Breana Harmon, 19, pleaded guilty in a deal that will not only let her keep her freedom, it’ll eventually allow charges against her to be dismissed and for her criminal record to be sealed.
When one looks at U.S. history, news of a white woman serving no time after lying to police about being raped by three black men comes as no shock. Both white men and white women have long taken advantage of the stereotype of the savage black man for different purposes — white men to justify subjugating black men and white women to find easy scapegoats for their own crimes — and nearly never face consequences.
Harmon's story starts in March 2017, when her then-fiancé reported her missing after arriving to their empty apartment and subsequently finding her car in the nearby parking lot with the driver’s door open and her belongings scattered on the ground.
Hours after the initial call, police were informed that Harmon had walked into a church wearing only a bra, shirt, and underwear and with noticeable cuts and scratches on her body.
Harmon subsequently told police that “three black men” had kidnapped her in an SUV and taken her to a wooded area where two of them raped her while the third held her down; Harmon said she obtained the cuts on her body from a knife while struggling to fight them off. After the two finished raping her, Harmon claimed they threatened to do it again if they could catch her, at which point she started running until she reached the church.
Authorities found holes in the story immediately. A medical examiner determined that she hadn’t been sexually assaulted; the knife cuts on the pants police found in the woods didn’t coincide with the wounds on Harmon’s body, which also weren’t the kind a person would get from the struggle she’d described.
Police spent nearly two weeks looking for suspects, witnesses, and evidence to corroborate Harmon’s story. She ultimately confessed to having made it all up.
Harmon explained that she’d decided to self-harm, upset because she believed she and her fiancé would soon split. Worried that her family would be angered by what she’d done to herself, she concocted the hoax to explain the injuries.
Since Harmon entered a plea deal, she will now not serve any time behind bars.
“The cap is either regular probation or deferred adjudication,” Harmon’s attorney, Bob Jarvis, said. “Of course, we’ll be asking for deferred and they’ll be asking for regular probation.”
In Texas, deferred adjudication allows Harmon to enter a guilty plea but not have it labeled as a conviction. After her period of community supervision is complete, the charges will be dismissed and she can file for nondisclosure so employers, landlords, and anyone else will have no clue about her previous offense.
The story garnered massive attention on social media when it first broke. It immediately became fodder for propaganda reinforcing the racist dichotomy between the supposedly fragile white woman and the brutish black man — an idea already deeply embedded in U.S. society.
In the 1800s, white men frequently relied on the belief that black men had an insatiable appetite for raping white women as a justification for lynchings. Black men and boys were regularly murdered for even associating with white women — such as 14-year-old Emmett Till who was killed in 1955 for flirting with one.
According to an extensive report by the Equal Justice Initiative, “Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault.”
To this day, white men use the notion of white women needing protection from being raped by black men to commit racist violence. In June 2015, a 21-year-old white man shot and killed nine people at a predominantly black church in Charleston, reportedly yelling, "You rape our women and you’re taking over our country."
Additionally, white women have been known to weaponize their perceived innocence to accuse black men of violent crimes. In 2016, 25-year-old Leiha Ann-Sue Artman faked her own kidnapping and lied about having been abducted and sexually assaulted by four black men. Accused murderer Amanda Knox first pointed the finger at an innocent black man who was consequently jailed for two weeks.
With how pervasive these views of white women and black men are, the chances that Harmon described her imaginary attackers as black with no malicious intentions — or at least without the awareness that law enforcement's bias against black men would immediately make her story more believable to authorities — are slim. While her lies didn’t result in the death or arrest of innocent people, the chaos it sparked on social media proves they undoubtedly helped foment racial tensions in Denison.
Harmon will be sentenced on March 20.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Lucy Nicholson