A new longform story from ProPublica and The Marshall Project shows the ruinous consequences—and the ubiquity—of the culture of doubting rape victims. The piece, by Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller, weaves together the story of “Marie,” an 18-year-old in Washington State who retracted her tale of being bound, gagged, and raped at knifepoint, and the story of an investigation that ultimately led two cops to the serial rapist who’d attacked her.
The first, crucial people to doubt Marie were two former foster mothers. One of them, Peggy, says that when Marie told her about the attack, “I just got this really weird feeling. It was like, I felt like she was telling me the script of a Law & Order story.” The other foster mother, Shannon, says she was incredulous because “There was just no emotion. It was like she was telling me that she’d made a sandwich.”
Peggy ultimately called the cops and told them that she thought Marie was faking. In a deeply upsetting scene, the officers bully Marie into recanting her story. She tries to balance her memories against the pressure to oblige by writing down a version in which the rape was a dream.
When the detectives returned, they saw that Marie’s new statement described the rape as a dream, not a lie.
Why didn’t you write that you made the story up? Rittgarn asked.
Marie, crying, said she believed the rape really happened. She pounded the table and said she was “pretty positive.”
Pretty positive or actually positive? Rittgarn asked.
Maybe the rape happened and I blacked it out, Marie said.
What do you think should happen to someone who would lie about something like this? Rittgarn asked Marie.
The entire story—which also captures the social ostracization that descended on Marie after she capitulated to the police, the self-loathing behaviors she began exhibiting, and a cinematic stroke of chance that led to Marie's rapist being caught and her story vindicated—is well worth reading. In the wake of the Rolling Stone fiasco of late last year, when the magazine published and then retracted the tale of “Jackie,” a purported gang-rape victim, Marie’s story helps remind us that false reports of rape are the exception, not the rule, and that the stakes for victims who come forward are perilously high. It’s chilling to think how many other victims are discredited every year. The kind of justice that ultimately found Marie is, we can be sure, exceedingly rare.