More Media Victim Blaming and Dehumanization

UGH This is the type of stuff which really gets my blood boiling. I swear I write about this every single day. And I am sure I could spend my entire life battling the media’s sick obsession with portraying rape and DV victims as liars, deviants and/or less than worthy of society’s support.

Cross Posted at WomenUndefined

Reporting a crime that did not happen is in and of itself a crime in the United States. The basic premise being, don’t make shit up. I won’t get too deep into the American prison system and all of its injustices, but headlines like this make me want to scream in frustration.
“Biurny Peguero, Fake Rape Victim, Gets Up To 3 Years For Sending Innocent Man To Prison”
In how many ways is this headline offensive and damaging? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count them all, no doubt there are hundreds of ways this one sentence causes tremendous trouble.
First and foremost the content of the article above which the headline is placed is important in order to establish context.

Biurny Peguero, 27, pleaded guilty in December to perjury, admitting she made up the September 2005 incident that unjustly put construction worker William McCaffrey in jail and prison for nearly four years. A judge overturned his rape conviction in December, with new DNA evidence also playing a role.

According to the news source, a woman reported to police and testified under oath that she was a victim of gang rape and physical assault. This week she was sentenced to prison after she testified against herself, telling the judge she essentially made the story up. She has been sentenced for the crime of perjury and will serve up to three years in prison. It is not clear based on this article what role pressure from the D.A. and purported “new” DNA evidence had in her “voluntarily” coming forward to “clear her conscience” .
But I digress.
Why is this front page news? By all accounts, she deserves no more mainstream retribution and criticism than any other person who commits an act of perjury or falsely reports a crime. It is not readily apparent to me why this woman’s particular story was featured on the front page of a high-traffic , mainstream, online media outlet. After digging through the related news stories spanning many years, I still can’t recognize why her story is national-media attention worthy?
And this is where my mind starts in.
The message ingrained in this one headline, regardless of the content and context of the article, is that women will make up being raped or physically assaulted by men. Women are meant to be recipients of a male’s sexual appetites and when she rebukes this role, innocent men go to prison.
Reading the words “fake” , “rape” and “victim” strung together carelessly, in effect sensationalizing an otherwise mundane perjury case, conveys a sense of illegitimacy and unimportance. The title of this story simultaneously portrays the story of this woman as a slight against all innocent men, perpetuates the sociological theme of the wanton Jezebel and contends that rape and its victims are no real problems in our society.
I am disgusted.
-Sophia

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36 Comments

  1. supremepizza
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    You have any sympathy for the victim here? About what he endured in prison? About the sexual offender tag permanently attached to wrongly imprisoned people? Raping someone is heinous; and sending an innocent person to prison where they’re raped by other inmates is also heinous. There are no victors here.

  2. SamLL
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I can totally agree. First, how can you ignore the context of what actually happened when assessing whether this is an appropriate headline? If a newspaper publishes a headline “Woman Murders Children”, does that contend that all women murder their children?
    Second, news outlets traditionally report uncommon, shocking, or startling stories, which would be why this would be considered ‘newsworthy’ and many other instances of perjury are not – I don’t think it happens very often that a perjurer sends an innocent person to prison for several years before their perjury is revealed. In my limited experience, cases of years-long wrongful incarceration are usually news, especially after the ongoing work of organizations such as The Innocence Project.
    Maybe there’s a larger point to be made here, about how having our news sources specifically report uncommon things can make people come to faulty conclusions about how often these things occur (just off the top of my head: terrorist attacks, welfare cheating, shark attacks, and yes, definitely, false rape accusations) but I don’t think it is specifically and exclusively an anti-feminist issue.

  3. syndella
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I’m not able to muster a lot of sympathy for a woman who lied and robbed a man of four years of his life. Not only did she directly hurt this man, but she indirectly hurt other women by making it harder for women who are really raped to have their stories believed.

  4. Honeybee
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree about how if one reads the media one thinks alot of this stuff happens more then it does.
    Fact is there are about 350 million people in the US alone – OF COURSE you’re going to have some murders, rapes, etc. But to extrapolate anything from one incident of any type of crime to a larger trend is very dangerous.
    Back in 2000 some stunning figures came out that showed that crime was down across the board, less murders, less rapes, etc. yet reporting of these crimes had increased 10x from previous years.
    So crimes were being committed less often but reported 10x as much leading many people to believe crime had actually drastically increased – when in fact it had not.
    That’s why it’s very important to keep a critical eye on the media – even on this site. Because even on this site I sometimes think we are guilty of latching onto one isolated incident/story and then extrapolating that to mean it happens everywhere all the time. But I digress. And I recognize the purpose of this site is different then most media so it may not be fair to make this comparison.

  5. Fitz
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Could you please point out the victim blaming?
    I think I missed it.

  6. TD
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    in effect sensationalizing an otherwise mundane perjury case
    Is it a mundane perjury case? Or even a mundane false report case? When I think of perjury I envision someone making up a story to keep themselves out of jail, not to put some one else into jail.
    Similar things go for false reports, for most false reports I envision a person committing insurance fraud, e.g. reporting their car stolen, when it wasn’t.
    If one of those cases resulted in someone wrongfully going to jail for theft and it was revealed then certainly I believe it would be major news when it was found out.

  7. James
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Victim blaming?
    The victim here is the man who was imprisoned for four years for a crime he didn’t commit because someone else lied.
    The woman who lied is not a victim; she is a perpetrator.
    There are real victims/survivors of sexual assault out there, and the fact that this woman lied about being raped only makes their road more difficult.

  8. smiley
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Fully agree.
    Lovely post though. A “mundane case of perjury”? In fact the last paragraph is so over the top it is practically a parody.

  9. SamLL
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Let’s try to stay constructively engaged even when we disagree with a post’s author.
    Even though I disagree with some of what sophiafromoregon wrote, I think she has a very valid point that probably most people in our society would seriously overestimate the fraction of rape allegations that are intentionally fraudulent, and part of the reason they overestimate is that those cases are disproportionately reported.

  10. smiley
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I agree.
    But she could have made her point without calling claiming that perjury that sent an innocent man to jail for four years, “mundane”.
    And there is no carelessness in the term “fake rape victim”: all the words in that heading are true, and so is the stringing of the words.
    Unimportance? I beg your pardon? Knowingly sending an innocent man to jail is unimportant?
    The last paragraph brings together all the buzz words relating to rape and implies that the perjurer is also a victim of rape. Not true, dishonest, misleading.
    Defending the indefensible does not make defending the true victims of crime any easier. On the contrary.

  11. qtiger
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    The message ingrained in this one headline, regardless of the content and context of the article, is that women will make up being raped or physically assaulted by men.
    Women do make up these claims, as this case clearly shows. The important part is that false reports are a tiny minority of all reports.

  12. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Actually, I do feel quite a bit of sympathy for Biurny Peguero.
    Think about it – she was in a place in her life where fabricating a rape charge (and even having some other woman bite her body hard enough to break the skin was the GOOD option!
    I don’t know what the facts of the case are, but I do know that she had to be under really horrible life circumstances to get to the point where that seemed like a good idea.
    Also, why is she the only one who’s going to be sitting in the box for 3 years over this?
    Peguero told her story to detectives from the Manhattan North Special Victims Unit Squad of the New York Police Department.
    Those officers made the case along with an assistant district attorney from the office of New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
    However false Peguero’s charge may have been, the Manhattan North SVU detectives and the ADA made a case and sold it to a jury – so how come they aren’t getting punished too?
    Yeah, I’m sure it was awful for William McCaffrey to spend 4 years in the box, but taking away Peguero’s freedom doesn’t give anything back to him!
    Beyond that, who the hell does time for perjury?
    Folks lie under oath All The Time (NYPD cops do it so frequently they even have a name for it – “Testilying”) but nobody goes to jail for it.
    Could this possibly be motivated by the fact that Biurny Peguero is a woman and an immigrant from the Dominican Republic (and therefore both Latino and Black – a double minority)?
    It wouldn’t be the first time that a woman of color got treated more harshly than a man or a White person by the New York State justice system.
    Bedford Hills and Albion – New York’s two women’s prisons – are filled with women who got harder time than men charged with similar crimes – apparently, the justice system is much harsher to women defendants than it is to men in similar circimstances.
    Oh, and the biggest problem here?
    The fact that I’m sure there are women rape survivors who will not press charges out of fear that they’ll end up like Peguero.

  13. Pantheon
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    How would you feel if we looked at an actual (undisputed) rape case and said “well, I feel sympathy for the rapist, because he must have been at a dark point in his life where raping someone seemed like a good idea, and anyway, putting him in jail won’t undo what he did to the woman he raped.”

  14. Unequivocal
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    This is a really interesting take, though I’m not sure I agree with most of it. You say:
    Yeah, I’m sure it was awful for William McCaffrey to spend 4 years in the box, but taking away Peguero’s freedom doesn’t give anything back to him!
    Which seems rather dismissive of McCaffrey’s suffering. Like Pantheon, I am curious as to whether this attitude of “I am sure it was awful for the victim, but taking away the perpetrator’s freedom doesn’t give anything back to the victim,” is something that you feel is true in most other crimes as well. If, as I suspect, it is not, could you clarify why this situation is different?

  15. makomk
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Quite. I can see some victim blaming, but it’s not in the news article – it’s in this Feministing community post. The original poster is implying – through careful use of scare quotes – that the evidence is faulty and that the woman was pressured into claiming that she lied when she didn’t. She’s implying that the man originally convicted of rape must’ve done something to deserve it, and that’s victim blaming. Clear and unambiguous.

  16. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m not dismissing that William McCaffrey had a truly horrible time in prison – I’m sure he suffered a lot.
    I don’t think that putting Biurny Peguero in prison remediates his suffering – I hope the State of New York compensated him financially, but even that won’t help.
    What the jailing of Peguero will do is intimidate women who were actually raped from coming forward – in particular, Dominican women in Washington Heights.
    And that’s a problem.

  17. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    You’re comparing apples and oranges here.
    Perjury is a non violent crime that hardly anybody goes to jail for in this jurisdiction.
    Rape is an extremely violent felony, the worst thing you can do to a person short of outright murdering them.
    Your typical perjurer in this jurisdiction (County of New York, State of New York, where this case was prosecuted and where I happen to live) gets probation – but this woman got felony time!
    If Peguero were male, she wouldn’t be doing felony time on a perjury case.
    If Peguero were a US born White person, instead of an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, she wouldn’t be doing felony time on a perjury case.
    She does not deserve to be doing hard time for perjury, period.

  18. makomk
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of… I wonder how many people now won’t give lifts to any drunken woman alone late at night, no matter how distressed look. Apparently, being alone with a woman too drunk to remember events clearly can mean a 20 year prison sentence and a lifetime on the sex offender’s register – and that’s a lot more than 3 years.

  19. Pantheon
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    It may have technically been non-violent, but it certainly caused violence. Putting an innocent person in jail on purpose is tantamount to kidnapping them, and there’s a really high chance that someone in jail will do violence or sexual assault against them while they’re there.
    People don’t usually go to jail for perjury partly because perjury doesn’t usually result in serious damage and violence to another person. Usually perjury keeps someone out of jail, rather than purposely putting an innocent person in jail.
    Consider another analogy: someone who works at a drug company purposely replaces a working drug with a placebo or even a poison, and children die as a result. That person goes to jail. Then, we say “well, that was a non-violent crime, and people who sell faulty products don’t usually go to jail.”
    Now, maybe you’re right that if she were male or while she wouldn’t be in jail. Can you find some stats on people who commit perjury in such a way as to purposely frame an innocent person of a serious crime? Maybe its true that they don’t usually go to jail, but I’d still say that maybe they should. Those would be comparable cases, but someone who commits perjury by lying about their own innocence is not comparable to this case. I think you’re the one comparing apples and oranges.

  20. Pantheon
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    (I meant to say if she were white, not “while”)

  21. South
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    A little background. The bite mark was not a prop fabricated to give credibility to her case. Apparently it was inflicted by one of the woman’s “friends” who assaulted her when she blew them off. She then told them that she had been raped in order to gain their sympathy and presumably stop the assault.
    The problem is that she then repeated the lie to the police, and then again at a trial. She then sat on that knowledge for four years while McCaffrey rotted in prison.
    Four years Gregory, this is not a simple act of perjury, she has kept an innocent man locked up for the past four years.
    More recently her guilt got the better of her and she confessed to her priest. When she told him her priest made her confess to her lawyer, (I think he may have threatened to turn her in if she didn’t do it herself, but I’m not sure on that point).
    Peguero is not in jail because she it a woman or because she is Dominican, she is in jail because she committed a heinous crime, allowed the victim of her crime to suffer for four years and only came forwards when she was made to.

  22. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Ever heard of “Testilying”?
    That’s a term New York police officers use to refer to them lying under oath to make a case and to get a conviction.
    So, yes, perjury can put a person in jail, just as easily as it can get them out – it all depends on who’s doing the perjury.
    To a large degree, America’s mass incarceration system depends on testilying – that is, to say, perjury – because cops, and desperate suspects trying to save their own skin, testily (perjure themselves) All The Time, and nobody goes to jail for it, because the system, and it’s broader social goal of maintaining social control by sending the most aggressive of the urban underclass to prison in mass numbers, would ground to a halt without systematic testilying/perjury.
    So why should Biurny Peguero go to jail for something that nobody else gets locked up for?
    As for the statistical analysis, I’ll keep it simple.
    As you hopefully know, American prisons in general and New York’s prisons in particular are filled with Blacks and Latinos, who get harsher sentences than White offenders do for the same crime.
    Within that racial dynamic, there is the fact that women get harder time than men for the same crimes – many women in prison are locked up because they were the girlfriend of a male criminal, and normal activities they carried out during the course of their relationship constituted “being an accessory” to his crimes (things like taking a phone message or signing for a package that was addressed to him).
    Beyond that, you’re missing the real point here.
    A woman’s life would have to be incredibly fucked up for her to get to the point where having one of her girlfriends bite her and then faking a rape complaint would be the GOOD option.
    The OP seems to understand that – nobody else here does, including you.
    I think Biurny Peguero should have paid a fine, been put on probation and William McCaffrey should sue her for civil damages, but she does not belong in prison.
    You also miss the point that Manhattan North SVU and the New York County DA’s office went along with Peguero’s perjury every step of the way
    She just lied on the stand.
    They got a conviction based on the lies.
    If Peguero is going Up North for perjury, the detectives and the ADA should be right next to her in the DoC van, for suborning perjury
    Nobody seems to be addressing that issue here!
    If she’s getting jailed for lying on the stand, how come the detectives and ADA’s who put a perjurer on the stand are going unpunished?
    What kind of “justice” is that?

  23. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I have a different definition of heinous than you do.
    Deliberately murdering somebody is heinous.
    Raping somebody is heinous.
    Kidnapping a child after murdering her mother is heinous (I just heard on CNN about some guy that did that to his mistress and the child he had with her – the kid is safe, the mother, of course, is dead).
    But lying on the stand – while not a good thing to do – is not a “heinous crime”.
    And if you really think that race and gender don’t affect prison sentences, then you are woefully uninformed about how the American criminal justice system works!

  24. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    And if her priest made her confess to her lawyer and her lawyer made her confess to the state, then that priest needs to be defrocked and excommunicated and that lawyer needs to be disbarred, because they are not supposed to do that to somebody who sought their advice in confidence

  25. James
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    She didn’t just lie on the stand.
    She lied on the stand, knowing that her lies were going to put someone away for a crime he didn’t commit, and then sat on the truth for four years while he suffered in prison. That seems to me to be pretty heinous – continuing to remain silent about the truth, knowing that her lies were costing someone four years of his life and livelihood. Honestly, I don’t know how she slept at night.
    Maybe not on a legal level, but on a moral level that seems to me to be the equivalent of kidnapping someone for four years. She knew he was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and she knew that her coming forward with the truth would set him free, and yet for four years she kept her mouth shut.
    In any case, it’s a hell of a lot more than simple perjury. I don’t know that she should necessarily be going to prison for it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that her victim should file a civil action against her for robbing him of four years of his life with her lies.

  26. Phenicks
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    How could you seriously advocate that police and ADA NOT prosecute someone on the basis of witness testimony when it comes to rape when thats typically all the evidence they ever have?
    So in other words, it was best for Mcaffre to be raped, abused, beaten or simply rot in jail because she deliberately placed him there for shits and giggles?
    Its either or. She INTENTIONALLY placed a man in jail of a crime he didn’t commit. She RUINED HIS LIFE for fun.
    The ADA and police did their job- trusted someone they believed to be a victim and sought justice for her.

  27. Yeltsine
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    You also miss the point that Manhattan North SVU and the New York County DA’s office went along with Peguero’s perjury every step of the way
    She just lied on the stand.
    They got a conviction based on the lies.
    If Peguero is going Up North for perjury, the detectives and the ADA should be right next to her in the DoC van, for suborning perjury
    Nobody seems to be addressing that issue here!

    I addressed this in the bottom post, see that for my reasoning. I need to reiterate how unbelievably ridiculous this sounds, though. Should we jail all lawyers who defend convicted felons who pled innocent? After all, they “went along with their perjury”. Come on, man.

  28. South
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    If you tell a priest about a crime in confession then they are not allowed to turn you in. However, it is my understanding that when the crime is on going and involves harm to another person the priest is required to take action. This is the same as if she told him she was keeping someone locked up in her home, there is no moral justification for not acting.
    It’s not just a matter of having done wrong, it is the continuing to do so.

  29. Pantheon
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Its difficult to have a conversation with you when your posts are filled with yelling. I’ll just say this– I don’t know if its true that cops and other people routinely get off the hook for perjury that puts an innocent person in jail, but if they do, then THAT is the problem, not this case that we are discussing here. In fact, I’m surprised that she’s been convicted of “perjury” and not something worse like false imprisonment (by proxy, but still).
    As far as I can tell, you’re saying that she should get away with a serious crime that really hurt another person (in an ongoing way for years), and your reason for allowing her to get away with it is that she must have been really upset to do it, and also other people get away with similar crimes. How does that logic not apply to almost any crime? It seems just as easy to say that any particular rapist shouldn’t go to jail because clearly there’s something messed up in his head if he enjoys rape, and also lots of other rapists never go to jail so why should this one? I can’t believe anyone on this site would support logic like that.
    As for the police and the DA’s office, if they KNEW she was lying, or maybe even if they should have known (if it would have been obvious that she was lying if they did their due diligence) then they should be punished too. But if she managed to trick them too, then they are also sort of her victims, and shouldn’t be punished for believing her if the evidence seemed to agree with her. If they do everything they’re supposed to do and are taken advantage of by a con artist, then it isn’t fair to send them to jail too.
    There is a crime called suborning perjury. I don’t know enough about this case to know whether the DA did that or not. If they did, they should be in trouble too; but it isn’t clear from the article whether or not anyone knows that, and it doesn’t change the fact that this woman DID know she was lying and putting an innocent man in jail.

  30. TD
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    And if her priest made her confess to her lawyer and her lawyer made her confess to the state, then that priest needs to be defrocked and excommunicated and that lawyer needs to be disbarred, because they are not supposed to do that to somebody who sought their advice in confidence
    That is exactly what priests and lawyers are supposed to do. Neither profession is supposed to encourage you to continue the commission of a crime.
    Encouraging a person to come forward, tell the truth and to seek a plea bargain is sound legal advice. Telling a person in confession that they need to attempt to make amends if they truly wish to receive forgiveness is sound moral advice. Really I have no idea what you are objecting to.

  31. TD
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    To address a few of your points:
    Folks lie under oath All The Time (NYPD cops do it so frequently they even have a name for it – “Testilying”) but nobody goes to jail for it.
    They do if the lie is found out.
    For example this police officer got one year for lying to a grand jury, likely mitigated by the fact that the deception was found early.
    But yes, it is a serious issue that there is not increased pressure to find and prosecute police officers who lie under oath. The mere fact that some crimes go undiscovered, however, does not mean we cannot prosecute the ones which don’t.
    Also, your other claim that women get more severe sentences for the same crime is not upheld in the reviews of similar cases outcomes. In fact it tends to be the reverse. Men typically have higher conviction rates and higher sentences. The only circumstances I have seen this claim maintained is under very tortured logic.
    Perjury is a non violent crime that hardly anybody goes to jail for in this jurisdiction.
    It was hardly nonviolent, she engaged in an organized plot to wrongfully imprison someone for twenty years. The mere fact that she was not the one who used the threat of violence to enforce that is completely irrelevant. She committed a violent crime through her perjury. If it can be proven that members of the prosecution knew about the perjury than they too should face prosecution but it does not absolve this woman.
    It should be no different than charging both the person who hired a hitman and the hitman with murder. You take actions to intentionally commit a crime against another person it doesn’t really matter how you go about doing it. What matters is what you ultimately did to the other person.

  32. rhowan
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I think Gregory is responding to this quote from South:
    “When she told him her priest made her confess to her lawyer, (I think he may have threatened to turn her in if she didn’t do it herself, but I’m not sure on that point).”
    It’s right and proper for a priest to encourage someone to come forward and tell the truth, but they’re not supposed to personally reveal (or threaten to reveal) information they receive in confession, that’s a violation of confidentiality. Or so I understand – I’m not Catholic.

  33. Yeltsine
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Just as an aside, I really don’t know why Gregory seems to think she has had such a terrible time of it. I mean, she got in a fight. So? It happens. And then, presumably in a moment of panic(I’m just guessing, but I’d bet money it’s true), she told her friends she had been raped in order to gain some kind of sympathy or stop the fight.
    If I had to guess, I’d say this was a lie that spun out of control and she didn’t have the courage to stop it during the trial, perhaps afraid of legal repercussions. And yes, sure, I can find some sympathy for her. It’s a bad situation all around. But it doesn’t excuse her crime, no more than it excuses rapists who have been pressured into it by their friends. And it shouldn’t mitigate her sentence.

  34. Pantheon
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, that particular part I think might be accurate (as much as I disagree with the rest of Gregory’s posts). As I understand it, the confidentiality of the confessional is supposed to be absolute. However, I’d be really interested to know if there’s an exception for revealing ongoing harm being done to someone. What IS a priest supposed to do if someone comes and tells him that they have a teenager chained up in their basement? As I understand it, they’re supposed to withhold absolution until they think the person is truly sorry, and so they might easily say they won’t absolve you until you come forward and confess publicly. But if you refuse, can they go to the police anyway?

  35. Unequivocal
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    As utterly bizarre as it sounds, all of the research I’ve been doing today indicates that no, they cannot go to the police. The confidentiality of confession is absolute.
    Any practicing Catholics want to chime in on this?

  36. Pantheon
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    There are two questions here– what does the Catholic church say, and what does the US (or other) government say?
    Consider a really heinous example, like someone goes into the confessional and tells a priest that they have kidnapped someone and are keeping them chained up in a basement. The priest says, of course, that if they’re sorry they have to let the person go before the priest can consider giving them absolution. So if you believe in religious technicalities, the priest is telling the person that they will still go to hell, and the priest won’t do anything to help them avoid hell until they let the victim go. But say this person who came to see the priest is insane, or whatever, and they just don’t see the logic– they are willing to tell the priest the truth, but not to let their kidnap victim go or tell the police or anything.
    Now, does the Catholic church allow for an exception where the priest can tell people about this confession to save the live victim from ongoing harm?
    And, secondly, does the U.S. government have any laws concerning this case? For example, as I understand it there are laws about a lot of professions that are required to maintain confidentiality, like doctors and lawyers, but most of those have an exception for ongoing or potential harm. So, like, if a doctor thinks a kid is being abused, or if someone tells a psychiatrist or a lawyer they’re going to go murder someone, there are laws that say that in those cases the professional is allowed to reveal what they said, and may in fact be legally required to go to the police. Just like there are laws requiring pediatricians to report potential child abuse, and those trump the laws requiring them to maintain doctor patient confidentiality.
    So, are there any laws like that that cover priests?

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