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The Atlantic: Police Fail To Catch Sexual Predators Because They Don't Believe Victims

In this Feb. 8, 2017, photo, Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault evidence collection kit following a committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
In this Feb. 8, 2017, photo, Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault evidence collection kit following a committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Editor’s Note: This segment discusses sexual assault and rape, and contains audio that some listeners may find disturbing or offensive.

With Meghna Chakrabarti

A major investigation by The Atlantic finds that the police are still skeptical of women who report a rape. The reporter says a “subterranean river of chauvinism” is to blame.


Barbara Hagerty, contributing editor to The Atlantic. (@barbarabradleyh)

Rick Bell, special investigations chief for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office. Member of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force.

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The Atlantic: “An Epidemic of Disbelief” — “But the rape-kit scandal has turned out to be only a visible symptom, a mole on the skin that hints at a pervasive cancer just below the surface. The deeper problem is a criminal-justice system in which police officers continue to reflexively disbelieve women who say they’ve been raped—even in this age of the #MeToo movement, and even when DNA testing can confirm many allegations. From the moment a woman calls 911 (and it is almost always a woman; male victims rarely report sexual assaults), a rape allegation becomes, at every stage, more likely to slide into an investigatory crevice. Police may try to discourage the victim from filing a report. If she insists on pursuing a case, it may not be assigned to a detective. If her case is assigned to a detective, it will likely close with little investigation and no arrest. If an arrest is made, the prosecutor may decline to bring charges: no trial, no conviction, no punishment.

“Each year, roughly 125,000 rapes are reported across the United States. Sometimes the decision to close a case is surely correct; no one wants to smear an innocent man’s reputation or curtail his freedom because of a false report. But in 49 out of every 50 rape cases, the alleged assailant goes free—often, we now know, to assault again. Which means that rape—more than murder, more than robbery or assault—is by far the easiest violent crime to get away with.

“‘Right there,’ Liz Garcia says, pointing to a second-floor window of a modest white house in Cleveland. ‘That’s the window of the bedroom that I was raped in.’ March 23, 2004, she recalls, was a bright, crisp day. With her twin girls in school and her paramedic training almost complete, she decided it was just the day to wash her Ford Explorer. She ran upstairs to the bathroom for a towel. Looking in the mirror, she saw the door swing open behind her. She turned and saw black shoes. Her gaze traveled upward: black pants, black gloves, black jacket, black ski mask.

“Over the next two hours, the man dragged Garcia from room to room. She thought of running or jumping out a window, but he was bigger, muscular; he seemed to anticipate her moves. He raped her three times. He was prepared and meticulous. He wore gloves and a condom. He spread a towel on Garcia’s bed, and took it with him when he left. “He had shaved his legs and chest”—she could feel the stubble—’so he wouldn’t leave hair behind. He knew what he was doing.’ He ordered her to wash out her mouth, and made her shower as he watched. Before leaving, he told her to count to 500.”

Cleveland.com: “Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force nears indictment in 800th victim’s case: By the numbers” — “Cuyahoga County’s Sexual Assault Task Force is close to an indictment in an 800th victim’s case.

“‘We will continue to diligently work through the backlog to bring justice for every sexual assault victim,’ Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said.

“The task force has opened cases connected to 7,001 rape kits.

“When the task force was initially formed, it raced to get decades old cases indicted before the statute of limitations for prosecution expired, Rick Bell, chief of special investigations said.

“It then turned its attention to identifying and investigating possible serial rape cases and cases that happened in recent years, especially if the suspect was in the community and not in prison.”

New York Times: “These Rape Victims Had to Sue to Get the Police to Investigate” — “Evidence so neglected it grew mold. Calls to the authorities for help that went unanswered. Witnesses and victims who were never interviewed. These are just a handful of the claims that sexual assault survivors are making against law enforcement in courts around the country.

“In at least seven places in recent years — Austin; San Francisco; Memphis; Houston; Baltimore; Greenwich, Conn.; and the Village of Robbins, Ill. — women have filed lawsuits in an attempt to force the police and prosecutors to improve their practices.

“The unconnected lawsuits are adding a set of novel legal arguments to the search for solutions in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which exposed failures to recognize and pursue sex offenders. The lawsuits argue that sexual assault victims do not receive equal treatment compared with victims of other violent crimes, and that failure to test physical evidence collected from their bodies amounts to unreasonable search and seizure.

“Women have long feared skepticism when they reported being attacked by someone they know, and advocates have gone to great lengths to educate the public and law enforcement about the prevalence of what has been called date rape or acquaintance rape. But in these lawsuits, a striking number of plaintiffs say they faced disbelief or indifference when they reported being attacked — kidnapped, choked, drugged, and even submerged in water — by complete strangers.”

Vox: “Thousands of rape kits are currently untested. Kamala Harris has a plan to change that.” — “The current backlog in rape kits underscores a devastating gap in the criminal justice system: In the last decade, hundreds of thousands of rape kits — which include physical and DNA evidence gathered from rape victims — have gone untested because law enforcement agencies around the country are not prioritizing their testing or do not have the resources to do so.

“The latest policy proposal from presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) attempts to address the backlog by allocating $1 billion in funding to help states tackle it.

“The testing of these kits has been crucial to identifying perpetrators: When effectively conducted, they can help demonstrate an individual’s culpability in sex crimes. A recent effort to analyze thousands of untested rape kits, spearheaded by Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance, has resulted in the reopening of cold cases and the convictions of 64 attackers.

“Covering the costs of testing can be difficult for some local governments, however. According to the advocacy group, End the Backlog, it costs roughly $1,000 to $1,500 to test a rape kit.”

Grace Tatter produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.