November 28, 1987, Tawana Brawley was found conscious but
unresponsive, lying in a garbage bag several feet from an
apartment where she had once lived.
been missing for four days.
clothing was torn and burned, her body was smeared with feces.
When she vanished, Miss Brawley had been wearing a hairpiece woven
into her own short hair. When she was found, the hair-weave was
gone. Her three-inch hair was matted by perspiration and fecal
detective from the Sheriff's Juvenile Aid Bureau was summoned to
interview Brawley, but she remained unresponsive. The family
requested an African-American officer, which the police granted.
Brawley, described as having an "extremely spacey" look on
her face, communicated with this officer by nods of the head,
shoulder shrugs and written notes. Through gestures and
writing, she indicated she had been raped repeatedly in a wooded
area by three white men, at least one of them a police officer. A
sexual assault kit was administered, and police began building a
But there were problems with Tawana's story.
the morning after the alleged abduction, Tawana Brawley was seen
entering the empty apartment where she had once lived. Witnesses
claimed to have seen her at parties in a nearby town, at the time
she was said to be missing. Tawana had no bruises, contusions,
scratches or other injuries, except for a small bruise behind the
left ear which was determined to be several days old. One witness
claimed to have seen her climb into the garbage bag in which she
mother, Glenda, was spotted at the apartment complex shortly before
Brawley was seen getting into the garbage bag. Her mother waited
until that same afternoon to report Brawley missing. The
investigation turned up evidence indicating that the damage done
to Brawley's clothing had occurred in the apartment. According to
the grand jury report, all of "the items and
instrumentalities necessary to create the condition in which Brawley
appeared on Saturday, November 28, were present inside of or in the
immediate vicinity of the apartment where she was found."
feces had come from a neighbor's dog.
Because of the
popularity of movies such as “Silence of the Lambs”, and
television shows like “Law and Order” and “CSI”, when
we hear the term “profiling”, usually we think
of criminal profiling.
But there are characteristics common to crime victims, too.
One aspect of victimology, the
study of crime victims and
psychological effects of their experience, is understanding
the behavior of those who have truly suffered some abuse, and
that of “pseudo-victims”—those who pretend to have been
abused in order to get attention, or sympathy, or revenge.
pseudo-victim's story tends to be bizarre or sensational. A
female student at Hofstra University, for instance, claimed
that after being “lured” by one man to an elevator in a
building on the Hofstra campus, another man appeared. She said
the second man had a cord with him, which was eventually used to
bind her. She also told sex crimes detectives she was able
to call out, and that three other men appeared.
immediately suspicious of this story.
typically claim that overwhelming force was used, or that they
resisted greatly, or that there were multiple assailants.
Notice also the use of the word “lured”; it creates the
impression of being somehow enticed, and therefore relatively
blameless. This stands in contrast to true rape victims, who
often blame themselves as a way of taking back the control they
feel they’ve lost.
In recounting the event, the
pseudo-victim is either overly detailed or vague. The Hofstra
University student said she was separated from the crowded
fraternity fund-raiser party she was attending by one young
man, and that the other men had apparently either planned to meet up
after she was lured away, or simply stumbled upon the rape in
progress and decided to participate. Here we see examples of both
vagueness and detail, but perhaps more importantly, the information
this supposed victim is supplying is somewhat remote; rape victims
generally report more immediate and sensory details, such as how
their attacker “smelled”. But generally speaking, they do
not go the extra step of providing reasons for their attacker's presence.
Pseudo-victims are most likely to accuse strangers
and often report that during the attack their eyes were closed, or
that they were unconscious or passed out, and therefore have no
memory of what happened. Or that they were drugged, and thus, cannot
In the case of the Hofstra
student, authorities were quick to jump; they arrested the alleged
assailants and were preparing to send them away on sentences that
could have ranged up to life in prison. The prosecutor's
case unraveled when it was discovered that one of the alleged rapists
videotaped the entire act. One officer later described it as
looking more like a porn movie and stated that the "victim"
appeared to be enjoying herself.
confronted with the video, the young woman recanted her story and
stated she did have consensual sex with all five men but claimed it
was rape because she did not want her boyfriend to know it was
consensual or her family to think ill of her. Charges
were dropped against all the men. The prosecutor did not pursue
charges against their accuser, calling her "a troubled young
woman who needs help."
worked in counseling some time ago; I remember sitting in my
office one particularly warm afternoon, listening to a terrible
tale of abuse unfold. The young lady before me certainly seemed to
have the marks to back up her story.
longer we sat there in my poorly ventilated cubbyhole, the
"bruises" she had so carefully and artfully applied with
pancake make-up and an eyebrow pencil, began to run...admittedly,
such things did not occur with regularity. But from personal
experience and somewhat to my shame, I can tell you this: that
single incident of false reporting of abuse, left me forever with
a jaundiced eye.
most people, I don’t like being lied to, but I find this type of
deceit particularly distressing. When women like Tawana
Brawley or the Hofstra student make these claims, it becomes that
much harder for women who have actually been the victims of assault
to be taken at their word.
it forever damages the men they name as their attacker.
writing this, I hope I have given the reader some points to keep in
mind the next time there is a similar story in the news.
rest assured, there will be a next time.