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Thursday, August 13, 2009

False rape accusations

This morning's NY Post carried an article about a woman named Biurny Gonzalez who confessed to her priest that she had falsely accused a man, William McCaffrey, of rape. McCaffrey was convicted based on her testimony and has now served four years of a twenty year sentence.

Gonzalez concocted the story of the rape so that her friends -- who'd been left without a ride when she drove off with McCaffrey -- wouldn't be too angry with her. Her friends had in fact attacked her when she returned that evening, and a friend of hers, Aurora Pujols, says now that she probably bit her. Those bite marks had been shown by Gonzalez to the nurses the next morning as proof of her rape by McCaffrey. The nurses found no other physical evidence of rape, but McCaffrey was convicted anyway.

When a woman falsely accuses a man of rape, she is trying to get him sent away for a long period of time. Justice would only be rendered by her serving a prison term of equal length.

After Crystal Mangum falsely accused the Duke lacrosse players of rape (a DNA swab revealed that she had the sperm of three different men inside her, but none of them were Duke lacrosse players), she walked away scot free. No charges were ever brought against her. Where was the justice there?

The Tawana Brawley case, by the way, was entirely different from Mangum's in this regard. The 15 year old Brawley said she was raped by six white men, but never identified any of them. It became clear later on that she had concocted the rape story in order to escape punishment from her stepfather, whom she was terrified of. She told her lies out of fear, not out of spite. So her punishment should have been whatever is appropriate for a 15 year old who commits perjury and wastes the time of law enforcement officers -- not for someone who tries to get someone else falsely imprisoned. And there is a huge difference between someone who is merely trying to escape punishment from a brutal stepfather and someone whose goal is to completely ruin someone else's life. (It wasn't Brawley's fault that her case snowballed into a national scandal because Mssrs. Jackson and Sharpton thought they could milk some publicity from it.) The only person who leveled an accusation against a specific individual in this case was Al Sharpton, who had the gall to actually claim that one of the rapists was Stephen Pagones, the Dutchess County District Attorney. (To this day Sharpton has neither withdrawn the accusation nor apologized for it.)

In a case like Gonzalez's, who at least had the decency to recant after McCaffrey had served four years, she should only have to serve four years, not the twenty that he was sentenced to (though he hasn't been freed yet).

Any law which mandated that a false accuser would have to serve an equivalent term would certainly discourage guilty accusers of coming clean, which means that in a case like McCaffrey's the innocent man would have even less hope of release. That's obviously not good. But at least in cases where an accuser is proven to be lying, and the man is not convicted, there ought to be a penalty which approximates the sentence the man would have gotten.

If a woman perjures herself to falsely land a man in jail for, say, ten years, that's the penalty she should get. It's only fair.

Of course, one problem with rape trials is that the evidence is not always clear cut. When a stranger jumps out of the bushes and holds a knife to a woman's throat, there is no question about the crime which has been committed. But date rape-type cases often degenerate into he-said-she-said, was-it-consensual-or-not issues, which by their nature tend to be gray areas.

Still, an obvious false accusation -- as with Gonzalez, or Crystal Mangum -- should have serious consequences.


The Archivist said...

Agreed. Serious consequences is an understatement. The fact that the only 'evidence' was her word, as the bite marks were never matched to him, it is disgusting that he was convicted.

We have also run a piece on this story at my website,

The fact that if the DA doesn't grant her immunity, based on the fact that she is now pregnant, she won't testify to her lie, means that William could still end up serving a prison sentence for something he didn't do.

Our system needs to change. We need to start holding prosecutors accountable when they put people who are innocent in prison. As well, when an accusation is proven false, the false accusers need to serve some form of custodial sentence.

I hope that whatever the outcome to this case, Mr. McCaffrey is released as quickly as possible, and he should receive a public apology from the prosecutors office, and compensation for the years he has lost.

All the best,

E. Steven Berkimer

John Craig said...

Steven --
Just checked out your excellent website. Wow, you're way ahead of me. I just saw that article in the Post this morning and it irked me, as it long has, that it's so easy for a woman to cry wolf (falsely) in our society and that there are virtually no consequences to her if she does so. Every time I hear of a case like this it infuriates me when the woman gets away with no penalty. There's definitely a need for more Old Testament justice here. I'm not trivializing real rape -- and neither are you -- but the women who make false accusations are. And the only way to stop those false accusations is to attach a penalty to them.

Anonymous said...

I agree, false accusations should have consequences and there is punishment for perjury if the falsely accused wishes to press charges. What would happen if the rape did indeed happen but cannot be proven, should the victim then be accused of false charges and go to prison instead of the rapist?

John Craig said...

Anonymous -- Thank you for your comment. You bring up a good point, and that would indeed be a horrible scenario. But as I said in the last paragraph of the post, the accusation would have to be "obviously false," i.e., provably false. It's not that hard for a man who's guilty to get off because so many date rape-type situations degenerate into he-said-she-said trials. But at the same time, I suspect that it wouldn't be that hard for a woman who's a false accuser to get off too. Our legal system is based on an innocent until proven guilty assumption, as well as the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, and those same principles would be applied the other way as well. So i think it owuld be awfully hard to convict an innocent woman. I think that any reasonable judge and jury would want to see motive, malicious intent, etc. Most cases certainly aren't as clear cut as the Duke lacrosse case, or the Gonzalez case (although she got away with it at first). In a case like Tawana Brawley's, I actually think that Steven Pagones had good grounds to sue Al Sharpton for a false rape accusation.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, our legal system (like any), has lots of gray areas/ imperfections. If one is innocent until proven otherwise, the other party has to be guilty for accusing the innocent one. The system does not allow for anything in-between. There are though more rapes than the false rape accusations. As unfair as this sounds, I feel that the scale should remain tipped in favor of women on this one.

John Craig said...

My understanding is that the reason there are far more rapes than convictions for rapes is that most rapes go unreported -- partly because the victims are not sure they could secure convictions, but also because they just don't want to relive the whole thing over again. But at the same time, I've heard that Linda Fairstein, the former NY prosecutor in charge of sex crimes, has also said that of the rapes which actually are reported, many did not occur. I would not want to make it possible for an actual rape victim to be prosecuted for a false accusation. But I think in some cases -- such as with Gonzalez, or Mangum -- they shouldn't be allowed to just walk away. You're certainly right about our system being error-prone and manipulatable (is that a word?), otherwise McCaffrey wouldn't have been convicted.