Friday, November 13, 2009

Rape Kit Backlog and Systemic Problems In Rape Investigations

On Monday and Tuesday's CBS Evening News a 2-part piece titled Rape in America: Justice Denied.

Nearly 90,000 women reported they were raped in the United States last year. It's estimated another 75,000 rapes went unreported. But while rape convictions are up - a five month CBS News investigation raises questions about just how many rapists are actually being brought to justice. [...]

Rape in this country is surprisingly easy to get away with. The arrest rate last year was just 25 percent - a fraction of the rate for murder - 79 percent, and aggravated assault - 51 percent.

"When we have talked to victims, they very much so doubt that it was worth it for them to go to the police," said Sarah Tofte, US Program Researcher for Human Rights Watch. "They're incredibly disillusioned with the criminal justice system, and that sends a terrible message."
Funding was only 1 of the reasons given for why thousands of rape kits around the US have not been processed and why many of those unprocessed rape kits are not in line to ever be tested. However, in one case highlighted by the CBS investigation the victim was told that her rape kit wasn't processed because of money while the prosecutor gave a different reason to CBS. To the prosecutor the rape kit analysis was meaningless.
Psychologist David Lisak from the University of Massachusetts has spent twenty years studying the minds of rapists. "Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim. Take the statement from the alleged perpetrator and then throw up our hands because they are saying conflicting things," he said. "That's not how we investigate other crimes." [...]

"Predators look for vulnerable people and they prey on vulnerable people," Lisak said. And if, as a criminal justice system, we're going to essentially turn from any victim who was drinking or any victim who was in some way vulnerable - we're essentially giving a free pass to sexual predators."

What's worse than this type of non-investigation is when people assume or falsely claim that all reported rapes are competently and completely investigated and declare that lack of charges means that there was no merit to the original report. This contributes to false rumors and harassment against rape victims.

If the number of current rape cases is overloading the capacity of law enforcement then the common statement that all rape victims should report would bring these systems crashing down if all rape victims from this day forward immediately went to the closest hospital which does forensic exams. Yet many criminal justice spokespeople still publicly hold rape victims who don't report their rapes responsible for the continued success of serial non-stranger rapists.

This story highlights the faulty assumptions behind the excuses given for unprocessed rape kits and too low conviction rates. Considering the number of stranger violent crimes where the prosecution have the DNA from the person who committed the crime but no name, processing rape kits with known suspects has the potential of solving cases which are widely considered winnable.

Since many non-stranger rapists who don't commit other types of crimes are repeat offenders processing rape kits may provide a solid link between multiple cases which can be used to prosecute a series of non-stranger rapes together. The defense claim that the defendant just made an honest mistake is harder to sell when the identical honest mistake was made over and over and over again.

I recommend going to the CBS site and watching videos from this investigation.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:01 AM   1 comments links to this post


At November 17, 2009 10:17 AM, Blogger makomk said...

Think rape investigations here in the UK are similar - the police refuse to take action in a lot of cases because they don't think the woman's testimony would convince a jury. (Another big cause of cases being abandoned is apparently the police discouraging victims by telling them how unpleasant court could be. There's a government-sponsored report on all this somewhere.)

Of course, there are some false reports of rape too. Not sure how many, or even if that figure's recorded. Generally, even when there's solid evidence the women lied, the prosecution service uses its discretion not to charge her with anything, for obvious reasons.


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