Last month, news broke that actor and singer Jussie Smollett had been attacked in a racist and homophobic hate crime in Chicago. Shortly after, Chicago police arrested Smollett and charged him with filing a false police report, alleging that Smollett had faked the attack as a way to get attention for his upcoming album release and salary negotiations. Smollett has maintained his innocence.
This case has ignited a firestorm of controversy, particularly on the topic of whether we can believe people who report that they were victims of violence. This subject is bigger than the Smollett case. It impacts victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, and more. At Blackburn Center, our answer is and will always be simple: we believe victims.
We do not know the truth of what happened in the Smollett case. What we do know is that if Jussie Smollett did falsely report a hate crime, then the system worked as it was supposed to work. The police investigated, and found the truth of the matter. This case is not a reason to stop believing victims. If anything, it is a reason to trust that if a person is making a false report, the police will investigate and learn the truth — and the right person will be charged.
In reality, false reports of crime are rare, particularly when it comes to gender-based violence such as domestic violence and sexual assault. If anything, the number of false reports may be inflated by how police and prosecutors classify cases, or a lack of training in the criminal justice system about how victims may react to trauma. For example, law enforcement may classify a rape case as unfounded or baseless because there is not enough corroborating evidence to proceed with prosecution. To be clear, this does not mean that some form of sexual assault has not occurred.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, between 2.1 and 7.1 percent of sexual assault allegations are false. The police may label reports as false based on factors such as a victim delaying their report of the crime, minimizing the impact of their injuries, having difficulty remembering specific details, or attempting to steer away from details about the crime that make them feel unsafe all over again, such as the description of the suspect, or the location of the assault. It’s important to note that these factors are all common signs of trauma.
And when you consider that the majority of sexual assaults — 63% — are never reported to the police, it reinforces our message that we cannot let highly sensationalized incidents of allegedly false crime reports stop us from believing victims. Instead, let’s focus on helping the victims who don’t come forward because of the barriers to reporting, or those who don’t receive the support that they need when they report their abuse. We are here for you, today and every day.
If you have been a victim of abuse, Blackburn Center offers a range of services, from a 24 hour hotline (1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122) to legal services to counseling and therapy. We believe you, and we are here to help.