It’s every parent’s nightmare–a string of sexual assaults near your child’s college campus. For many Michigan parents, this is a reality defined by cable news and newspaper headlines. Beginning on July 15, a string of sexual assaults on young women near the University of Michigan campus were reported, plaguing the community and incoming freshman with fear. Victims’ descriptions of their attackers have prompted the Ann Arbor Police Department to release two composite sketches of possible suspects.
The recent events shed light on an issue that hits home as we prepare for the new school year to begin- sex crimes and college. While everyone fears the kind of violent, random attack currently going on in Ann Arbor, that is the huge exception and certainly not the norm. Statistics show overwhelmingly that you are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know rather than a stranger. Criminal sexual conduct, as it officially called in Michigan, is sometimes called a crime of opportunity, and it is no surprise that sexual assault and date rape are common occurrences in and around college campuses. In fact, the University of Michigan takes positive steps to educate and inform its students with a Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center that promotes healthy relationships and teaches non-violence. As we all know, criminal sexual conduct is the most under reported crime, per Department of Justice statistics.
Nevertheless, there is another side to the criminal sexual conduct story. While it is certainly true that criminal sexual conduct is the most under reported crime, those same statistics show that it is also the most over reported crime. That is, there are more instances of false accusations of criminal sexual conduct than any other crime. There are many reasons for this, from the he said/she said nature of a sexual assault accusation, to the fact that the motives for reporting a false accusation are too numerous to count. Furthermore, unlike other crimes there is frequently no other evidence that the crime occurred outside of the complainants word – and in fact the law in Michigan specifically says a jury most be told that no collaborative evidence is needed for a conviction of sexual assault, and that the alleged victim’s word is enough to support a conviction. When a murder occurs, you have a body, and for a robbery you have the property that was stolen. But more often than not, an accusation of criminal sexual conduct rests upon word of the complainant, and can be refuted only by the word of the accused.
Almost everyone remembers the Duke Rape case. However, does sensationalizing events and evoking fear really bring us any closer to finding solutions? This is not to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant in protecting our youth. Hardly anyone would argue with appropriate punishment after conviction. Nevertheless, we need to be careful that in our zeal to identify and bring to justice those responsible, we don’t incite wrongful accusations. Don’t let someone else’s false accusation be a nightmare got for your family. If you are false accused of sexual assault, protect yourself by hiring the best available attorney, who will mount a vigorous and zealous defense.