Officials have charged a 25-year-old employee of Stanford University with making false allegations of rape against a co-worker. She never named that co-worker in her reports to law enforcement, but all of her descriptions of her supposed assailant were similar to him. Her claims led to campus-wide alerts, widespread fear, and a protest by students demanding that the school do more to protect them.
According to various reports, her motive appears to have been revenge for a failed relationship. She claimed that he "gave her 'false intention'" and turned her friends against her. Police say that in a text to a friend, she "discussed trying to make the man’s life 'a living hell' and that 'I’m coming up with a plan. That way he’s (expletive) his pants for multiple days.'”
This incident is a good reminder that, while false reports are very rare, they do happen. One risk of a vigilant criminal justice system (which we all want) is the ability of fraudsters to use the system for revenge. It's a risk that all of us who work in child welfare need to remember and to actively guard against.
The principle is particularly important in internal or independent investigations. The risk of believing the wrong person is one of several reasons that we recommend starting without any bias and being objective about the facts. If we start from the presumption that anyone (whether our clients or the people accusing our clients) are telling the truth, we are much more likely to miss, or at least misinterpret, important facts. Conducting a competent and thorough investigation requires that we don't reach any conclusions until we have gathered and sifted all of the facts.
We have a duty to protect children, but every once in a while, that duty involves protecting them from themselves. It's not an easy balance for us, but it is an essential one.