual research from reliable agencies. In fact, while I rarely cuss, I can say from an educated point of view, that the claim is bullshit. No true researcher would get away with throwing out such a number without actual numbers, studies, research, evidence, and consistency. And yet this “writer,” let’s call him “Pen Shabiro,” threw out the claim that 20% of all sexual abuse allegations are false, and a bunch of ignorant Facebook readers ran with it. The hatred for women was a-brewing in that thread. I read all kinds of nonsense claims that “most women lie,” and “women make up fake claims to steal the kids.” You know the drill. These stereotypes are false, but they are widespread. The angry mob that shouts about them doesn’t care about real statistics or the intense damage that is done because so many true domestic violence victims are called liars and don’t get help. The amount of women walking around out there who were abused, reported, and were dismissed is significant and as long as this erroneous vision of women as liars persists, abuse victims will never have safety or justice. False claims simply are not common. People who have real stories are re-victimized and let down thanks to these unproven and non-credible claims that false accusations are common.
I experienced this first hand. When I made my report about my abuser, the police report was closed by saying that I was making false accusations. It was frustrating and degrading, because I had reported the truth and the people who should have helped arrogantly and ignorantly decided that the truth was false. When I called to discuss the fact that they just labeled it “false” rather than the slightly less degrading “unsubstantiated,” the big guy cop told me that his officers were good at telling lies from truth. What an entirely foolish thing to say. It is not a police officer’s place to determine guilt. That is for a court. It is not a police officer’s place to determine mental status. That is for a psychologist. And yet this officer with his arrogant belief that he knew exactly how to tell a false accusation from a real one inaccurately reported my dangerous situation as a “false claim” and did long-term damage to my family and our safety. Only after several years did anyone sheepishly admit that “oops,” they were wrong.
Many police officers think they know what a victim looks like. They rely on subpar, limited training, stereotypes, and their own ideas of how a person should act. They are often wrong. Trauma isn’t always dramatic and recognizable. And then there’s this joke of a true story–many police departments refuse to hire high IQ individuals. So that doesn’t exactly make me feel confident in their abilities. Or what about the statistics showing that domestic violence is far, far more common in police families than it is in other homes? A department that has very high rates of internal violence is going to take a victim’s claim seriously if perhaps 40% of the force is living with violence at home? I can’t link everything, but there are numerous cases where a rape victim was considered a liar, and then later found to be telling the truth…after the rapist hurt more people. I shared a disgusting story a few months ago about an elderly woman who was raped in a nursing home. The police wrote in the report that she had a “lengthy history of falsely accusing male caregivers of sexual inappropriateness,” then labeled her mentally ill and concluded her report was false. It wasn’t, and later the truth came out. There are so many of these horror stories where a victim’s story was labeled “false” when it wasn’t, that it becomes clear that it is common for the police to judge wrong.
And yet “Pen Shabiro” threw out the police chief’s guesstimate–based on the idea that he can omnisciently tell which cases are false or true–as if it were fact. In reality, police have a very long and dangerous history of making deadly wrong judgement calls on cases of violence and abuse. We’ve all seen the stories of women and children who were murdered during a custody battle because a judge thought the woman was lying. Or we see the stories of children who were murdered because their abusers were allowed to have visitation “rights” when someone in power decided the woman was lying. Then there are women who are killed after a court decides they don’t need a restraining order. Domestic violence support groups are certainly filled with distraught women who are seeking help but keep being disregarded as liars. Facebook mobs are filled with people screaming that false accusations are common based on nothing but their own anger. And guess what? The huge majority of abusers who are accused WILL in fact claim they are falsely accused. I can’t help but wonder if they are among the loudest raging commentators on “Shabiro’s” story.