Rep. Christensen falsely cites high rate of false reporting by sex assault victims

February 22, 2019
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Chad Christensen

This week, the constitutional change to expand the rights of crime victims in Idaho — known as “Marsy’s Law” — moved passed the Idaho State Senate on a 25-9 vote, exceeding the two-thirds majority for it to move to the House.

That means Rep. Chad Christensen, a Republican who represents Bonneville and Teton counties, will be voting on the measure soon. He’s been clear on social media posts that he does not favor the constitutional change.

This week he even used factually incorrect information regarding sex assault statistics to argue against the law’s passage. The spread of such disinformation derails the work of victim advocates, said representatives from the Family Safety Network.

“Marsy’s Law makes a person a victim (in the eyes of the court) before there is a conviction,” Christensen wrote in a Feb. 17 post on his Facebook page, “Chad Christensen for Idaho.”

“One can certainly be a victim of a crime, but it still has to be proven in court to receive special treatment against the perpetrator.”

He went on to add, “One shouldn’t automatically be given victim status in court, because they simply accused another. There are never false allegations against people, right!? We are opening the door to further abuses from people who play the system to their advantage. It is reported that nearly 50 percent of rape cases are false allegations.”

Christensen’s claim about the number of false accusations is wrong.

Numerous studies, including one supported by the Office on Violence Against Women through the U.S. Department of Justice, show that between 2 and 10 percent of reported sex assaults can be classified as false. The report states, “Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault. Misconceptions about false reporting rates have direct, negative consequences and can contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assaults.”

Executive Director for Family Safety Network in Driggs, Marc D’Amore said Wednesday that a simple “Google” search by Christensen could have netted more accurate information regarding rates of false reporting.

“This undercuts society’s ability to believe a victim of sex assault,” said D’Amore of Christensen’s Facebook post. “The fact of the matter is that the percentage of reported cases that are found to be false are low. People who are uncomfortable with sex assault cling to reporting that suggests otherwise. This makes our job more difficult and reinforces the notion that nobody is at fault but the victim.”

Data compiled by Teton County Prosecutor Billie Siddoway last April suggests that while the national average for reported sexual assault crimes is one report per 1,000 people each year, local officials are receiving reports of sexual violence at a rate of about four reports per 1,000 people – or four times the national average. The data looks at numbers of sexual violence crimes at the national, state and local level starting in 2012 and moving through to 2017. The data also looks at unreported sexual violence numbers and the rate of victimization both reported and unreported.{/span}

According to Siddoway’s numbers, since 2012, Teton County has had an average annual rate of 12 reported sexual violence crimes, the highest number of reports coming in at 13, the lowest at eight. The state of Idaho sees an average of 1,670 reported sex crimes per year and the national average is a little more than 330,000 reports. Teton County also has an average of 38 unreported sexual violence incidents per year, the highest number of unreported incident sitting at 57, the lowest at 21.

Siddoway declined comment for this article.

During the reporting of this story on Wednesday, Christensen emailed the Teton Valley News to say that he, “Was factually incorrect. I made a correction to my FB post.”

His edit now includes: “IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT MY STATISTIC OF FALSE REPORTING OF RAPE OR SEXUAL ASSAULT WAS NOT ACCURATE. I PREVIOUSLY STATED IT WAS 50%. I FOUND A REPORT THAT IS ACTUALLY 18%. I had read an article a year or two ago that stated the false allegation rate was 50%. I cannot find that article. I had no ill-intention and did not mean to skew the statistics. I made a mistake and should have validated my statistic before I posted it.”

Christensen cites a 2018 Washington Times article on the Supreme Court nomination of Brent Kavanagh and the allegations of sexual assault against him during his nomination process. The Times cites Brent E. Turvey, a criminologist who is often used as a source citation by conservative media outlets to counter the fact that false sex assault allegations are low.

D’Amore said that statistic like these harken back to a time when victims were blamed for their assaults and charged with making up lies because of bad choices.

“Sex assault is one of those rare crimes where a crime like this is reported and people want to assume that the victim is lying,” he said.

D’Amore said that law enforcement professionals are practicing the “Start by Believing” method of working with victims of sex assault where victims are believed when they report and the investigation moves on from there.

“I would encourage people to do their own research,” D’Amore said. “He (Christensen) should be ashamed of himself. With great power comes great responsibility. He has abdicated his responsibility.”