Human Rights

Raped in Virginia? Prepare to Be Doubted—Until Recently Virginia Police Policy Was to "Assume All Rape Victims Are Lying"

Until last week, Norfolk, VA classified all sexual assault claims as “unfounded” by default

Photo Credit: Chameleon's Eye/

The police department in Norfolk, Virginia, was forced to evaluate its sexual assault policy last week following a rape case in which officers did not believe a victim’s story and closed her file while her attacker – a serial rapist - was still on the loose. 

According to Think Progress, the 22-year-old rape victim, who reported the sexual assault immediately after her attack, was told by police, “If we find out that you’re lying, this will be a felony charge”. 

During the interrogation, the woman was subject to repeated harassment and intimidation by detectives who continuously doubted that the young woman was telling the truth, saying things like:

“You’re telling us a different story than you told…the other detectives.  This only happened hours ago. Why can’t you remember?”  as reported by PilotOnline.

The woman ended the interview out of frustration after she was fed up with being interrogated.  Eventually, police were able to arrest and charge her attacker after he tried to attack three more women near his neighborhood in Virginia Beach. 

In response to the mistreatment by the department of the women’s initial allegations, Norfolk police chief Mike Goldsmith apologized and announced there would be a change to police policy toward sexual assault victims, so that officers must now assume rape victims are telling the truth. Officers would also be trained in how to handle victims of rape and undergo training for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The case illustrates a prime example of why so many rape cases go unreported.  Classifying rape as “unfounded” essentially means that police do not believe it happened which in turn causes women to feel reluctant about reporting sexual assault cases because of the stigmatization.  This can have far-reaching consequences for the victim, particularly in light of the fact that only two to eight per cent of reported rape cases are actually false, according to the National Centre for Prosecution of Violence Against Women.



Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.


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