Credit: Brian Feulner

ProPublica and The Marshall Project published this pretty incredible story that examines how investigators dismissed a Washington state teen’s report of being raped — before police eventually arrested her attacker, who was responsible for other sexual assaults.

The piece tells the story of a woman — whom the authors identified as Marie — who was bound, gagged and raped late one night in 2008 by a knife-wielding attacker. She reported the crime, and police started an investigation, but her foster mothers thought the story sounded fishy.

“I just got this really weird feeling. It was like, I felt like she was telling me the script of a Law & Order story,” said one, Peggy, who called police to say she thought that Marie was lying about the whole thing.

So police asked her more questions, and ultimately, Marie admitted she had lied.

When the detectives returned, they saw that Marie’s new statement described the rape as a dream, not a lie.

Why didn’t you write that you made the story up? Rittgarn asked.

Marie, crying, said she believed the rape really happened. She pounded the table and said she was “pretty positive.”

Pretty positive or actually positive? Rittgarn asked.

Maybe the rape happened and I blacked it out, Marie said.

What do you think should happen to someone who would lie about something like this? Rittgarn asked Marie.

“I should get counseling,” Marie said.

Mason returned to the evidence. He told Marie that her description of calling Jordan was different from what Jordan had reported.

Marie, her face in her hands, looked down. Then “her eyes darted back and forth as if she was thinking of a response.”

The detectives doubled back to what she had said before — about being stressed, being lonely — and, eventually, Marie appeared to relax. She stopped crying. She even laughed a little. She apologized — and agreed to write another statement, leaving no doubt it was a lie.

The thing is, Marie was not lying. A man named Marc O’Leary was arrested for rapes in other states, and investigators found a photo of Marie in his possession that proved she was telling the truth.

After O’Leary was linked to Marie’s rape, Lynnwood Police Chief Steven Jensen requested an outside review of how his department had handled the investigation. In a report not previously made public, Sgt. Gregg Rinta, a sex crimes supervisor with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, wrote that what happened was “nothing short of the victim being coerced into admitting that she lied about the rape.”

That Marie recanted wasn’t surprising, Rinta wrote, given the “bullying” and “hounding” she was subjected to. The detectives elevated “minor inconsistencies” — common among victims — into discrepancies, while ignoring strong evidence the crime had occurred. As for threatening jail and a possible withdrawal of housing assistance if Marie failed a polygraph: “These statements are coercive, cruel, and unbelievably unprofessional,” Rinta wrote. “I can’t imagine ANY justification for making these statements.”

The piece takes a deep-dive into an issue that sexual assault victims and advocates have known for years: the victims of these crimes often face unfair scrutiny.

“The world of ‘justice’ and ‘proof’ — of police and courts — is far different than the world that most survivors inhabit,” wrote BDN Maine’s Erin Rhoda in “Proof,” a 2013 project on sexual assault in Maine.

At that time, there were estimated to be 13,000 cases of sex crimes annually in Maine — but only 3,300 were actually reported.

Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the...