Sunday, February 24, 2008

Billing Rape Victims And It's Negative Impact On Justice

From US News: Rape victims can be hurt financially too:

It's tough enough for rape victims to come forward. Now there's another reason for them to think twice about reporting the crime: They may get stuck with a hefty bill for the rape kit used to collect evidence against their attacker.

The story mentions several states including North Carolina in which rape victims can be stuck with a bill for evidence collection. A Raleigh News and Observer article which highlighted a cap in what the state would pay resulted in a change in state policy. The cap in payment is gone, but the budget isn't any higher which leaves me with the question of what will happen when the yearly budget is exhausted.

What these gaps in payment do in many rape cases is help create a de facto statute of limitations that arrives within days. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people say, "If she was really raped, she should have gotten a rape kit done."

What they really mean, and a few say, is: "If she was raped, she would have gotten a rape kit done." They don't know and don't care about why those who are really raped don't or can't get a rape kit done before the brief window of opportunity for collecting this evidence expires.

This attitude causes many rape cases without DNA evidence to be closed prematurely "due to lack of supporting evidence." Because of tight budgets and past jury bias, many police agencies and prosecutors offices may decide that certain types of rape cases without DNA evidence aren't worth pursuing.

To be in compliance with the Violence Against Women Act states are supposed to cover 100% of the cost of forensic medical exams, but this isn't happening in all states. The states that require rape victims to contact law enforcement within days after the exam for the forensic medical exam to be paid for are making a serious mistake which allows many serial rapists to get away with their crimes.

During my 9 plus years volunteering on my local rape crisis line, I've been with rape victims in the hospital who were in no shape to talk to anybody after the forensic medical exam and weren't likely to get there within 48 hours. I've also been with rape victims who were hyper alert and wanted to get everything -- including the police interview -- over with ASAP before they ran out of energy. Neither reaction is inherently good or bad and neither reaction indicates that someone is or is not a genuine rape victim.

I believe that the best solution is for all rape kits to be processed, and not held until the rape victim agrees to cooperate with a police investigation, so that multiple DNA hits are more quickly evident.

Now when a sex offender is caught and the police believe there are numerous other victims, they talk to the media and ask other victims to come forward even if they didn't originally report their rapes. This opens the door for defense attorneys to claim that this call by the police opens the door to false reports.

If all rape kits were processed and one rapist's DNA appeared in 2, 3 or more rape kits, that should trigger a coordinated investigation. If victims were contacted because there was a DNA hit, they might have less fear that working with the police will be traumatic and pointless.

Jurors may buy a rapist's lies that one woman consented when she didn't, but if a jury can be presented with multiple victims it is harder for even the most biased jury to be conned into believing that the victims are lying or delusional. Of course this is one of the reasons that a defense attorney would want each instance to be a separate trial and would want to prevent the jury from knowing about the other reports.

Even if a rapist had to be tried separately for each victim, when the police and the prosecutor know they are dealing with a serial rapist they may be less likely to shelve these cases.

Since many rapists understand how the system works and adjust their crimes accordingly this change might serve as a deterrent to at least some rapists and would-be rapists. A lack of a newspaper story about a reported rape wouldn't indicate that no rape kit with their DNA was about to be processed by a crime lab.

Because non-stranger rapes are among the most under reported and these rapists know this these cases provide a great opportunity for law enforcement. While a DNA match from an acquaintance rape where a conviction is iffy at best because the defendant will claim consent these rape kits may help identify unknown DNA in a stranger rape case where no jury could possibly assume that the victim consented. This identification could also help identify those who committed serious non-sex crimes where unknown DNA from the criminal is found.

Those who only think about one particular case or who have a bias against those who report rape may wrongly view the paying for all forensic evidence exams as a waste of money. It doesn't have to be that way.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:39 AM   0 comments links to this post

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