A 20-year-old woman who fabricated a violent sexual assault at University of California, Santa Cruz received her sentence Thursday: 60 days in jail, three years probation with restricted Internet access, 200 hours of community service, and 60 hours of mental health counseling. The Santa Cruz County Superior Court found Morgan Triplett, now a student at UC Santa Barbara, guilty of one misdemeanor count of filing a false police report.
In February, Triplett claimed she had been attacked and raped by a strange white man while walking on campus at UC Santa Cruz in broad daylight. Police soon discovered she had made the incident up. In fact, Triplett posted Craigslist ads asking someone to beat her up in exchange for sex, and promised not to file charges against them. When confronted, she admitted to fabricating the report a couple weeks later.
Triplett’s false report, the district attorney’s office said, was motivated by suicidal thoughts, depression, and “wanting somebody to hurt her to almost bring her back to life.” Yet even with this diagnosis, Triplett is facing a far harsher punishment than the vast majority of actual rapists on college campuses.
Triplett wasted valuable time and police resources, as the prospect of an attacker on campus led to an 11-day manhunt. But the far more common sexual assault on college campuses — by a familiar assailant, often in a social setting — rarely even makes it into law enforcement’s hands. Several universities, including UCSC’s sister school, UC Berkeley, are under federal scrutiny for possibly suppressing sexual assault reports, blaming victims, and being excessively lenient on rapists. One UC Berkeley student, for example, accused the school of dragging its feet on her rape complaint for seven months. Her rapist, who admitted to the attack, was ultimately charged with violating the campus code of conduct.
Schools tend to be reluctant to refer these cases to law enforcement, while prosecutors often decline to pursue rapists because the crime can be difficult to prove. Even in cases where there is DNA evidence, the burden to prove the sex was forced lies with the victim, and the verdict often hinges on her credibility.
As a result, rapists have a good chance of getting away with their assault, and often go on to rape other women. Students allege that even when a rapist is found guilty, his punishment ranges from temporary suspension to writing an essay “reflecting on his experiences.”
Meanwhile, false rape reports like Triplett’s are extremely rare. Only 2 to 8 percent of reported rapes are false, while bogus accusations that specifically name a perpetrator are even more unusual. However, it didn’t take long for right-wing media to pounce on Triplett’s case as evidence of a new “collegiate tradition” of “the campus rape hoax.”