Tawana Brawley Needs to Come Clean

She Matters: Decades after her rape hoax, she's being forced to pay off a defamation lawsuit.

Screenshot of Twana Brawley with the Rev. Al Sharpton (YouTube)
Screenshot of Twana Brawley with the Rev. Al Sharpton (YouTube)

At 15 Brawley was a scared child, who couldn’t have predicted that her hoax would spiral so far out of control. Overnight, and for months after, her name was in the headlines, and she became a cause célèbre, with attention and sympathy pouring in. The NAACP showed up to defend her, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton — who some say used the allegations to catapult himself into the national spotlight — later on, accompanied by an all-star legal duo.

I don’t think she intended to get anything out of saying she was abducted and raped, other than to keep from being punished. Her elaborate cover-up seems to point to a troubled home life. That she went so far as to cut her hair — not to be funny, but you know how black women are about hair length — smear her body with dog feces and cry rape to avoid punishment makes me wonder what worse horror was waiting for her if she’d crossed her family threshold after missing curfew.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that a girl who created an elaborate cover-up seemingly to avoid her stepfather’s wrath suddenly had teams of grown men willing to protect and defend her. Would they still protect her if she admitted her charade? She feared the consequences of going home after she ran away. What would her stepfather do if he found out that she’d made all this up?

It would have been nice if she’d fessed up when the bottom fell out of the story, but she didn’t. That 1988 grand jury found that there were no signs of genital trauma and no semen. The feces on her body was from the neighbor’s dog. The traces of charcoal under her fingernails indicated that Brawley had written the epithets on herself. One witness even said she had seen Brawley climbing into the garbage bag.

Ten years later Brawley was 25 — i.e., old enough to take full responsibility for her actions. Yet she was sticking to her story. “I am not a liar; nor am I crazy,” she told an 800-person church audience in 1997. “For 10 years they were lying to you,” she added. “You should feel that the hoax was pulled on you.”

That’s when Pagones launched that defamation lawsuit, asking for a whopping $325 million.

In 2013 the chickens have come home to roost, and Brawley is losing by remaining silent. It’s time for her to confess. It’s not as if most reasonable people think she told the truth anyway. And like Pagones — but for different reasons — we want to hear her say it, and hear the explanation for why she lied.

By finally telling the truth, Brawley would maintain her full wages, and she wouldn’t be likely to face additional prosecution or lawsuits. She never testified, so there’s no perjury charge. And even her false statements to police, a misdemeanor, can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired.

If the courts were going to demand restitution for her waste of taxpayer money, they likely would have done so in the 10 years between the grand jury’s finding of no evidence and Brawley’s disappearance. Additionally, her privacy isn’t at stake, since she’s been in the headlines three times in the last eight months.  

It may even be financially beneficial for her to talk about the case now. It’s not a far stretch to think that a confession, which would be well-publicized for sure, could lead to a lucrative book deal, in which she tells all. Maybe she could land a Lifetime movie. I’d certainly read and watch.

Would you?

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.