Exposing Misogyny behind Punitive Measures for False Reporting
TW: Sexual Assault
Within the discourse surrounding sexual assault, inevitably people bring up false reporting and argue that individuals who issue false reports of sexual assault should be punished. Proponents claim that in order to get people to trust survivors who report instances of sexual assaults, we must eliminate the allegedly large numbers of false reports; then we as a society would believe women. Despite the fact that false report rates are extremely low at around 2–10%, the people who want to put barriers for women to seek justice share an ideological connection with the individuals who are pushing to limit individuals with uterus’ rights to bodily autonomy, whether they realize it or not. Ultimately these measures are disingenuous arguments that work to reinforce systemic misogyny and have a chilling effect on those seeking justice.
The push behind punishing false reporting is framed as a “good intentioned” way to “ensure justice prevails” and that there is “fairness on both sides”. However, this so-called solution that individuals advocate for will disproportionally target and harm the most vulnerable members of our community, such as women of color. If we even look at the data surrounding false reporting, papers suggest that the numbers are between 2–10% for false reports. However, what is the definition of a false report? A false report is a reported crime that is determined over the course of an investigation to be factually false. Even if we assume that police investigations are 100% accurate and completely unbiased (which cannot be assumed by any stretch of the imagination: Ask anyone with an even cursory understanding of police brutality about how unbiased police investigations are), that does not mean that the survivor is lying about sexual assault.
Sexual assault by its very nature is one of the most traumatizing events that occurs. As a result, recollection of those events can be compromised. One example of this is the highly publicized UVA story featuring “Jackie”, a student alleging sexual assault on campus. While details of the traumatic event failed to collaborate with each other, this does not negate the fact that Jackie may very well (and most likely) had been a survivor of sexual assault. False memories and “the misinformation effect” play a role in the creation of situations in which survivors are being truthful, or rather as truthful as possible, yet the details may deviate from evidence gathered through the course of an investigation. Unfortunately, these instances are labelled as “false reports”. By advocating for jail time in these instances, proponents are willing to put survivors of sexual assault in a position where they could be placed at the mercy of a vindictive audience with a confirmation bias influenced by misogynistic tropes of “the manipulative woman”. This scenario is unspeakably cruel and horrific.
Pushing for punitive measures for false reporting gets us nowhere closer to an ideal system. It is already illegal to falsely report crimes; individuals who lie about sexual assault can already be prosecuted. In exchange, these measures open up the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities to the possibility of punishment for attempting to seek justice. Survivors need to be supported, not forced into impossible situations that make it harder for justice to prevail. Advocating for a carceral solution in the name of justice is the absense of justice.