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 (To this day Sharpton has neither withdrawn the accusation nor apologized for it.)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.