Samaria Renford was tooling along Rosamond Drive when a black Ford Taurus forced her off the road.
Moments later, a masked man approached.
Do anything, I’ll kill you, he threatened.
The 18-year-old, naked, was led into some nearby bushes. There, three masked men raped her.
Only, it never happened.
Under police scrutiny, her story unraveled. Renford confessed she had concocted the grim fairy tale « because she found her boyfriend cheating on her, » according to a police report.
Renford reckoned a fabricated gang rape might spur reconciliation with her two-timing beau and prod him to « be nicer to her. »
Yet, sickeningly familiar. Of late, the commandment that admonishes against bearing false witness against your neighbor has taken a pounding. Since May, several women have been found to have cried wolf after having cried rape.
Renford’s admission was the straw that broke the backlog of police silence.
« We want victims to continue to report crimes, but we want real victims, » Sgt. Art Eld of the Orlando Police Department’s sex-crimes division said.
Beyond wasted taxpayer dollars and police man-hours, the invented attacks have revived a broader tension, which Cathy Young identifies in a recent Newsday piece:
« Many feminists argue that the problem of false accusations is so minuscule that to discuss it extensively is a harmful distraction from the far more serious problem of rape. On the other side are men’s-rights activists, claiming that false accusations are as much of a scourge as rape itself. »
Bull’s-eye. Whenever false rape allegations spin in the news cycle, as a father, my soul stands on a razor blade betwixt that divide: Knowing how false accusations can color police response should — God forbid — my daughter ever need a sympathetic ear; and fearing for my son in a world where the right words from the wrong lips can destroy reputations and land you behind bars.
Researchers have struggled to pinpoint the prevalence of false rape claims. Estimates range widely from about 2 percent to 90 percent. However, the most trusted studies put the figure between 8 and 10 percent.
False claims are a headache for Nicole Quinn, who is at the helm of the Victim Service Center of Orange County. They undercut the already arduous task of persuading real rape victims to come forward.
« There is potential that the recent cases involving false allegations of sexual violence will negatively influence legitimate rape victims from coming forward to receive recovery services, report the crime to law enforcement and ultimately hold their offenders accountable, » she says.
Such allegations are rare, she says.
« The process is not friendly. It’s invasive. Very infrequently do women concoct a story and put themselves through this process, » she says.
Yet, like a recipe tainted by a pinch too much salt, a little can wreak a lot of damage.
Juries can’t help but recall high-profile fabrications such as the Duke lacrosse case. And local cases surely have a similar influence.
That’s why states such as Pennsylvania have pushed for stiffer penalties for knowingly false accusations. In Florida, providing a false report is a first-degree misdemeanor. That can be punishable by up to a year in jail, although many factors weigh in sentencing, says Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar.
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State legislators should consider strengthening false-report penalties to felonies — at least, in cases where the very gray area of consent is not in question. And judges should retain discretion to direct offenders to treatment, not jail.
« Somebody that puts herself there [making up charges] is troubled, » Quinn says.
She sees the string of false claims as unfortunate coincidence, but an insult to women « sincerely in need of services and resources. »
And that’s the point.
Acknowledging that some people find reasons to lie doesn’t obliterate the fact that many women live with a horrible truth.
As Quinn put it: « Our business hasn’t slowed down any. »
Darryl E. Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5095.