It should be no surprise to anyone that rape is, shall we say, a controversial crime. It shouldn’t be, but in the world we live in, it is. Women are often blamed for their own sexual assault and men are excused because they apparently lack any kind of self control. We know this. We also know that, according to the anti-sexual assault organization RAINN, the Justice Department estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported.
It’s hard to blame anyone for not reporting a rape. Not withstanding the social abuse reporting entails, only three percent of rapists spend any time behind bars. It certainly doesn’t help that, when a woman does report a sexual assault, the DNA evidence often sits untested for years. According to numbers from the Justice Department, there are an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits in cities across the country. The crisis has become so bad that there was a bipartisan effort in Congress to allocate $41 million for testing rape kits (an effort which was, unfortunately, stalled in the Senate of all places because of other issues.)
There’s another layer to this that makes the whole situation even more problematic. Testing rape kits takes a lot of time and money, and law enforcement has a lot of flexibility to decide which kits get tested and which ones don’t get priority. According to The Economist:
Most law-enforcement bodies have discretion over what they test, and many shelve kits if a victim seems untrustworthy or a suspect has already been identified, according to the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the Department of Justice. Police also give priority to cases in which the suspect is a stranger and the victim is visibly injured. Yet perhaps eight in ten rapes take place between people who at least vaguely know each other, and most lack signs of violence. Acquaintance rapists are often chronic offenders, says David Lisak, a clinical psychologist.
There is a myth in our culture of the good rape victim. A good rape victim is attacked by a deranged stranger. A good rape victim screams “no” at the top of their lungs. A good rape victim viciously fights off their attacker.
This, however, is not how most rapes go down. The vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. And there are a variety of reasons a rape victim might not fight back. Remember that rape is sex without consent. A rape victim might be too drunk to consent, or passed out. He or she might fear for their lives and might be afraid that fighting back will escalate the violence. Where consent is not obtained, a rape occurs.
I understand the latitude given law enforcement. You want to get the perp and you definitely want to be sure to prosecute those types of open and shut cases, especially when money and time are in finite supply. But really what they’re doing is prioritizing “classic” rape cases — stranger rape, violent rape — over the vast majority of cases, which means that the vast majority of victims are being left without justice.
Make no mistake, testing each rape kit is essential. As Detroit moves through it’s backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits, 100 serial rapists have been identified in the first 1,600 kits they tested. Think of how many rapes could have been avoided if we just took sexual assault seriously to begin with and stopped giving preferential treatment to only a certain type of rape.
Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Flickr