Retracting an abuse allegation is not proof that the abused is lying or that the alleged abuser is innocent. Rape is amongst the most underreported crimes. Victims face enormous obstacles in the aftermath of rape. Not the least of which is deciding whether or not to contact the police. The justice system is designed to be a hostile and foreboding institution, for better or worse. Across the world, victims have reported feeling intimidated by criminal justice systems.
In the United Kingdom, a 2012 court of appeals refused to overturn a controversial criminal conviction. A 29-year-old mother of four, identified publicly only by the name Sarah, had accused her husband of rape and then retracted it.
Sarah’s husband was reportedly very abusive and the domestic violence Sarah was subjected to caused her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The court conceded that she had retracted her claims under the duress of PTSD, but called her “undoubtedly guilty of a serious crime.” The serious crime being retracting a true allegation.
PTSD is common amongst rape victims, with 94 percent of victims experiencing post traumatic symptoms for two weeks following the assault. An estimated 50 percent of victims end up with the disorder. The trauma of sexual assault is so severely damaging that rape victims are more likely to develop PTSD than victims of other kinds of trauma. Trauma specialist Judith Herman explains “The purpose of the rapist is to terrorize, dominate, and humiliate his victim, to render her utterly helpless. Thus rape, by its nature, is intentionally designed to produce psychological trauma.”
At least 2 out of every 3 sexual assaults are not reported to police. Only 18 percent of reports lead to an initial arrest and only 2 percent of reported rapes see the perpetrator incarcerated. Catherine MacKinnon, a law professor, says that “rape, from [the victim’s] point of view, is not prohibited; it is regulated.”
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