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Rape Recantations Fairly Common, Experts Say

April 12, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Counselors and investigators say it is not unusual for women who have been raped to recant their accusations, but such denials generally follow soon after the crime, and because the victim fears retaliation or the ordeal of a trial.

Recantation is ″part of the rape trauma syndrome,″ says Lt. Audrey Martini of the Detroit Police Department’s sex crimes unit.

However, experts say that such recantations typically follow within days or weeks of the rape. None could cite a false recantation several years after a rape.

In Illinois, a judge concluded Thursday that Cathleen Crowell Webb had made such a false recantation, six years after testifying against a man convicted of raping her.

The motives behind false recantations vary, and experts in the field believe most involve cases where the victim was raped by a relative or acquaintance.

A New York coed who was beaten in the face and raped by her date recanted the charges after telling a detective she didn’t want to ruin his career because he was a medical student.

In 1982, a 20-year-old woman in Delaware said she had falsely accused a man who had already served two years for rape. But when the case came up for a hearing, the woman changed her testimony again, saying a men’s rights activist had pressured her into falsely recanting the charge.

While some recantations are undoubtedly genuine, ″the overwhelming majority″ are phony, said Clare Holzman, a counselor at New York City’s Women Against Rape crisis center, which handles some 1,500 cases annually.

Detective Ellen King of the sex crimes unit at New York Police Headquarters said her 11 years of experience in investigating rape cases has convinced her that few rape recantations are true.

″Usually when they recant it’s not because the crime hasn’t happened but because, in the immediate aftermath of the crime, they are fearful of retaliation or cannot face the court case,″ Ms. King said.

Counseling and police assurances of protection often change the victim’s mind, she added.

In rare instances, Ms. King said, the victim will attempt to mentally block the rape because it was so traumatic and tell police it never happened.

″The woman who tries to pretend it doesn’t happen is the one who’s most devastated by it,″ she said.

Ms. Holzman said rape victims who recant often have been threatened or pressured into saying they lied.

″Sometimes the woman is threatened very directly by the rapist, his friends or family, and the police can’t do anything about it,″ she told The Associated Press by telephone.

Ms. Holzman claimed that police occasionally pressure rape victims to recant, ″especially in cases where the rapist is someone she knows and is maybe young and has no criminal record.″

″They’ll tell her about all the terrible things that are going to happen to him - that she’s sending him off to jail, where he’ll probably be sexually assaulted himself, that he’ll become a hardened criminal, and basically that she’ll be responsible for ruining his life and, after all, she came out of this in one piece...″

The New York County District Attorney’s Office knew of no cases where police had pressured a genuine rape victim to recant, but noted that some women recant when confronted with evidence that they lied about the rape.

Of the 4,442 rapes reported last year in New York City alone, police statistics show more than 7 percent - 328 - were determined to be unfounded.

″Very often, the victims alleging false charges are very young and very troubled,″ said Linda Fairstein, chief of sex crimes prosecution at the district attorney’s office.

Prosecution for filing a false report of rape appears to be rare.

However, a judge in Annapolis, Md., fined a 19-year-old woman $150 and ordered her to perform 1,000 hours of community service earlier this month after she recanted a rape accusation that sent her ex-boyfriend to jail for 131/2 months.

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