After the USA Today Network discovered tens of thousands of untested rape kits throughout America, a minimum of 20 states set into motion legislation to address the issue. Idaho is one of these states, but Craig Rowland, Sheriff of Bingham County, has come out against the legislation over his belief that most rape allegations are false.
Sheriff Claims False Rape Accusations Frequent
Rape kits are meant to collect evidence when a sexual assault occurs. Under Idaho’s new proposed law, medical clinics would have to use these kits and then submit them for DNA testing. Unlike in Georgia, where one lawmaker is actually fighting a similar measure, Idaho lawmakers passed the bill unanimously
Of course, not all Idaho public officials agree with the legislature. Sheriff Rowland, a Republican who faces an upcoming uncontested election, had this to say:
“The majority of our rapes – not to say that we don’t have rapes, we do – but the majority of our rapes that are called in are actually consensual sex.”
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Let that sink in for a moment. Sheriff Rowland isn’t just claiming that false rape accusations exist – there’s ample proof that these false allegations do occasionally happen – he’s saying that the majority of reported rapes are nothing more than someone lying after consensual sex.
There was an immediate backlash against the Sheriff, and those denouncing his statement included legislators who worked on the rape kit bill that will now be sent to Idaho’s governor. As it turns out, though, Rowland isn’t against the collecting of evidence. He’s against the rest of the bill:
“[The bill] creates deadlines for law enforcement agencies to send the evidence to a state forensic laboratory for testing. While the victim can request the kit not be sent off, a law enforcement agency cannot refuse to send in evidence.”
This appears to be where Rowland goes off the tracks. Currently, a law enforcement agency can unilaterally decide not to have a rape kit tested. This means that a rape victim may never see justice simply because some rural, good ol’ boy sheriff thinks that most women are lying when they report sexual assaults.
Under the new law, the victims themselves would opt whether to have their rape kits tested. Law enforcement agencies still have the option to not have kits tested, but as an added measure of protection, they’d have to receive permission from their county prosecutor before doing so. Sheriff Rowland doesn’t like this:
“They need to let us decide if we’re going to send the kit and when we send the kits in.”
Failing To Test Rape Kits Leads To More Rape
Anyone who watched the Duke lacrosse case unfold understands that false rape allegations do take place. In 1996, the FBI even released statistics claiming that 8% of rape accusations (opens PDF) were “unfounded.”
Some scholars have stated that this FBI statistic is inflated due to varying definitions of “unfounded,” but even if we take that number at face value, 8% is far from Rowland’s claim that “the majority of our rapes” are false accusations. Oregon Live reported on the harm Rowland’s claims actually cause:
“Such claims are part of a larger problem of law enforcement harboring unfair skepticism of victims of rape more so than other crimes, said Ilse Knecht, policy and advocacy director for the Joyful Heart Foundation.”
The real issue here, though, is that actual rapists are going free while authorities and legislatures argue over rape kits. In Houston, TX, for instance, testing of these backlogs yielded at least 850 DNA matches.
Many of these matches led to new charges and convictions, but sadly, some of these rapists had already committed other sexual assaults while evidence that would convict them went untested. So when it comes down to it, it’s not so much the fact that Sheriff Rowland has antiquated and misogynistic ideas. It’s the fact that his beliefs on false rape accusations could result in other innocent women being attacked.