The XX Factor

Woman Arrested for Lying About Rape. Cue the Hype.

Back in 2009, Emily Bazelon and I investigated the frequency of false rape charges after an 18-year-old Hofstra student drew sensational headlines and significant 24-hour-news-cycle buzz for claiming that she’d been gang-raped by five men, only to recant.

What we found is that the actual number of false rape claims is not high but that however low the number, it’s still a problem for both the men who are caught up in bogus investigations and for women who are telling the truth but must contend with suspicion over their claims because of the belief that “she might just be making it up.”

Today comes news that a weather anchor for a New York City TV station has been arrested on charges of making a false rape accusation . There is no “good” kind of false rape accusation, but this is among the worst kind: A woman with a high-ish profile (she also appeared on Good Morning America ) makes up a wildly implausible story (she only went to the police two months after the alleged attack because the man-who supposedly attacked her while she jogged in Central Park-again threatened her near her apartment) that is sure to garner headlines nationwide.  For bonus points, her made-up attacker was Hispanic.

Fortunately, her story fell apart before police could arrest a suspect, so no man will sit in jail unfairly accused.  But this is bad news for genuine victims everywhere. The woman, Heidi Jones, is attractive enough (her photos are plastered everywhere online in what I can only imagine is a shameless ploy to drive Internet traffic) and just well-known enough to have this case sensationalized and nationalized. (Hello, Drudge Report.) It serves to remind potential jurors-everywhere, not just New York City-that women, on occasion, really do make this stuff up.

And that’s not the only negative fallout. Such cases strike a huge psychological blow and are a source of frustration to the poor “regular” woman clutching her phone at all times waiting to hear from detectives that there’s been a break in her case. I myself was attacked when I was a young woman, and that whole summer I had to sit through nightly news reports about an ongoing case that happened at a similar time that was shaky, sensational, and ultimately never proved.  In a word (or two), it sucks.