The US needs to restore impartiality in dealing with sexual assault allegations

In a February 10, 2016, Guardian article by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe entitled Suspected Sex Offenders Have Rights That The Police Must Respect he acknowledges that the police have been acting on the presumption that all sexual assault and abuse allegations are truthful, and therefore, all accused are guilty until proven innocent. This practice has led to high-profile rape cases that ended up being false accusations, done tremendous damage to both the falsely accused and the confidence in the Metropolitan police force.

Hogan-Howe re-evaluating this approach offers “a good investigator would test the accuracy of the allegations and the evidence with an open mind, supporting the complainant through the process. This is a more neutral way to begin than saying we should  believe victims, and better describes our impartial mindset.” Scotland Yard is now conducting an inquiry into how to better handle abuse allegations. One can only hope that the US will start to re-evaluate its approach to sexual assault allegations.

The You Have Options program started in Ashland, OR, is the Metropolitan police force’s approach on steroids. This program is “victim-centered” and gives the accuser unprecedented control over the process. Designed to increase reporting and minimize trauma to the accuser it assumes the accuser is being honest, allows them to decide how much, if any, of an investigation is conducted, and whether the accused or any potential witnesses are interviewed or informed of the allegations. In its first year, it was responsible for the incarceration of two innocent men and the prosecution of zero actual rapists.

Not only does it treat the accused as guilty until proven innocent, but it also blocks the accused’s ability to prove their innocence. In the first case, there was never a question of whether it was consensual or non-consensual sex. There had never been any sex to begin with, nor was there any evidence that there was. All they had was the accuser’s accusation. The date that she claimed it happened was easy to prove that she was not in the state. Presented with the fact that what she claimed was impossible, the police claimed that she “could have been mistaken about the date and it could be two years one way or the other.” This prevents any man accused of ever having an alibi. Therefore, under the You Have Options program, you are guilty until you can show your innocence, and then you are still considered guilty.

The discrepancy in her story should have been a huge red flag to the police that they needed to do further investigating. The alleged victim also claimed that she had been victimized by the accused for years and that it was all documented in her psychiatric records. The police did not wait for this “evidence,” nor did they visit the alleged crime scene, or interview any of the alleged witnesses. Secure in the belief that women do not lie about rape they turned it over to the Jackson County District Attorney.

Deputy DA David Hoppe, working on the same “listen and believe” narrative did not wait for this evidence either and went directly to a secret grand jury, where the accused is not present or informed that it is taking place. Oregon has hearsay exception laws that allow for an indictment and conviction on just the accuser’s testimony unless there is a reason to question that testimony. Apparently, he did not feel that the fact that it could not have happened on the date the accuser alleges was not reason enough. The DA is then able to inform the grand jury that they do not need any evidence to indict. Knowing that this may be violating an innocent man’s due process rights and destroying his life, the DA got the grand jury to grant the state immunity to protect them from any lawsuits.

Deputy DA David Hoppe got the indictment, and the falsely accused victim was incarcerated on a $1 million dollar bond. Since he already had the indictment, he was able to ignore the accuser’s daughter who claimed that her mother made these accusations regularly and had falsely accused her father when she was a child. He also ignored the letter from the accuser’s friend stating that the accuser told her she was going to destroy her soon to be ex-husband’s life by accusing his son if she did not get “the house, the dogs and the boat” in the divorce.

Finally, 53 days into the incarceration the DA received his only piece of evidence, the psychiatric report that was going to seal the case for him and it barely mentioned the accused and did not implicate him in any way. Why didn’t he wait for this evidence before going to the grand jury? Why didn’t the Ashland Police Department wait for this evidence before handing it over to the District Attorney? They were all working on the assumption that women do not lie about rape and that all accusers should be believed. He dismissed the case “in the interest of justice” but not until after the extreme financial, and psychological trauma was inflicted on the falsely accused victim.

The Ashland Police Department claims that they did nothing wrong. Apparently, this is how the You Have Options program works. Probably the most disturbing thing about this is that it was after the indictment, incarceration and revelation that the accuser was lying that the Ashland Police Department started promoting the program nationally as a solution to the “rape crisis.” The program was submitted and recognized as a finalist for the Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement. They testified in front of Congress; numerous articles were written. Ashland P.D started training other police departments in the program. There was a 20/20 episode celebrating it, and it is the model for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Campus Accountability & Safety Act (CASA), which affords the accused even fewer protections than the state of Oregon.

Victims of false accusation suffer severe psychological trauma, are often financially devastated and have their reputations forever called into question. What both CASA and the You Have Options programs are severely lacking is any accountability to their innocent victims, the falsely accused. Instead, these innocent men are treated as acceptable collateral damage in their war on rape. For a police department, a city, a state and a country that is so obsessed with the trauma victims of rape suffer, they are profoundly irresponsible and disturbingly apathetic to the trauma and injustice that they are unleashing on the falsely accused. Their message to the victims of false accusations is clear, the trauma and destruction they suffer is not only irrelevant but acceptable. Their lives do not matter.

Six months after the first case was dismissed, the You Have Options program claimed its second victim. An impartial approach would have dismissed these cases as unfounded or without enough evidence to proceed. Instead of finding a solution to the “rape crisis” Ashland Police seem to be exposing how common false rape accusations are. And, by failing to take responsibility, both the police and the state show their complicity and their willingness to do it again to other innocent men.

A system that assumes all accusers are truthful makes it easier to catch the rapists but also makes it easier to destroy the innocent in the process. This, in turn, destroys the public’s confidence in the system and willingness to believe actual rape victims. It’s often said that false accusers make it more difficult for actual victims to get justice. They can’t do it alone, though. It takes police and prosecutors who blindly believe them to do the most damage. An Ashland woman recently said “It’s sad, now when I hear of a man who has been arrested for rape, I automatically think, “Poor guy! What are they putting him through?””. In spite of the claims that women do not lie about rape, the assumption has become that the police and courts are railroading innocent men.

This serves no one. Programs like Ashland, Oregon’s You Have Options are damaging to both the falsely accused and victims of rape. Feminists claim that false accusations of rape are rare, but 100% false accusations in a town of 20 thousand in one year are anything but rare.

To restore confidence and protect all victims we need a policy that approaches accusations of rape with impartiality and holds police and the courts accountable to both the victims of rape and victims of false accusations. We will need someone with the conscience and integrity that Commissioner Hogan-Howe is exhibiting in the UK. Hopefully, that person will show up soon. In January 2016, co-sponsor Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said she and Senator McCaskill would attempt to attach the CASA bill to the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act. How many more innocent men need to be destroyed before they will realize that sacrificing innocent men to make it easier to catch rapists is not only immoral but counterproductive?

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