In the middle of the sex-abuse hysteria of the 1980’s, Bernard Baran was accused of rape. The accusations were false; he committed no such crime. Baran was convicted anyway and sent to prison for decades, where he was violently raped more than 30 times. When Zerlina Maxwell says “the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist,” does she mean that the emotional trauma from disbelieving someone who was actually raped is worse than sending an innocent man to prison for 25 years? Is it worse than condemning that innocent man to be violently raped 30 times?
By now, it is obvious to almost everyone that the “rape” recounted last fall in Rolling Stone was a complete fabrication. The account was so dramatic – that “Jackie” was thrown onto a glass table that shattered, then gang raped on the broken glass – it sounded like something out of a movie where a vigilante played by Charles Bronson goes on a murderous rampage against criminals.
The Rolling Stone scandal not the only false accusation given national headlines. Tawana Brawley started a national firestorm when she fabricated a story of “rape” out of whole cloth in the 1980’s. Convicted murderer Crystal Gail Mangum also fabricated a story of “rape” out of thin air, leading Duke “University” to take action against the lacrosse team members who had committed no crime. We should never forget the Scottsboro Boys, a group of nine black teenagers who were falsely accused of “rape” and nearly murdered by a lynch mob.
But we do not have to look to national headlines to see false accusations of “rape.”
- The Herald-Times reported in September 2006 that “an 18-year-old IU freshman who reported she was the victim of a sexual assault on Sept. 3, and the victim of a battery on Aug. 29, admitted Friday that she fabricated both reports.”
- A 19-year-old IU student admitted to fabricating a kidnapping and “rape” in March of 2007. She later recanted her story and admitted that she “engaged in consensual sex with a man at a local motel.”
- Another Indiana University student reported to police in November 2010 that she had been “raped” at knifepoint, but she admitted that she fabricated the story a month later.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of accusations of rape are true. It is also true that a large number of rapes are not reported to law enforcement for various reasons. But the fact that false allegations do exist makes it critical that we meticulously follow due process to ensure that the accused gets a fair trial. No one should ever suffer as Bernard Baran suffered. No one should ever be sent to prison for decades for a horrific crime committed by someone else, as was the case with the Central Park Five. We must never compromise on due process and civil liberties, and we must never forget the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”