Why rape-kit backlogs are a significant issue and what to do about it.
Last week I was watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and was captivated. I saw the series before but watching this particular episode hit me. I saw the agony of the lady who was a victim and how the justice system failed her.
There was an injustice on so many levels for this woman, not only was she violated in the worst possible way, but to re-live the experience over and over again by retelling the cops, then the lawyers in the trail. Then having society and others question whether she was lying or not. To make matters worse, the perpetrator got away, only to harm again. What a fucked up situation.
As the show finished, I went to wash dishes and started to wonder how accurate the events of the show are. I always heard that they take events or situations from real life, but I thought since this is a television production, they fabricate much of it to make the series electrifying. So I did some research, and I was shocked. I could not believe how pervasive the behavior of rape is.
What is Rape?
According to dictionary.com, Rape is unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body parts, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.
I was utterly ignorant of how bad of a situation this is for society and the world in general. I came across some stats that blew my mind.
For instance according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
The low estimate of the number of women, according to the Department of Justice, raped every year: 300,000.
The high estimate of the number of women raped, according to the CDC: 1.3 million.
Percentage of rapes not reported: 54 percent.
Percentage of rapists who are never incarcerated: 97 percent
Pentagon’s estimated percentage of military assaults not reported: 80–90 percent
1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
(And these are just off male to female. I haven't even included pedophilia or men being raped)
The stats are alarming!
I started to realize that rape is prevalent because we live in a world that is saturated by rape culture.
What is rape culture?
Rape culture is a culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and even eroticizing male violence against women and blaming victims for their abuse. [This definition according to Lynn Phillips, a Lecturer with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Communication Department.]
Why is rape culture prevalent?
It is prevalent due to the male-dominated society in which women are seen as conquests. This thought is not a recent phenomenon.
The act of rape was used as a weapon of war throughout history. During battles, rape and sexual abuse were used as a deliberate military strategy to decimate and humiliate one’s enemies.
For centuries there has been a war cry stating; “To the victor go the spoils.” There is a famous scene from the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; in which he quips when asked, “What is best in life?” his reply was “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!”
Unfortunately, women were identified as part of the spoils of war, thereby facing the tragic consequences of an invasion.
Women are integral to every society. Since they are the reproducers and general “backbone” of a family, if a group wanted to control another they would do it by impregnating the women of the other community. This act alone would cause psychological damage that would be irreparable.
Survivors face psychological and emotional damage plus potential physical injuries such as vaginal fistula, social ostracism, potential to catch sexually transmitted diseases and many other consequences that can devastate their lives.
The sexual abuse will shape not just her own but her community’s future for years to come. Thereby wreaking havoc of the fabric of that society at its core
Examples throughout history:
-The mass rapes of Africans during enslavement in America for centuries
-The Greek and Roman armies engaging in war rape since the times of Homer,
-The Vikings from the late 8th century to the early 11th century who have acquired a reputation for “rape and pillage.”
-The Mongols, who caused much destruction during their invasions
-During the Bosnian War, Bosnian Serb forces conducted a sexual abuse strategy against thousands of Bosnian Muslim girls and women
Boko Haram militants ransacked a school in northeast Nigeria. Abducting 276 schoolgirls who were preparing for examinations.
There are thousands of examples to produce yet too little paper to write it on.
Bringing it to today’s societies there seems to be no fear of consequences for rape what so ever.
According to criminal Justice statistics, The Vast Majority of Perpetrators Will Not Go to Jail or Prison! Let that sink in.
Why is this happening? Why are so many perpetrators getting away?
(picture above: backlog of rape kits)
There are many different reasons but one, in particular, struck me was the inconsistency of testing the rape kits.
In North America, there is a severe case of backlogged rape kits. Some districts make mandatory testing of rape kits others do not.
I saw two news reports that were infuriating.
They happened years prior. One was from an of a lady from Houston, the victim of a 2011 sexual assault in Houston, Texas who was suing the City of Houston and a long list of government officials for failing to investigate a backlog of more than 6,000 untested rape kits.
And another one 2009 in Detroit, Michigan, where sometime after her rape she discovered there were was 11,341 unopened, untested rape kits in a Detroit storage department.
Thousands upon thousands of brutal crimes, cast away to some storage locker, reduced to a collection of barcodes and untested kits. Cases that remain uninvestigated, leaving sexual offenders to stay free to strike again with impunity.
How can you get justice if there is negligence on the part of law Enforcement in doing a crucial part of their job? These were just two areas now multiply that by cities all over from state to state, province to province and you have an “epidemic.” Rapists get a new chance to rape again every day.
According to the Houston Chronicle — the victim of the 2011 sexual assault in Houston claims in a federal civil rights lawsuit this week that her perpetrator could have been apprehended and prosecuted for previous crimes if officials had kept on top of the massive backlog of DNA samples in the city’s possession.
What is a Rape Kit?
A Rape kit is a set of swabs, slides, envelopes, instructions, and forms specifically designed to collect and preserve physical evidence like DNA evidence (blood, semen, and saliva, is obtained from the victim’s body).
Other physical evidence, including fingernail scrapings, hairs clothing fibers, undergarments and anything particularly useful that can aid the sexual assault investigation.
Urine may be collected for testing if there is a suspicion of the victim being drugged. Also, the victim’s account of the assault will be documented, and Photographs of any injuries will be taken for the record. This is all done with hopes of creating a database to help catch the perpetrator.
The evidence is collected by Forensic Nurse Examiners and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. These examiners are healthcare providers who have been trained in the identification, collection, and documentation of forensic evidence that might depend on a victim. Also, they testify in court if needed.
Unfortunately, many kits never make it to a crime lab for testing and languish on shelves in storage facilities collecting dust. Thereby stacking up as new kits come and now make up a backlog. Hence, the term crisis.
Why the backlog exists?
The number one reason is due to costs. A Lot of departments have a lack of resources due to underfunding. The average kits cost between $400 — $1700 depending on the amount of biological evidence needed to be tested. The more items that need to be checked, such as multiple items of clothing other garments, sheets, etc., the more expensive the testing becomes.
Furthermore keeping up to date equipment with the capability to handle all the evidence becomes daunting. With DNA used in many other aspects of solving crimes, it becomes a matter of priority for these departments.
Also, issues with human resources. Sex crimes units are understaffed and if you don’t have enough detectives and other staff available things fall in the shuffle. Turnaround times for some of these kits to last month’s, even years. While at the same time more rapes keep happening.
This disorganization combined with a bias against sexual assault victims and gaps in knowledge about rape patterns plus the providing officer’s discretion to go forward with the case due to perceived believability makes this a crisis of epic proportions.
In my opinion, the backlog of untested rape kits represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously. By not funding the departments more and not prioritizing the testing of rape kits they fail to protect survivors and hold offenders accountable.
(back log of rape kits)
Effects of the rape victims.
After learning more about the statistics of sexual assault I have realized that that Law and Order case was pretty much correct. Maybe not literal, but right in the sense of how things tend to happen.
The long-term Effects on victims of sexual violence are a high likelihood of depression. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network — the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization)
● 94% of women who have been raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape.
● 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
● 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
● Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
I started realizing why some victims don’t report the crime and that it was alarming as well.
Why women don’t report?
A lot of the influential men are offenders or accused offenders and still get away despite being charged. They will lawyer up, and the victims get dragged through the court of public opinion.
Take a look at media today, and you see current examples of influential people “getting away” despite mounting victims and proof:
- Movie Studio head, Harvey Weinstein who has a considerable track record of sexual assaults and sexual harassment from leading Hollywood starlets yet no charges laid.
- Bill O’Reilly signed a 32 million dollar contract extension amidst the allegations.
- Roger Ailes, former CEO of Fox news, continued for years with his sexual harassment of women yet nothing came about until later on.
- R. Kelly has numerous occasions of assaults and sex with a minor, latest allegation is him running a cult of women trained for his sexual pleasures.
- Bill Cosby with his Quaaludes, drugging women since the 70’s.
- Donald Trump’s’ past accusations of sexual assaults and live videotape of him bragging To Billy Bush, with a hot mike on, Access Hollywood saying he can do anything to women because he is a star….Even grab em by the pussy, yet still becoming president.
The list goes on and on. It takes forever for justice to happen.
It is no wonder women are reluctant to report. Apparently, there is evidence that things might not change.
Here are six reasons why women are afraid to report
1- Fearing retaliation. Intimidation from the public is tremendously high in cases where it becomes a famous case. Some victims get death threats and get bullied, so they tend to stay in the shadows, or give up altogether and try to forget the events.
2- Women don’t get believed often enough. In the case of Bill Cosby, it was at least 35 women that came forth before any were believed.
3- Victim blaming beliefs. These victim-blaming views are all too prevalent in our society, and it affects how cases are handled. If a member of law enforcement disbelieves victims of sexual assault right off the bat, then nothing goes forward. The women somehow get blamed for the crime. For instance, you hear the numerous times when a victim is asked: “What were you wearing?” As if that would have stopped the pervert from his agenda.
There was a recent case of a Canadian Judge who asked a rape victim “Why couldn’t you keep your knees together?”, fortunately the judge has since resigned.
4- Believed the police would not do anything to help. In Addition, to the victim-blaming, some women believe the biases they get from the presiding officer leads to them not taking their tragedy seriously. Many survivors disengage from the criminal justice process after completing their first interview due to inadequate treatment from law enforcement.
5- Did not, want to get the perpetrator in trouble. Believe it or not this is a case of many women who know their rapist and somehow end up protecting them. Example being a family member or friends or authority figure of some sort (coach, teacher, etc.)
6- Stigma — No one wants to be labeled. Especially in these heinous acts, it’s not uncommon for women to be marked as damaged goods. Some people are quick to turn away from some people they see as victims.
(Above Picture from Yana Mazurkevich from “It Happens” sexual assault series)
So where do you begin to try to solve the issue?
Men with voracious sexual appetites are not going anywhere, anytime soon. However, we are in the age of social media and the internet. The same devices that can exacerbate the issues by promoting the macho chauvinist or the famous womanizer can also remedy them. With cases brought to light more often. More awareness is being established. The education is out there, and people do want to do things about it.
We see examples of CNN or TMZ breaking the news of these Powerful people who are brought to light detailing the extent of the issues. Shows like Law and Order are also essential.
Movements like #Metoo and various other organizations like RAINN, The Joyful Heart Foundation, the Fistula Foundation, etc. are bringing about social awareness for change. Possibly enough changes to make sure more perpetrators are caught.
As Far as rape culture goes, Advertisers and marketers dictate that “sex sells” everything. With this said we will still see ads that objectify women just to push dollars out of our pockets.
There is no easy solution as for right this second somewhere on earth a female will still be objectified or assaulted. However, we can modify the violent behavior associated with it, to not encourage rape culture as the norm.
-Men have to believe women. Not to take away women as the focal point, but the men need to say something and speak out more forcefully. They need to believe the women as they say they were raped. Support women and believe women when they tell their truths. So it doesn’t take several women to say the same pattern of events from their assaults.
(pic by @samanthasophia)
-Persecute the ones who lay proven false claims. Unfortunately, there are cases of mistaken allegations, but those are the minority. The majority are true. In part of victim blaming a lot of people will deny anything took place. Sadly people will see one false claim and place the broad brush against all other women immediately thinking there is a falsehood. So to prevent actual false allegation claims from sprouting there should be severe penalty such as jail time and massive fines on the false accuser.
-Teach your sons no means no. As men, we grow up in the boy’s culture. We look at a woman and make comments. Just like the boys club banter. When it becomes a predatory-like behavior that it is an issue. Teaching our boys to respect the females will be helpful because you can influence the whole generation to be respectful to women. Yes an overly simple statement, I know. However little things can go a long way.
In my household, we always teach our son to be independent. When something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If your friends are doing something or a gross game of inappropriate touching, do not get involved. We have been saying that since he was 6 and now he is 9. Had to start it young eventually he will grow into a respectful young man.
-Educate yourself about these situations.
It took an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for me to want to be educated more. However way it reaches you get more informed about this issue.
Many years ago I seen the movie “City of God” where the character Lil Ze’ raped this girl he was pursuing.
That scene left me agitated, and til this day as great of a movie that is, I cannot watch it because it was so fucked up. So if I feel little uncomfortable watching movies that have rape scenes, imagine an actual rape victims ordeal.
There are a vast amount of resources available and organizations available that are dedicated to helping victims of sexual abuse. Get to know of one and help out, they need all the help they can get.
-Demand an end to the backlog.
(photo from Joyful Heart Foundation)
Some places areas it is mandatory to process out the backlogs. However it is not the case due to the costs associated. The average kit costs $400 — $1700. These should be looked as an investment in safety. The more kits you process successfully, the more chance you have of catching repeat offenders. Donate cash to aid in getting these kits tested — this could prevent other rapes from happening. Phone or Write letters to your local politician or police chief and demand the end of these backlogs.
Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization whose goal is to transform the societal response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, and to support survivors
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Law and Order SVU
(please watch this series) My wife and I watch it with our kids and it has become tremendous learning tool dealing with the topic of sexual abuse.
Hope this article was informative and helpful to you.