Duke Case: Unusual Only Because The Prosecutor Got Caught
Now that the Duke Lacrosse players have been declared innocent by North Carolina's attorney general*, we're being told that this is an unusual case caused by one out-of-control prosecutor. It's not. The only thing unusual about this case is that the innocent victims of false accusation had the resources to defend themselves against the overwhelming power of the state. Just as rape is unquestionably a serious problem, so too are false accusations of rape. Too many prosecutors fail to recognize that it's not an either/or choice. Both are true.
Since most of those falsely accused of rape lack the resources to defend themselves, the system convicts many innocent men. Even when the accuser later owns up, the system resists correcting the injustice. Consider Illinois' notorious prosecution of Gary Dotson. Dotson's accuser spent half a decade guilt-ridden over having put an innocent man in prison. When she finally confessed, prosecutors didn't want to hear it. They had reason to stonewall. State police forensic scientist Timothy Dixon had given perjured testimony.1
Wrongdoing by the city of Marlborough, Mass. resulted in a $13.6 million judgment against them for causing the imprisonment of an innocent man. Eric Sarsfield, who spent nearly a decade in prison for a rape he did not commit, says he and the rape victim were "manipulated, cheated, and betrayed by law enforcement officers more interested in closing a case and getting a conviction than in playing by the rules."2
Nifong is no "rogue prosecutor". In too many places in the country, Nifong's behavior is standard operating procedure.
Our system has become so disinterested in protecting the rights of the falsely accused that some people now think making false accusations is a good business plan. In Sacramento, Calif., Jessica Langshaw falsely accused three men of rape and five others of sexual assault in order to extort $500,000 from them.3
Objective research indicates that about half of reported forcible rape accusations are false.4,5
That also means that about half are true. A blanket policy of treating all accusations as true causes just as much harm to innocent people as would be caused if the policy were to treat all such accusations as false.
In a democracy, we get the government we deserve. Make your voice heard!
Last week we asked you to contact your Congressperson to ask if he or she has issued a statement about the Duke case. This week we'd like you to ask your two Senators the same question:
You can find both your Senators' phone numbers by going to
and entering your state, or by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
If your Senator has issued a statement, have them send you that statement, and then forward it and the Senator's name to .
If not, politely request that your Senator issue a statement regarding the case.
* Correction: This alert originally stated that "the new district attorney" had declared the Duke Lacrosse players innocent. It was, in fact, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper who declared them innocent.
McDowell CP. False allegations. Forensic Science Digest, Vol. 11, No. 4, December 1985
Date of RADAR Release: April 30, 2007
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R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://www.mediaradar.org