“A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America” (Crown), by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
Despite its contradictory and confusing title, “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America” by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong is an important piece of journalism — especially in an era where sexual assault and attacks on women have become increasingly publicized and politicized. It tells the heartbreaking story of Marie, an 18-year-old woman in suburban Seattle who reported being raped in her bed by a man with a knife.
Somewhat shockingly given it was 2008, not 50 or even 20 years earlier, both authorities and even Marie’s most recent foster mother, who held a master’s degree in mental health counseling, immediately doubted Marie’s story. At first, it seemed too reminiscent of the TV show “Law and Order.” The man had tied her up with shoelaces, taken photos and threatened to post them on the internet. And Marie didn’t act like they expected her to act. Her announcement that she had been raped sounded flat and emotionless, like saying, “I just made myself a chicken sandwich,” according to another foster mom.
Neither was Marie a reliable narrator of her own story. She’d grown up in at least 20 foster homes, suffered molestation as a child and had recently been prone to attention-seeking behavior.
Terrified and perhaps seeking a way out, Marie said she’d invented the story. The relief among law enforcement authorities was immediate and palpable as they not only destroyed evidence and ceased looking for an attacker, but also prosecuted Marie for lying.
More than two years later, police in Colorado arrested a serial rapist and found pictures in his camera. Among them was a young woman named Marie bound with shoelaces in her Lynnwood, Washington, bedroom.
Marie was 20 when police showed up at her door. “On March 18, they arrived — two years, seven months, and one week after Marie had been raped.” She was handed a check for $500, a refund of her court costs, and information about rape counseling.
The authors’ exhaustive research brings to life not only Marie and other victims, but also the police and other authorities who are devastated by their own mistakes.
Miller and Armstrong make it clear that no statistics are known about how many women lie about being raped. But at least three other women in addition to Marie have been criminally prosecuted for it since the mid-1990s.
Even in the relatively enlightened 21st century, “A False Report” reminds us there is no standard response to trauma.