Papini scandal epitomizes consequences of false accusations

Photo courtesy of wp paarz, Flickr.

In 2016 Sherri Papini was allegedly kidnapped. Three weeks after said “abduction” she was found over 140 miles from her home in a very bad condition. 

“She told police she had been abducted and branded by two women who kept her chained in a closet,” CNN reported. “She gave an elaborate story of her kidnapping and treatment at the hands of the supposed assailants, whom she said wore masks, spoke Spanish, held her at gunpoint and branded her with a heated tool.” 

Now, six years later, the mother of two has been found guilty of faking her own kidnapping. With no real reasoning for this hoax it begs the question of why she would do this. Did she realize how harmful this was to real victims of abuse and abduction? 

And why did this case garner so much attention? For one thing, Papini is a white mother of two, and it is evident that crimes against white women are taken more seriously and given the proper investigation. Crimes against Black women are disproportionately reported on, according to NPR, “Tens of thousands of Black girls and women go missing every year. Last year, that figure was nearly 100,000. Yet their cases hardly ever grab national headlines.” 

When women, especially white women take their racial privilege for granted, by making up false accusations and claims, it makes it more difficult for not just other white women but even more difficult for women of color to get the justice they deserve. 

Unfortunately this is a dangerous world for all women as they experience an unreasonable amount of violence at the hands of both strangers and relatives. Abductions are not the only crime that women face, though, according to the UN Women, “Globally, an estimated 736 million women — almost one in three — have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life (30 per cent of women aged 15 and older).” 

With the percentage of women who are victims of these types of crimes so high it is important that they feel comfortable reporting these crimes, but according to the UN Women, “Less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort… Less than 10 per cent of those seeking help appealed to the police.” 

Why is the number of women who formally seek help and justice for their abuse so low? Is it partially because they fear that they won’t be believed by the people they are reporting these crimes to? 

In a study conducted at University of Missouri-Columbia, 215 students were studied, this research showed that, “Students rated 'shame, guilt and embarrassment,' 'confidentiality concerns' and 'fear of not being believed' as the top three perceived barriers to reporting rape among both men and women.” 

A good resource to report any type of abuse is RAINN, “RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.” This website has resources from numbers to call to warning signs of abuse. 

But, women often have this fear of not being believed because there are so many cases where women are turned away because the police or authorities don’t believe them. So, when people like Sherri Papini falsely claim to be a victim it can make authorities and police less likely to believe the woman who comes forward with real allegations. 

I firmly believe in the statement “believe all women” — any case of abuse deserves to be taken seriously and get a fair investigation. It is the job of the police and other authorities, as well as the general public to take any accusations seriously. But in instances where people like Papini get their rightful investigation and it turns out to be a hoax it makes it much more difficult for the women who have really been abused to get justice.

Making false claims of abuse, abductions or any crime is dangerous. Not only does it take away necessary resources from people who truly need them, it makes it more difficult for people who report real crimes to be taken seriously. It is imperative that we believe all women, and people who experience real abuse know that they can come forward and get their rightful justice.

 

agiampag@ramapo.edu