Lara McLeod was raped. Then she was arrested.

Earlier this week, Buzzfeed published the story of Lara's rape and subsequent family struggles in an in-depth story and interview. Then 19, Lara was raped by her sister’s fiancé in the summer of 2011. She was home for the summer after her first year of college when Joaquin Rams showed her his gun, forced her to have sex with him and threatened to take her to a stranger’s party to be gang-raped by more men if she didn’t.

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After her rape, Lara was pressured by Prince William County police officers to report her crime, which she’d repeatedly insisted she did not want to do. After making her report, those officers decided that she had made the entire thing up. She was arrested for falsely accusing Rams of rape, and Lara's sister Hera was arrested for obstructing justice. They were charged by the same law enforcement that coerced Lara into reporting in the assault in the first place.

It gets worse: two weeks prior, Lara’s sister Hera McLeod had given birth to her son, Prince, unfolding a complicated and messy custody battle with Rams that would end in Prince’s death before he turned two. His death was a devastating tragedy to the family, and the subject of a four-part story on The Washington Post, among other national news outlets.

If your head is spinning, then you are having a rational reaction to this story: man - who had already been suspected of murdering his former partner, murdering his mother, and physically abusing his young son - is accused of rape. Woman who accuses man of rape is arrested. Man’s fiancé who has just given birth is arrested. Man’s fiancé who has just given birth loses $50,000 of savings to cover the cost of legal fees. Man’s fiancé gains sole custody but must allow unsupervised visits because she now has a criminal record. Baby dies before the age of two due to injuries sustained under man’s care. Man is accused of murder. 

That is what a justice system looks like for survivors of sexual assault. The culture is one of disbelief and hypercritical mistrust in the usually female accuser. In the Buzzfeed report, Lara says, “My rape was awful. But the way the police handled it was even worse.” And Lara’s story and experience in reporting her assault are far from unique.

The officer who took and then rejected her report was given zero punishment, even after his supervisor later told the McLeod family, “I think fatigue played a part in this, and not a good one.” Two women were arrested and a baby died because an officer was tired. And not only was that officer not punished – he was later promoted.

Sadly, Lara isn't alone. In her book Asking For It: The Rise Of Rape Culture And What We Can Do about It, Kate Harding devotes a chapter to the issue of false accusations of sexual assault, and another to the issue of law enforcement dismissing accusations entirely.

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Harding provides statistics from two studies in particular that give a little insight into the mindset of those meant to serve and protect us when we report an incident of sexual violence. In one study, 22.7% of police agreed that “any victim can resist a rapist if he or she really wants to.” Ouch. The same study found that more than twenty percent believe that “women falsely report rape to call attention to themselves.” And so victims are dismissed. A separate study found that close to thirty percent of first responders believe that more than half of reported rapes were false. Some actually believe that ninety-five to one hundred percent – or rather, all reported rapes – were false accusations.

Too. Many. Ouches. 

In Asking For It, Harding discusses the misconceptions that our culture has on the number and relevance of false accusations – so take a deep breath and un-bunch your panties, MRA. Harding offers this fair analogy: “Just as a patient presenting with bad headaches most likely doesn’t have a brain tumor, a person who reports sexual violence to police mostly likely is not an attention-mongering, man-hating liar.” She states that “based on the best available data, we can assume that somewhere between 92 and 98 percent of the time, a person reporting rape is telling the truth.” That means that somewhere between eight to two percent of rape accusations are false.

That means that when an officer doesn’t take a report of sexual assault seriously – like Team Fatigue in Prince William County did by immediately dismissing Lara’s report – that officer is very likely ignoring a serious crime, and the alleged rapist is very likely committing another one. 

Images via Flickr/Crawford Learmonth, KateHarding.info

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