But For Fitbit: A Rape That Never Happened
June 30, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The Fitbit came wrapped up in colored paper, as if giving it a festive appearance was going to conceal that its purpose was to keep track of the hard-fought inactivity necessary to increase the waist-girth earned by men of a certain age. Not a chance in the world I was going to fall for that crap. But this odd little device apparently serves the occasional purpose, even if it’s not exactly the stuff of television commercials.
In March, a Florida woman traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she stayed at her boss’s home, reports ABC 27. On a Tuesday, police were called to the home where they found overturned furniture, a knife and a bottle of vodka, according to Lancaster Online.
Jeannine Risley told police she’d been sleeping and that she was woken up around midnight and sexually assaulted by a “man in his 30s, wearing boots.” However, Risley was wearing her Fitbit band at the time. She initially said that the Fitbit had been lost in the struggle, but police found it in a hallway and when they downloaded its activity, the device became a witness against her.
The cops were already doubtful of Risley’s story due to the absence of footprints in the snow outside her home. But the Fitbit sealed the deal.
The device, which monitors a person’s activity and sleep, showed Risley was awake and walking around at the time she claimed she was sleeping.
No, it didn’t show that she was or wasn’t being sexually assaulted, but that she wasn’t being truthful in her narrative to police. Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.
Why would Risley have done such a thing, turned herself into a tragic victim of sexual assault?
After Risley’s boss, who is unnamed in news reports, offered what police considered further incriminating evidence, telling police that Risley was about to lose her position with the company, local authorities charged her with “false reports to law enforcement, false alarms to public safety, and tampering with evidence” for upending the furniture.
She’s still a bit of a tragic victim, though now of the misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting and tampering. It’s unlikely that she’s going to get the votes needed to put her face on a ten dollar bill this way.
Risley’s case confronts two of the most problematic aspects of false rape accusations. The first is the aspect of proof, how one is expected to show that an allegation of rape or sexual assault didn’t occur. The second is why any women would falsely claim something so horrible as rape or sexual assault.
This case raised the outlier allegation of stranger rape, which has the two elements that are most often missing from the vast majority of claims of sexual assault by someone known to the accuser. First, that stranger rape usually involves force or the threat of force, so that it’s not reliant on subtle and problematic claims of duress, intoxication or the change from consensual sexual conduct to nonconsensual in the midst of the activity.
Second, the evidence that a stranger invaded a person’s space and/or body is itself proof of its occurrence. A rape kit test, for example, will show that sex occurred outside of a scenario where there should be any indication of sex.
Yet, the question of truthfulness, that the purported victim of a sexual assault lied about the surrounding circumstances, is often taboo for both commentary and questions about the claims of rape and sexual assault. It’s hidden behind the politically unpalatable curtain of “victim blaming,” doubting the honesty of the “victim’s” word and thus potentially scaring off those who have been raped or assaulted because they fear not being believed.
Unfortunately, this is where the line is drawn when it comes to the commission of a crime. The first question is whether a crime occurred, and it is insufficient that someone says so when there should be evidence to support the claim that doesn’t exist.
In Risley’s case, an invader into her home would have had to enter, and on snowy ground, would have been expected to leave footprints. The existence of footprints would provide the police with a potential clue as to the identity of the assailant. The absence of footprints, on the other hand, presents a significant problem of proof.
That she had on a Fitbit was fortuitous. This technology, imperfect in itself, served to show one tiny thing, though it was critical when added to the absence of footprints. It showed that her claim that she was sexually assaulted while sleeping was a lie, because whatever she was doing at the time she claimed the assault happened, it was certainly not sleeping.
But then, why would she do such a thing? Some will speculate that there are people who want to wear the mantle of victim so that others will fawn over their pain and tragedy, show them attention and caring that perhaps they weren’t otherwise receiving. For Risley, work was apparently not going well, and she may have thought that victimization would give rise to sympathy that would help her to keep her job.
The question of what goes through people’s mind, however, is one of concern at cocktail parties, but really not material to the question of why false accusations happen. They do, a fact which is beyond dispute. The mental process generating a false accusation may fit within some psychological profile, such as a person suffering from Munchausen Syndrome might present, or reasons known only to the false accuser.
If you want to know their reason, you have to ask them. What matters as far as the system is concerned is that false accusations of rape and sexual assault happen, and so evidence in support of such claims, as well as against them, is just as critical as with any other crime.