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A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America Hardcover – February 6, 2018
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“America has never adequately addressed sexual violence, a tragedy made worse by many who employ their own hierarchy of victimization, leaving many women and vulnerable people unaided. This meticulously researched, powerful exposé eliminates ignorance as a defense. This is a devastating but necessary read, composed by masters of investigative journalism.”—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
"A captivating page-turner... There’s a gripping “you are there” immediacy as crackerjack officers and criminalists pore over scant evidence—a wisp of skin left on a stuffed animal, videos of a white truck canvassing apartment complexes—before finally homing in on their man.... It would be all too easy to compare the book to a Grisham novel or an episode of Law & Order: SVU, but to do so would trivialize its achievement. A False Report is framed as a police procedural but illuminates the agonizing realities of rape culture as well as the fractures in our criminal justice system.... Rich in forensic detail, deftly written and paced, A False Report is an instant true-crime classic, taking its rightful place beside Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and Dave Cullen’s Columbine."—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“An important piece of journalism... The authors' exhaustive research brings to life not only Marie and other victims, but also the police and other authorities who are devastated by their own mistakes... Even in the relatively enlightened 21st century, A False Report reminds us there is no standard response to trauma.”—Associated Press
“Chilling... A False Report will fascinate readers interested in the finer points of police procedure... An especially timely work.”—Seattle Times
“A riveting true-crime story.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
"Miller and Armstrong excavate a disturbing strain of misogyny in American culture in this account of the mistreatment of victims of sexual assault in the criminal justice system…[A False Report] shines a critical light on an urgent and timely subject.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The authors describe how [several] cases come together in a highly suspenseful (chapters often end in cliffhangers) and thorough manner that still considers the victims and avoids gratuity… This timely, well-researched, highly readable account will appeal to readers interested in true crime and social justice issues.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Chilling…The authors display meticulous investigative reporting skills... A riveting and disturbing true-crime story that reflects the enduring atrocity of rape in America.”—Kirkus Reviews
"With the #MeToo movement maintaining momentum, the timing could not be better for A False Report."—Bustle
“In prose that rivals that of a suspense novel, two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists describe the tragic effects skepticism can have on victims of sexual assault”—Ms. Magazine
"If you're a fan of true crime, this book should definitely be on your reading list."—Bitch Media
"More vivid and urgent than any Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode... veteran reporters Miller and Armstrong vividly portray the characters in this serpentine drama and emphatically detail how the investigation of sex crimes and the treatment of victims have evolved. The result is a chilling true-crime story that is also a powerful critique of a flawed system."—The National Book Review
“A revelation—taut, nuanced, and expertly reported.”—New York Post
"This astonishing piece of journalism reveals the disturbing truth about how sexual assault is investigated and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims."—Book Riot
“A False Report is a reporting triumph: a heartbreaking deep dive into a case gone horribly wrong; a bone-chilling portrait of a monstrous criminal; and a forceful cri de coeur on behalf of those victims whose claims fall on deaf ears. You'll never read another crime story quite like it.”— Robert Kolker, author of Lost Girls
“Miller and Armstrong show how gender bias, and the many myths about sexual assault, still have far too much influence in the way law enforcement investigates these crimes. This harms victims and allows perpetrators to go free, potentially to commit additional assaults. But this brilliant book is also a thrilling depiction of an investigation gone right, showing us how good police work, informed by the latest research, can achieve justice for victims of sexual violence. Well-researched and compassionate, A False Report is essential reading for police, prosecutors, and lawmakers, and for all those seeking to do better for victims of sexual assault.”—Joanne Archambault, CEO of End Violence Against Women International
"A False Report is a gripping and often devastating tale. By bringing their characters alive, Miller and Armstrong do not judge so much as illuminate the deep sexism that continues to pervade our society's treatment of rape. Better still, the women in this book are strong protagonists as much as victims."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of New America; author of Unfinished Business
“Far too many women and girls who are sexually assaulted never report it—often out of fear they won’t be believed. A False Report reveals the true cost of doubting women’s accounts of rape. This fascinating, deeply troubling book has the power to spark a national conversation about how our criminal justice system fails victims, and how it can be reformed.”—Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex
“This is a grim, important, meticulously reported book that denounces breakdowns in the system of investigating crimes against women. The revelations are tragic, unthinkable, almost Kafkaesque. But the authors don’t stop at outrage. They do a public service by explaining practical reforms that can make a profound difference. And they tell their story with unrelenting clarity and compassion. A False Report has all the detail, drama, and humanity that make the finest nonfiction as compelling as a novel.”—Sebastian Rotella, author of Rip Crew
About the Author
Ken Armstrong, who joined ProPublica in 2017, previously worked at The Marshall Project and Chicago Tribune, where his work helped prompt the Illinois governor to suspend executions and empty death row. His first book, Scoreboard, Baby, with Nick Perry, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for non-fiction. He has been the McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.
They have both won numerous awards, including a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for their article "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," written for ProPublica and The Marshall Project.
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The story that was told on This American Life was taken from an article authored by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong in ProPublica. Miller and Armstrong had been working on the story separately and came together after finding that each had separate parts of the narrative.
The story begins in Lynnwood, Washington with a young woman being raped by an intruder shortly after she had moved into her new apartment. She had spent years in the foster care system and was now on her own. She had decisive plans for her future. The rape was brutal and she would have certainly have experienced some long term trauma from the experience but the accusations by the police, friends, and foster families that she had made up the story to get attention laid the groundwork for years of depression.
Along with Marie’s story we also learn the details of the investigations into a string of rapes occurring in Colorado. Fortunately, the police departments in Colorado used cooperation and the most-up-to-date forms of forensic investigation to eventually find the man who had broken into a number of homes and raped women. The writers of A False Report were able to obtain interview materials to tell the story of Marc O’Leary and how he came to live a life that even he described as “depraved.”
In weaving the three narratives together we learn how police departments can either believe victims no matter how they present and move forward an active investigation or disregard an allegation based on the internal biases and stigmas officers may have regarding how victims should behave. These responses can lead to either validation and closure or ongoing pain and trauma for victims of sexual assault.
Even though we know that most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, we can learn a lot from the rapist’s story. He was not a trauma survivor. He admitted to having a safe upbringing without any abuse. He had a stellar military record. However, he was also a methodical predator who honed his skills and threatened his victims with the possibility that he would post video and photos of them on his pornographic websites.
As disturbing as all this was to read, and I knew the bones of the story, I was appalled at the history behind the ingrained cultural belief that allegations of sexual assault (particularly those made by women) are more often than not false. In fact, the Lord Chief Justice of England in 1671, Sir Matthew Hale, laid the groundwork by denouncing women for their maliciousness and tendency to tell false stories. Thomas Jefferson even wrote in a letter to James Madison of his opposition to harsh punishment for rape, “on account of the temptation women would be under to make it the instrument of vengeance against an inconstant lover, and of disappointment to a rival”. This insistence that women are prone to “contrive false charges” about “imaginary” sexual assaults continued in to the 20th century by Harvard Law Review founder John Henry Wigmore. As seen by the 2018 Kavanaugh hearings, we know that there continues to be a deeply held cultural belief that men are to be protected against the false allegations of unhinged women rather than believing in the possibility that a woman could be telling the truth.
In their book, Armstrong and Miller walk us through the damage that the ongoing belief in false reporting has on the criminal justice system and on the many victims of assault who are left alone and ostracized by friends and family. Victims who are not believed are not only further traumatized but in their failure to investigate and eventually prosecute the rapist, the criminal justice system is leaving rapists with the opportunity to rape again… and again.
This book should be required reading for all police departments and prosecutors.
The authors were very precise, concise and careful. The research was top notch and the discussion was meaningful, objective and valuable to all of us. Rape affects us all in many ways, sometime with us or those close to us and sometime in huge implications for our communities and culture. This book is a major building block to a better world, if we employ it.
The structure zig-zags back and forth between the Seattle rape and the Colorado rapes, but unfortunately it opens with the Seattle rape victim recanting, and the scene is told sketchily, almost enigmatically. I couldn't quite sink my teeth into the story before the scene changed. It's told from multiple points of view -- the Seattle victim, the cops investigating, and now the rapist himself. I am finding this confusing, and none of the perspectives -- are well fleshed out enough to allow me to settle into visualizing scenes.
Makes it clear that there's been a historic sea change in police responses to rape, in large part, I think, because of the entry of women, and more feminist and empathic men, into policing. Unfortunately, as a work of nonfiction narrative, it's not well told. I was so primed to love this book, and have great respect for the two reporters who wrote it.
Top international reviews
The book is about the hunt for a serial rapist and while delving into his mind and what he put his victims through it can be a disturbing, troubling nauseating read.
The book looks at the history of how police methods developed, how rape cases have been trialed in centuries past which is enlightening.
All in all, highly recommended read.