It’s a cool, rainy fall afternoon as I write this, not unlike that day 32 years ago. I imagine myself having a lazy day at home watching MTV. I remember walking toward the bathroom of my family’s tiny home — the one we had to move to when both my parents were diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, Mom cancer, Dad cardiac disease — and noticing the unmistakable canary yellow of my ex-boyfriend’s car in the driveway.
Things had gotten very disturbing since I broke off our relationship. In June, days before my high school graduation, he had accosted me at a party, drug me away from the bonfire and held me against my will in his vehicle. I was crying and begging him to let me go but it wasn’t until a couple guys from the party group came over to see what was going on that he finally relented. You can see a fading bruise made by his thumb in this graduation photo:
That spring there had been a suicide threat that taunted me to ‘get there in time’ before he hanged himself. Later, I think it was July, there was a terrifying moment in a friend’s car when he swung a shovel at the rear window stopping inches from my head. Someone screamed and I turned just in time to see the shovel veer away from the glass at the last moment. I reported the incident to police and they pressed charges. That did nothing to stop him from stalking me; in fact, he added death threats: “if I go to jail, you’re dead.”
I wasn’t going to invite him in, but I walked to the door to lock it. He saw me and got out of his car, strains of an AC/DC song blaring. His eyes red from crying, he moved for the door, diving to the left as he saw me lock it. Whirling around, I saw him climbing our TV antenna towards the window of my room. The unlocked window of my room. I ran as fast as I could but he’d moved quickly and was climbing in the window by the time I got up the final few steps.
He’d crossed another line and had committed breaking and entering. In the end, I did nothing about it — any of it. I’d lost my Mom. My family seemed unable to support me. My grandparents had no idea what was happening: they had just lost a second daughter to cancer (Mom’s only sister died of a rare blood cancer in 1981). My father had refused to testify on my behalf in the assault case — maybe he’d been threatened, I don’t know. He passed in 1993 and I never asked him about it.
This wasn’t my first victimization. I’d been sexually assaulted by a family member in 1982. I told my Mom and at first, she believed me. Later, after speaking to my father, she backtracked and took my uncle’s side: ‘you must have misunderstood.’ These are stories that may yet find their own time and place to be shared — just not now.
My friends, who had initially encouraged me to report the shovel incident to the police, had now shifted their position: they too wanted me to ‘let it go.’ So I perjured myself on the stand to make the whole thing go away. But it didn’t. The charges were dismissed. My 17-year-old sense of self took another hit.
If someone in your life tells you a story like this believe them.
Research has demonstrated that women don’t invent assault charges:
- US studies have found false or misleading and baseless reports to be in the range of 2% to 7%. Baseless is a legal term and means essentially insufficient evidence.
- A study in the UK found that while 9% of cases of sexual violence reported to the police were thought to be false, a small portion, about 3%, were found to be false.
- In a 2017 article titled Unfounded, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper revealed that 20% of sexual-assault allegations were dismissed by police as baseless (unfounded). This is twice as high as for physical assault. The article states: “True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 percent and 8 percent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia.”
The numbers aren’t wholly consistent and better research could tell us, perhaps, an exact proportion of reports that are false by mistake or false maliciously, but in the meantime, I’d argue we know enough to support women unconditionally.
The US organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), reports that two of every 3 sexual assaults goes unreported. Given only 30% of assaults are reported, the number of unfounded cases needs to be adjusted, in my opinion. Taking 1/3 of the high (9%) and low (2%) end of the ranges, the resulting adjusted rate of unfounded cases becomes 1-3%.