False accusations are a powerful thing. They can ruin a person’s life. They can take away a person’s freedom. They can destroy reputations and relationships. And they can protect the false accusers.
Eleven years ago, 11-year-old Cassandra Kennedy accused her father of rape. She made the claim to get rid of him because she did not think he loved her :
Kennedy said she got the idea of setting up her father from a friend whose stepfather was sent to prison for a child sex crime.
“I thought that is what I would do to make my dad go away,” she told police.
Thomas Kennedy and his wife divorced around 1991, and their daughters, Cassandra and her older sister, began spending one weekend a month with their father, according to court documents. The girls slept on foam mattresses in the living room of Kennedy’s home.
“I wanted him to love me, and I didn’t think he did at that time,” she told the detectives.
Kennedy said she made up the rape story largely because her father disappointed her. “I took my own vengeance,” she told police.
That vengeance led a jury of Thomas’s peers to convict him of three counts of first-degree child rape, a conviction that was upheld on appeal. Thomas spent the next decade in prison.
However, Cassandra had a change of heart. After staying at Mountain Ministries, a Christian addiction treatment center, Cassandra contacted police and told them her father never raped her. Amazingly, she will not be charged with making a false report because, according to Prosecutor Sue Baur, it might discourage other girls from reporting sexual assaults.
That old canard is thrown out a lot in these kinds of cases. Time after time we see prosecutors let false accusers slide because of the unsubstantiated claim that it would scare away real victims. Never mind that in this case Cassandra decided to admit she lied. No one made her do it or told her to recant. She decided on her own a decade after the fact to admit she lied about her father.
While one could argue it would be harsh to charge a minor with making a false allegation (although Cassandra is now an adult), consider the extent of Cassandra’s lie:
Cassandra first told her teacher about the alleged incest in early 2001, according to reports. Teacher and student worked out a code word to signal that the abuse was continuing — “peace.” Cassandra told police it wasn’t long before she called the teacher: “It happened again,” she said. “Peace.”
Cassandra also wrote about the alleged abuse in a journal that included among its pink and purple pages other mundane entries about boys, Cassandra’s slipping grades and her older sister’s annoying behavior. On the cover, written in a little girl’s haphazard letters, were the words “Confidential. No taking peeks.”
Later in 2001, in an interview with Longview police investigators, Cassandra used stuffed animals to illustrate what her father had allegedly done to her, reports said. She also drew a picture of a bathroom where she said one of the rapes happened. Police later measured and photographed the room.
According to the article, Cassandra’s account was incredibly detailed. Policed wanted to know an 11-years-old knew so much about sex. Cassandra answered with:
Cassandra told police in January that she began engaging in sexual activity as a second-grader. She also said she may have known what to tell police from watching a movie or from walking in on adults having sex.
That is the power of a lie. That kind of lie, one so intricate that investigators, prosecutors, judges, and jurors all fall for it, can send a person away for a decade. It is the kind of lie that deserves a punishment if for no other reason than how maliciously and meticulously it was done.
Yet Cassandra will not face a day in jail or prison. She walks while her father spent a decade behind bars for something that never happened.
What is especially worrisome about this case is that had Cassandra not admitted she lied, her father would have served his full 15-year sentence and no one would know the truth. Had she not been adamant about having lied, the police, prosecutor, and judge would not have believed Cassandra and her father would have remained in prison. Because Cassandra was sexually active, she had signs of sexual activity. A doctor construed that as a signs of rape, and that helped to a conviction. There was no way for her innocent father to prove his innocence.
How many men like Thomas Kennedy sit in prisons and jails today? We do not know, and that is frightening.
This is not to say that no one should believe rape victims. It is only to say that when it comes to false accusations, people should not be so quick to claim they rarely happen, that they are harmless, or that only cases are those of the police deliberately screwing over people. Cases like this could happen all the time, and there is no way for us to know short of the accuser recanting.