Reinvestigating Rape: Old Evidence, New Answers
September 17, 2015 7:53 AM   Subscribe

In 2010, Plain Dealer reporter Rachel Dissell wrote about thousands of neglected rape kits at the Cleveland Police Department. Working with fellow reporter Leila Atassi, their continued, tenacious coverage led to the creation of a 'rape kit task force' to cover a massive backlog, and eventually, a law mandating timely testing. Since 2011, when the city began sending rape kits to the state’s crime lab, almost all of its 4,000 kits have been tested; of these, over 1,600 contained usable DNA. 350 cases have led to grand jury indictments, and as of this month, over 100 rapists have been convicted, some of multiple rapes.

Background
"Rape kit" is the common term for a set of tests that gather evidence after a sexual assault, usually from the survivor's clothes and body. The process can be traumatic — it involves a series of often-invasive procedures that need to be conducted in the immediate aftermath of the crime. The evidence from these kits, however, is a big part of how we identify and arrest rapists. Which is why it's especially tragic that, all too often, those kits are just sitting around in police stations, untouched.
Additional Articles
* Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits, or "rape kits": How they're used to preserve evidence
* 2013: Reinvestigating Rape: Old Evidence, New Answers
* The Plain Dealer's section on Rape Kits
* 2014: DART Center for Journalism and Trauma: "Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and 2008 Dart Award Winner Rachel Dissell answers common questions about rape kit testing, and provides useful links, resources and questions that reporters can pose to authorities following the reopening of thousands of sexual assault cases nationwide."
* After the DART article was published, the FBI and NIJ announced that that they would begin testing rape kits for departments nationwide, free of cost. Local departments are only responsible for paying postage.
* NPR's Terry Gross interviews Rachel Dissell. "[The serial rapists] knew if they chose the most vulnerable women - the least likely to be believed - that they would never get caught."
* Refinery 29 interviews Rachel Dissell

More
Ohio is just the tip of the iceberg. In a broad, police department-by-department count by USA TODAY, Gannett newspapers and TEGNA television stations this year, journalists identified at least 70,000 untested rape kits at more than 1,000 police agencies. But, because there are 18,000-plus agencies nationwide, the 70,000 doesn't begin to tell the story.

Resources
* End the Backlog
* RAINN: National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and their Loved Ones. Also see their International Resources page.
* Not Alone: For sexual assault support services and resources in the domestic US.
* What happens if I go to the hospital after being sexually assaulted?
posted by zarq (54 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite


 
All links in this post should be SFW.

However, the first USA Today link contains some short descriptions of sexual assault which some may find disturbing.

From June, a press release from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office regarding the Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative:
"As of June 1, 2015, 179 law enforcement agencies have submitted 9,906 kits to be tested as part of the initiative. Of those, 573 kits were submitted after Senate Bill 316 took effect.

As of June 1, 2015, forensic scientists with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) have completed testing on a total of 7,513 of those kits, resulting in 2,802 hits in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

In Cuyahoga County alone, more than 310 defendants have been indicted following DNA testing conducted as part of the effort."

posted by zarq at 7:56 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't even know how to begin to process this, other than to think "testing these kits is an extremely important task that needs to start ASAP no matter what, and why does it not?"
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:58 AM on September 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


How did these massive backlogs even happen in the first place?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:00 AM on September 17, 2015


saulgoodman: From the second USA Today link:
The records reveal widespread inconsistency in how police handle rape evidence from agency to agency, and even officer to officer. Some departments test every rape kit. Others send as few as two in 10 to crime labs.

Decades of promises from politicians, and more than $1 billion in federal funding, has failed to fix the problems. The roughly $1,000 cost to analyze each kit is among the hindrances for police.

posted by zarq at 8:08 AM on September 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


Imagine that. If one bothers to examine the evidence of a crime, one can often catch the person who committed it.
posted by Gelatin at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2015 [36 favorites]


If anyone disputes that rape culture is a thing, just send them these links. Why is there enough money for murder DNA tests (and many other types of evidence gathering) but not for rape? Why did these backlogs sit there until people started to protest? Why did the cops just not care?

Because we don't think rape is really all that much of a crime in this country. Because most (but not all) of the people deciding not to care are male. Because we don't really believe women when they report rape.
posted by emjaybee at 8:12 AM on September 17, 2015 [79 favorites]


Why spend money on processing rape kits when there are machine guns, new Dodge Chargers, and MILSPEC clothing out there that needs buyin'? "Leave those 30 rape kits in the evidence room, Jones, the Chief needs a new car."
posted by pjern at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


What emjaybee said.
posted by answergrape at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because we don't think rape is really all that much of a crime in this country. Because most (but not all) of the people deciding not to care are male. Because we don't really believe women when they report rape.

If I were a betting man I would put money on there being SES and race differences in rape kit testing.
posted by srboisvert at 8:21 AM on September 17, 2015 [15 favorites]


Guessing also that the vast majority of unanalyzed kits are from cases involving poor and nonwhite victims.
posted by ardgedee at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Decades of promises from politicians, and more than $1 billion in federal funding, has failed to fix the problems. The roughly $1,000 cost to analyze each kit is among the hindrances for police.

This is the kind of thing innovative start-ups should tackle. There's got to be a way to bring costs and testing time down. I know there's probably not money in it so that's why no one tries, but I bet some bright young thinkers could help countless people by making rape kit testing easier and cheaper.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:28 AM on September 17, 2015


I would bet money that kits don't get tested in a timely fashion (or at all) at least in part because a common attitude among detectives is to not believe victims who report being raped. If you're a cop and you don't believe the reporting "victim," it's unlikely you're going to spend much time or energy pushing to get your lab work done so you can make an arrest.
posted by rtha at 8:31 AM on September 17, 2015 [26 favorites]


saulgoodman, a more extensive explanation: Why the Backlog Exists.
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not in a place where I can handle looking at even one of these links, but I'm favoriting the post anyway so I can link back to it the next time some dude pops into a discussion about rape or sexual assault with yet another tired iteration of, "If it really happened, why didn't she report it to the police?"
posted by divined by radio at 8:34 AM on September 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


And people wonder why rape is an underreported crime. Feel bad, if you don't go to the police, because you're letting a rapist go free! Or do report to the police, be potentially further traumatised by the evidence-gathering and skeptical cops, and have a rapist go free, because nobody can be bothered.
posted by skybluepink at 8:53 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's equally infuriating is the fact that criminals naturally are deterred by the likelihood they'll be caught. Not only did the failure to process these rape kits allow the perpetrators the freedom to commit more rapes, but the police's negligence helped contribute to a perception that rapists can get away with it.

This Labor Day weekend, police made it known they were stepping up enforcement of drunk driving laws, complete with radio spots and road signs, and I'm sure that while it didn't prevent everyone from drinking and driving, it deterred some people. If police made clear that the evidence a rapist always leaves will lead to their capture, some -- not all, maybe not even most, but some -- might be deterred from committing the crime at all.
posted by Gelatin at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's got to be a way to bring costs and testing time down.

I'm very surprised that a rape kit test costs upwards of $1000. Entire genome sequencing costs less than that. I suspect that these tests just use RFLPs, which can be run using about $10 worth of reagents. Some one is making a ton of money off of this.
posted by overhauser at 9:06 AM on September 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


"I would bet money that kits don't get tested in a timely fashion (or at all) at least in part because a common attitude among detectives is to not believe victims who report being raped"

I don't think that's the case though because they already collected the evidence. They just didn't send it in for testing.


Also, as per zarq's link, Detroit is one of the cities leading the way to clearing the backlog. Detroit. That city's got a lot of problems but even they managed to get it together and go through the backlog.
posted by I-baLL at 9:12 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Processing of Detroit's backlog has identified 456 serial rapists as of June 30, 2015. Failure to prioritize this issue across the board is a clear danger to public health and safety, but since the "public" in this case means "mostly women," people in positions of authority have the leeway to decide that it doesn't really matter that much. Because women don't really matter that much.

Every part of this issue, from rape itself to our culture's deeply ingrained disbelief of victims to cities' and states' ongoing failure to process rape kits in a timely manner, is centered on the idea that women are not fully human. We live in a desperately sick system. It's misogyny all the way down.
posted by divined by radio at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2015 [34 favorites]


I don't think that's the case though because they already collected the evidence.

They don't believe that it is evidence of rape, they think it is evidence of consensual sex that the woman is lying about having been rape. Also who do you think is collecting this rape kit evidence? Do you think it's the beat cops who show up when you call 911? Because that is not the case.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


Slate: (emphasis mine)
"The real question is: Why the foot-dragging? How did we get to a place where hundreds of thousands of sex-crime puzzle pieces are shut up in storage lockers and forgotten?

There’s the easy answer and the hard one. Easy is that rape kits cost a lot to analyze—anywhere between $500 and $1,500 each. But on closer investigation, this excuse, floated by police departments, reveals its big flaw: Interpreting evidence in general is a wildly expensive process; digital forensic analysis—of a single computer—might set a department back $5,000, while the average cost of processing any case with DNA evidence is $1,397. Despite this, I'm guessing murders and other instances of nonsexual violence don’t get shoved down into the collective subconscious quite the way rapes do.

A bleaker and more compelling explanation is that, for a long time, our culture has refused to call sex crimes what they are: crimes. When a sense of blame or responsibility clings to the victim, it’s easier for cops to set her case aside. And the blurriness (or perception of same) surrounding a lot of rape allegations doesn’t inspire much optimism among prosecutors that they can score a conviction—so, overworked and underfunded, they don’t even try. I wonder, too, whether hypermasculine values in law enforcement have created a mini bro climate. The Village Voice reported two years ago on NYPD officers who urged street cops to manipulate crime statistics by downgrading reports of sexual assault." One man was able to commit six attempted rapes (“misdemeanors”) before he was apprehended mid-seventh.

posted by zarq at 9:22 AM on September 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


> That city's got a lot of problems but even they managed to get it together and go through the backlog.

The fact that they had such a backlog to begin with says quite a lot. Unfortunately, they ain't so special.
posted by rtha at 9:24 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Detroit backlog was originally over 11,000 kits, some of them dating back to the '90's. One of the largest known backlogs in the US. They had been dumped in a warehouse by the police, and ignored. It took a public outcry, and federal, state and private funding to get 10,000 of them processed.
"As of August 2015, Detroit has tested approximately 10,000 kits, resulting in 2,478 DNA matches and the identification of 487 potential serial rapists. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has obtained 21 convictions, and DNA from the kits tested linked to crimes committed in 39 states and Washington DC.

posted by zarq at 9:32 AM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


For once, justice delayed is not justice denied.

Also, a word in defense of the criminal justice system -- police are pretty overloaded with current cases. Extra funding and manpower is needed to go back and review serious cases with newer technology, e.g. better DNA tests and databases. This is true whether the underlying crime is cold case murder or cold case rape. I'm not saying this is OK, but it is primarily driven by resource issues.

On preview, see zarq's link above.
posted by bearwife at 9:50 AM on September 17, 2015


Just fucking wow. HUGE FUCKING PROPS to Rachel Dissel and Leila Atassi.

Also: this is what journalism should be about, and what politicians should be trying to help fix.
posted by lalochezia at 9:51 AM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


It just blows my mind that there are TENS OF THOUSANDS of violent criminals at large, while at the same time we waste so many lives and so much money vigorously pursuing non-violent drug offenders, for example. And this.

And no one cares; rapists at large is the status quo.
posted by Dashy at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]



Can anyone address "How do we make the Rape Kit analysis cheaper?" question? From one of the above links, 1000-1500 per kit is the cost. What goes into that cost and how can it be reduced is my question.

Beautiful post - thank you.
posted by fluffycreature at 10:09 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine it would be too hard to bring down the cost of rape kits. I have had my DNA looked at by three different companies, and it cost about $250 total.
posted by maxsparber at 10:10 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


IIRC part of the cost is that you need to have more assurances about chain of custody and so on, to be sure the evidence is admissible in a trial.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:11 AM on September 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't even know how to begin to process this, other than to think "testing these kits is an extremely important task that needs to start ASAP no matter what, and why does it not?"

It doesn't stop with rape kits. The LAPD Cold Case Squad (not the official name) caught a guy who, back in the 50's, murdered two cops during a traffic stop in El Segundo. All they did was take the DNA and run it against the FBI's database. Found the guy living the good life in suburban Virginia or something.
posted by sideshow at 10:17 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


This pdf, from the National Center for Victims of Crime, indicates that some of the cost is due to the number of items that are tested:
How much does it cost to test a SAK?
The cost of testing SAKs varies, but can range from $400 - $1500 depending on the amount of biological evidence to be tested. The more items that need to be tested, such as sheets, couch cushions, or multiple items of clothing, the more expensive the testing becomes.
Earlier it provides this list of what's collected:
What is collected in a SAK?
•• DNA evidence, including blood, semen, and saliva, is collected from the victim’s body to aid in identifying the perpetrator and to demonstrate that physical contact occurred.
•• Other physical evidence, including clothing fibers, fingernail scrapings, and hairs, may be collected.
•• The victim’s clothing, particularly undergarments or clothing that have biological stains, may also be collected and considered to be part of the SAK.
•• Blood will be collected from the victim to determine if blood stains belong to the victim or someone else.
•• Urine may be collected for testing if a victim suspects she may have been drugged by the assailant.
•• The victim’s account of the assault will be documented and photographs of any injuries will be taken.
If I'm remembering my training as a sexual assault advocate correctly, the DNA evidence collected from the survivor's body is collected by swabbing every place the survivor thinks the perpetrator may have kissed her or in any other way deposited bodily fluids.

So it's a lot of evidence to test.
posted by jaguar at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


So enraging. Not just because this evidence is lingering in warehouses, but because so many of them are cases that stalled out because of pushback from the criminal justice system.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2015


DNA Evidence: Basics of Analyzing from the National Institute of Justice talks about the forensic testing procedures currently done. I don't have enough of a science/lab background to know how or if those procedures differ from cheaper ones, but maybe someone else does.
posted by jaguar at 10:33 AM on September 17, 2015


Even if the cost were 15 thousand dollars per kit it's still a bargain.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:35 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's a good point, especially since these rape kits have turned up serial rapists. The real world financial cost of rape is enormous: The National Institute of Justice estimates rape has an annual minimum loss of 127 billion dollars. According to Iowa State University, every single rape costs $448,532.

Against this, $1000 per rape kit seems cheap.
posted by maxsparber at 10:41 AM on September 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


On San Francisco's recent clearance of a rape kit backlog: "Capt. Michael Connolly, who oversees the crime lab, said the names of the perpetrators in all 437 outstanding cases are already known to the department. They were the spouses, boyfriends or acquaintances of women who were raped. The tests in cases in which a stranger attacked a woman were already tested because they were deemed more crucial. "
posted by larrybob at 10:52 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Since 2011, when the city began sending rape kits to the state’s crime lab, almost all of its 4,000 kits have been tested; of these, over 1,600 contained usable DNA.

So about 2400 had unusable DNA.

Fucking disgusting. Who is responsible for 2400 people not having access to the justice they deserve?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:02 AM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


On San Francisco's recent clearance of a rape kit backlog: "Capt. Michael Connolly, who oversees the crime lab, said the names of the perpetrators in all 437 outstanding cases are already known to the department. They were the spouses, boyfriends or acquaintances of women who were raped. The tests in cases in which a stranger attacked a woman were already tested because they were deemed more crucial. "

I had also heard that a lot of kits aren't tested because the perpetrator isn't denying there was sexual contact, just whether it was consensual. I understand not testing those kits, but it seems like that has ended up giving cover to decisions not to test other kits that should have been tested.
posted by jaguar at 11:09 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm very surprised that a rape kit test costs upwards of $1000. Entire genome sequencing costs less than that. I suspect that these tests just use RFLPs, which can be run using about $10 worth of reagents. Some one is making a ton of money off of this.

Because the technology at the centre of the analysis is only a part of the cost. A legal sample must:

- be fully documented, including a very important piece of paper called a chain of custody, and handled in a way that assures that the results are, in fact, the results and not caused by tampering or cross-contamination. This was one of the big knocks against the forensic evidence in the Simpson trial, for example, they didn't clean well enough between analyses to ensure that the results were unambiguous, nor did they document well enough. All that excluding possible malfeasance with the samples too.

- be analyzed by an accredited method by qualified people. The lab workers have to be able to reliably get an unambiguous result with a sample. That involves making sure the lab procedures are documented, that methods and analysts are regularly tested to ensure competence, that exceptions and non-compliant results are documented and investigated. Someone has to develop and validate those methods continuously to account for changing technology, staff and reference materials. It's not a one time deal, it's continuous.

-Perform the analysis in replicate to estimate uncertainties in the results. There are many approaches to this, but all of them involve running some or all of the samples multiple times, sometimes by multiple techniques, to ensure that bias and accuracy are maintained for a particular set of samples.

-have qualified analysts to do second- or third-person reviews of results and who, like an engineer or an architect, can sign off as responsible on the results, write up a legal report, and go to court to present them.

Overhead beyond the basic analysis cost is often double or triple for all the QA/QC machinery and legal sample handling. For cases where being very sure is important (e.g. multiple victims), full-on multi-lab testing is sometimes done.
posted by bonehead at 11:25 AM on September 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


On San Francisco's recent clearance of a rape kit backlog: "Capt. Michael Connolly, who oversees the crime lab, said the names of the perpetrators in all 437 outstanding cases are already known to the department. They were the spouses, boyfriends or acquaintances of women who were raped.

Which is a very bad decision to make as there are so many serial rapists that it is highly likely that a rapist will rape both people he knows as well as people he doesn't know. It would be like not checking to see if a gun was used in any other crimes.
posted by srboisvert at 12:50 PM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Which is a very bad decision to make as there are so many serial rapists that it is highly likely that a rapist will rape both people he knows as well as people he doesn't know.

It depends on whether it's a choice of which kit to test or whether to test the kit at all. If you only have the money to test one kit it makes sense to test the kit of the rapist you do not already know the name of since in either case you might have a serial rapist.

But the real answer is to test them all. Divert all the money used to prosecute non violent drug cases into other aspects of policing and I bet you can test every rape kit in existence. Twice. Maybe a hundred times.
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


> "[...] the names of the perpetrators in all 437 outstanding cases are already known to the department. They were the spouses, boyfriends or acquaintances of women who were raped."

Which is a very bad decision to make as there are so many serial rapists that it is highly likely that a rapist will rape both people he knows as well as people he doesn't know. It would be like not checking to see if a gun was used in any other crimes.


Worse than that, sexual assault is more often committed by those who know the victim personally rather than strangers. So the police are either willfully ignorant of a fact practically everyone hears at college orientation, or they're woefully incompetent in protecting and serving their constituents properly.

Either scenario is unforgivable for the amount of trust we as a society place in law enforcement.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 2:26 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I think the argument there is that if the survivor can identify the perpetrator, it may not be necessary to use DNA to identify the perpetrator.
posted by jaguar at 2:43 PM on September 17, 2015


The word of sexual assault survivors is notably undervalued in the criminal justice system.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:44 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I absolutely agree. What I'm saying is that if the survivor says a person raped them, and that person says they had consensual sex, then the rape kit can't really prove much. The kits are most useful when the perpetrator is unknown or denying any sexual contact.
posted by jaguar at 3:48 PM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


But the defense used is "the sex was consensual" not "it wasn't me who had sex with the victim". A positive match on a DNA test has no relevance to a "the sex was consensual" defense which is the rationale behind testing a different kit.
posted by Justinian at 3:49 PM on September 17, 2015


or what jaguar said.
posted by Justinian at 3:49 PM on September 17, 2015


Though even then, as srboisvert pointed out, a rape kit could tie a known perpetrator to a previous rape when they were an unknown perpetrator.
posted by jaguar at 3:49 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can I just remind you all about the 11 victims of serial killer Anthony Sowell here in Cleveland, or the Ariel Castro case? If you aren't a pretty white girl from the suburbs, good fucking luck getting the cops to look for you.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:37 PM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just wanted to mention, after reading the comments, that it seems like many are assuming all these rape kits are from women. It's not just women who can be raped.
posted by Verdandi at 4:47 PM on September 17, 2015


And an entire, very interesting, relevant and informative conversation just stops...
posted by blessedlyndie at 10:25 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is infuriating and I just don't have it in me to read all the links and comments tonight. I am a rape survivor. I was raped by someone who was under indictment for two other rapes at the time he assaulted me. The DA explained to me that the reason that he had never even been arrested was because there were still things to process and they had a lot of demands on the office and that it was very expensive. He said that that I was a "good victim" in his mind (sober, reported it immediately, young and innocent looking) and that they would get right on it. I needed to understand if there were delays because rape cases were really expensive to prosecute and they had an office to run. I asked, "Wouldn't it have been cheaper if you only had to do tests for one rape instead of three?" No response.

The idea that $1,000 is too much money is completely ridiculous. Prosecuting cases is expensive. The money that they spend just to pay a police officer to hang out at various hearings in case they are needed to testify is probably more than that. They say it is too much money because they have their priorities and prosecuting rapists is not one of them.

Thanks for the post. It's heartening to see that some people are getting some justice, delayed as it is.
posted by colt45 at 12:34 AM on September 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


"I just wanted to mention, after reading the comments, that it seems like many are assuming all these rape kits are from women. It's not just women who can be raped."

Although I think I understand the impetus of blessedlyndie's comment and sympathize with it, what Verdandi wrote is true and we should keep it in mind. I always struggle with this a little bit because I feel very strongly about rape culture and patriarchy and object strongly to any attempt at false equivalence and such; but, at the same time, sexual violence committed against adult men -- usually, but not exclusively by other men -- is both something that does happen and is most likely one of the most underreported crimes there are. Even more so than sexual violence against women.

And that comment, in this context, has particular resonance with me because when I worked in rape crisis as a hospital advocate, where I was there to support and advocate for survivors at the hospital as they deal with law enforcement and medical professionals and friends and family, while most of the survivors I met were women, there were a few men and one young man I think about occasionally even now, twenty-five years later. He was a developmentally disabled kid, about nineteen, and he was assaulted by another man in an abandoned building downtown. He didn't really understand the examination, it frightened him, and it was to him too much like another violation. He had been injured. He was very upset and confused and he asked that I hold his hand while the physician did the rape kit. The memory of him gripping my hand is as real to me as if it had happened just yesterday.

As this post points out, especially with stranger rape it is the marginalized and often forgotten people in our society who are targeted by rapists and because they are who they are, it is they who are least likely to be served by our criminal justice system. Some of these survivors are men, and many of them are like that kid. Let's not forget about them.

A couple of things I wanted to note from the post and this discussion -- there are jurisdictional differences about the whole "survivor pressing charges" thing. In jurisdictions where it works that way for these felony sexual assaults, then the police/prosecutor is limited by what the survivor chooses to do. However, not all states are like that -- where I was, it wasn't. Rape was considered a crime against society, not the survivor and the state pressed charges. That's the good news. The bad news is that in practice this doesn't make a lot of difference because you can't successfully prosecute a case without a cooperative victim. If the prosecutor thinks the survivor is uncertain or reluctant, they will often not choose to prosecute. So the end result is mostly the same -- stigma and the fact that so much is stacked against survivors, and they get so many negative signals from authorities and, sadly, often their partners and friends and family, they will choose not to pursue it. This is an understandable choice.

As for the choice about performing a rape kit -- where I lived, back then, this was ultimately the survivor's choice, assuming that she has arrived at the hospital in the first place. It wasn't the choice of law enforcement -- once at the hospital, and assuming the survivor doesn't veto it, it was standard procedure for a physician (who was trained for it) to perform the rape kit.

Also, as the posted article emphasizes, they weren't collecting rape kit evidence for DNA analysis in the early 90s. Even by 1994, forensic DNA was still extraordinary and utilized only for something like a murder where other evidence wasn't sufficient. The rape kits that were being done at that time were collecting evidence of trauma by examination (documenting it), physical evidence of bodily fluids for matching blood factors, and looking for things like the rapist's hair. Such testing in the case of a stranger rape without a clear suspect wouldn't have been thought to be urgent or particularly useful. That's not an excuse, though, because the real problem here is what an earlier comment pointed out: this is rape culture at work, an environment where law enforcement mostly didn't and still doesn't take this very seriously.

Not that I was likely to see the worst law enforcement behavior, but my own experience with LE when I did rape crisis work was fairly positive. Frankly, some of the worst memories I have is of partners, family, and friends of survivors. A lot of the hostile interrogation and victim-blaming that people imagine coming from law enforcement is pretty common from partners, friends, and family. And those are the people from whom it causes the deepest injuries.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:11 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]




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