Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland recently told a news reporter that “the majority of rapes — not to say that we don’t have rapes, we do — but the majority of our rapes that are called in, are actually consensual sex.” Sheriff Rowland’s comments raise significant concerns as they infer gender bias in policing by disbelieving girls and women who have reported a rape to law enforcement; are contrary to any national studies on sexual assault false allegations; and may unintentionally deter anyone who is raped in Bingham County from reporting the crime to law enforcement.
Girls and women are disproportionately victims of rape. The Centers for Disease Control report that nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 59 men have been raped in their lifetime. More than 75 percent of female victims of rape were first raped before their 25th birthday. The Bingham County Sheriff’s characterization of the majority of reported rapes as consensual sex is a form of discrimination known as gender bias in policing.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice, “gender bias, whether explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious, may include police officers misclassifying or underreporting sexual assault ... or inappropriately concluding that sexual assault cases are unfounded.” Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that devalue girls and women and their experiences of crime need to be addressed. We have a responsibility to overcome these barriers and foster a justice system where anyone impacted by sexual assault is heard, believed and validated.
Similarly, Sheriff Rowland’s statement is contrary to any national studies or FBI data regarding false allegations. A recent study of 136 cases of sexual assault reported over the 10-year period, found 5.9 percent were coded as unfounded or false allegations. These results, taken in the context of an examination of previous research, indicate that the prevalence of false allegations is between 2 percent and 10 percent, the same percentage as for other felony allegations.
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Finally, Sheriff Rowland’s characterization of the majority of rapes reported to law enforcement as consensual sex may deter many individuals from reporting a rape to law enforcement. Rape is already one of the most underreported crimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 15.8 to 36 percent of individuals who are sexual assaulted report the crime to law enforcement. By framing the majority of reported rapes as consensual sex, Sheriff Rowland sends a clear message — he does not believe the girls and women who report their rape victimization to law enforcement. Rape is not sex, it is an act of violence, and if there is no consent, it is rape.
Sheriff Rowland’s statement highlights that we still have much work to do to change the societal norms that allow for statements that devalue girls and women who have reported a rape to law enforcement. What we do and say about crimes of sexual violence matters. The citizens of Bingham County deserve better, and when victimized they deserve unbiased justice.
Kelly Miller is the executive director of Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.