Advocates are encouraging survivors of sexual assault not to be discouraged by reports of a false claim in Duncan.
Annalee Lepp, associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Victoria, said reports of false claims can have a chilling effect on survivors coming forward.
“When cases like this one in Duncan get a lot of press, I think it does have an effect,” Lepp said.
“There is a sense of, ‘OK, I have to assume I’m not going to be believed.’ So it does have an effect on people thinking about sexual assault and whether or not to come forward.”
Survivors already face many barriers to launching a formal report, she said.
That’s not lay blame on anyone in this case, including the 14-year-old girl at its centre, as police have given no details about what happened, she said.
The Cowichan Secondary student told police that on Thursday afternoon, she was grabbed by a stranger, pulled into a business on York Road and assaulted. She said she broke away, then reported the incident to school staff.
On Friday, North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP said the assault did not happen.
A 40-year-old man arrested after the allegation was released.
False sex-assault allegations are rare — estimated at between two and 10 per cent of reported cases, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in the United States.
However, much of the research is unreliable because of inconsistencies of definitions and methods used to evaluate data, the centre said.
False reports are those that a law enforcement agency investigated and proved never occurred. Baseless ones are those where the incident does not meet the elements of the crime, but is presumed truthful. Both fall under the umbrella of “unfounded,” which many take incorrectly to mean “false.”
About 63 per cent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
Janni Aragon, who teaches gender and politics and feminist theory as an adjunct associate professor in political science at UVic, said false rape and assault claims are very rare.
“When they happen, I cringe because folks use it as truth: ‘See, they exist,’ ” Aragon said in a message.
“Suddenly everyone knows some great guy who had a false claim. Yet, in 20 years of teaching, I’ve yet to have a year when a current or former student of mine doesn’t disclose that this (sexual assault) has happened to her.”
It is rare for a sexual-assault complainant to be held liable for a statement to police in Canada.
In 2015, a Vanderhoof man, who said his life was ruined by gossip about a rape claim, won the right to sue his accuser for defamation and malicious prosecution, in the B.C. Court of Appeal.