This Horrifying Story Explains Why Women So Rarely Report Rape

by Erika W. Smith

It’s a fact that most women who are sexually assaulted never file a report with the police. You’ve probably seen this infographic showing how many rapists are reported to the police, how many rapists face trial, how many rapists are jailed and how many women file false accusations of rape:


Knowing how unlikely it is that a rapist will spend even a minute in jail, it’s understandable why most women would rather not tell the police that they were sexually assaulted. The story of an 18-year-old girl named Marie, investigated by This American Life in collaboration with The Marshall Project and ProPublica, gives another reason to avoid reporting rape: There’s a chance that you might end up in jail yourself.

When Marie was 18, her Lynwood, Washington apartment was broken into and she was tied up and raped at knifepoint. When Marie reported her sexual assault to the police, she was faced with disbelief because she didn’t act like a “perfect victim”: At times, she seemed detached instead of devastated (because she was in shock); she told her friends and acquaintances about her rape instead of keeping it to herself (because she wanted them to be wary of the rapist in their city); when her sheets were taken by the police for analysis, she decided she wanted to replace them rather than buying a new set (she liked the pattern, OK!). Even the women closest to her — her two foster mothers — didn’t believe her. And one foster mother, Peggy, told the police that she didn’t believe that Marie had really been raped. The lead detective in Marie’s case, Sgt. Jeffrey Mason, later wrote that Peggy “related that [Marie] had a past history of trying to get attention and the person was questioning whether the ‘rape’ had occurred.”

In response, Mason bullied Marie into recanting her report and charged her with false reporting. An official report later stated that what happened was “nothing short of the victim being coerced into admitting that she lied about the rape.” After she recanted, Marie faced absolute hell: The media picked up on her case and she was harrassed online and often in person; she had to pay a $500 to cover court costs; and she was even threatened with jail time. The police also destroyed the rape kit.

Because of this, Marie’s rapist went free — and went on to rape at least four other women. Denver Detective Stacy Galbraith — the only woman officer in this story, no surprise — was able to catch the rapist after hearing testimony from another victim and noticing similarities between other cases. After the rapist was caught, Galbraith found evidence that tied the rapist to Marie.

Two and a half years after Marie was raped, the police told her that her rapist had been caught, refunded her $500 fine and expunged her record. Marie sued the city and settled for $150,000. In the most heartbreaking detail of all, Marie explained her reasoning for reporting her rape: “So nobody else would get hurt. They’d be out there searching for this person who had done this to me.”

Listen to Marie’s story on This American Life or read it on The Marshall Project.

Top photo: Flickr/Crawford Learmonth

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