Beyond the Backlog
A recent investigation by The Plain Dealer into almost 90 police reports made in Cleveland Heights reveals that officials have incorrectly categorized and chronically misinformed the public of the number of sex crimes reported in the city.
The Plain Dealer reports that, “at least a third of reported sex offenses, including many involving children, have been classified by the police department as non-crimes with labels such as ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘departmental information.’”
The investigation began after police reported that a total of 26 sexual assaults were reported in the city over a three year period. Reporters questioned the statistics and eventually, the city produced 88 cases that had been reported in the years between 2008 and 2010. Many of the cases has been classified as unfounded, closed without changes or not labeled as rape or sexual offenses.
The Plain Dealer also found that the city under-reported the number of “forcible rapes” to the FBI as well. Though the FBI’s definition is currently more narrow than the state law’s definition of sexual assault, almost two dozen cases should have been counted. Only three were reported from 2008 to 2010.
After a decades-long campaign by women’s rights advocates, the FBI recently announced that it would revise the definition of rape in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Written more than 80 years ago, the current definition is problematic for several reasons.
The only type of sexual assault on which the UCR currently collects data is “forcible rape,” defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That definition excludes a number of crimes, including rapes where the victim was drugged or under the influence of alcohol, and all male victims of sexual assault.
Given the definition’s exceedingly narrow scope, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in yearly federal reports that are used to track crime rates in the United States. This under-reporting misleads the public about the prevalence of rape and results in fewer resources for both preventing future sexual violence and supporting survivors.
In mid-September, members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), including representatives of police agencies from various cities, met with FBI officials and survivors’ advocates to discuss making the definition more inclusive. The proposed change must now go through an FBI working group later this month and an FBI advisory group in December.
Campaigning by advocates More >
Last month we posted about the Cleveland Heights Police Department that failed to test a survivor’s rape kit from 2009. The evidence contained in her rape kit linked to Anthony Sowell, who is currently standing trial for the murder of 11 women in Ohio.
This recent case shines light on the rape kit backlog in Ohio and on the way law enforcement responds to sexual violence. From an article in The Plain Dealer:
Cleveland Heights police say they did not test sexual assault evidence that could have connected another woman’s rape to serial-killings suspect Anthony Sowell in 2009 because they didn’t know they had the evidence. … City officials said they discovered the rape kit among other stored evidence almost two years later when Cleveland police asked for it as a part of their investigation of Sowell [for other charges].
The Plain Dealer reported that the police department sent urine and blood samples to the lab along with the victim’s clothing, but did not submit the actual rape kit, which contained the DNA evidence from the perpetrator.
Only two states–Illinois and now Texas–and some cities–notably New York City and San Francisco–have implemented protocols that mandate that all rape kits are tested in a timely manner, so errors and negligence like More >
Today we have a guest post from Rebecca Carman, LCSW, a social worker with the Elmhurst Hospital Center SAFE program in New York City. Identifying a need to compile and share the best practices for responding to sexual assault victims in the hospital, she created The SAFE Coordinator’s Handbook in 2010. The handbook has been used by professionals across the country and internationally to better respond to victims of sexual violence. Today, the author shares the impetus behind the handbook and what went into making it happen.
I came to work at Elmhurst Hospital Center as Coordinator of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Program in 2004. As you may know, these Emergency Department-based programs ensure state-of-the art care for victims of sexual assault.
My role was to coordinate the 24-hour SAFE on-call team, take care of basic program administration and serve as in-house consultant. Gaining momentum nationwide for the past decade or so, SAFE programs—also known as SANE or SAE programs–are a welcome advance: they ensure sensitive and expert care to victims of sexual assault, reduce waiting times and strive for restoration of safety and control to patients.
Elmhurst Hospital, my then-new place of employment, is one of the eleven facilities comprising the New More >
Many of us are aware of the personal costs of sexual violence. We may have seen friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues navigate their lives in the in the aftermath of sexual assault or abuse. Maybe a roommate had a lock put on her bedroom door in order to manage her fear, a co-worker may have become distracted at work and seemed depressed after a “bad date” or someone in our own family may stop attending family events to avoid his perpetrator. People that experience this type of abuse suffer in varied and disparate ways, but there is a commonality in that harm is done and the personal costs are steep.
A new document produced and distributed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence outlines some other costs of sexual violence. The document addresses the economic, health care and systems costs associated with sexual violence. It notes that:
- Each rape costs approximately $151,423;
- In 2008, violence and abuse constituted up to 37.5% of all health care costs, or up to $750 billion total;
- Rape is the most costly of all crimes to its victims, with total estimated costs at $127 billion a year (excluding the cost of child sexual abuse);
- Sexual abuse interferes with women’s More >