- Former D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey testifies in front of Senate on the U.S. rape problem (Photo: Associated Press)
UPDATE: 4:20 p.m.
Now Specter is asking Dempsey what "Feminist Legal Theory" means. Dempsey invites him to her class. "I'm an unusual bird, because I'm both a feminist activist and a former prosecutor, and I'm married to a police officer," Dempsey says later. She says that these different groups (advocates, police officers, prosecutors) "need a context in which they can sit down together and talk."
Specter wraps up the hearing. He says the subject of the hearing is of "extreme importance," and that the 5 minutes allocated to each speaker was "insufficient." He promises to get the FBI to change its definitions and its crime surveys. "I think the director will respond," Specter says. He mentions prison rape briefly (holla, Just Detention!) He calls for further investigation into "what's going on in jails today."
UPDATE: 4:15 p.m.
Arlen Specter, chairing the hearing, is currently being kind of a jerk to Eleanor Smeal. You're interrupting!
UPDATE: 4:10 p.m.
Comments from Michelle Madden Dempsey, Villanova University Associate Professor of Law
Prof. Dempsey urges the committee to see the failure of our criminal justice system to investigate rapes as a "broader failure of our culture as a whole in addressing rape."
On police mis-classifying rape as "non-crimes," she agrees with other panelists that the UCR needs to be changed. She calls it "archaic, old-fashioned" and "insulting." She adds that the UCR handbook only includes illustrations of "stranger rapes" and "gang rape"; it does not include any example of acquaintance rape. She says it needs to be "re-written for this century."
Dempsey reveals an even more stunning failure of the UCR: Police can only classify a case under three categories. The first is "Unfounded," which means that by definition, no crime has occured; the second is "Cleared by arrest," which means that a suspect has been arrested and it's been forwarded for prosectuon"; the third is that it's been "Cleared by exceptional means," which is only applicable in circumstances which preclude prosecution—like if the suspect can't be extradited, or if the suspect has died.
The three categories leave no wiggle room for a police department to report a crime that has in fact occurred, but which has not resulted in an arrest.
UPDATE: 4 p.m.
Comments from Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority Foundation
"Most undetected rapists are serial rapists," Smeal says. This is why "rape kits are so important," she adds—they help create those links between rapists who have previously been undetected and "will rape again."
Smeal gives a run-down of the reforms that need to be enacted to help rape victim. We "need to recruit more women in policing . . . in fact, there is a culture in the police departments that much be changed toward women. I've worked on this program for four decades . . . women are still only 12 percent of police departments overall."
The Violence Against Women Office needs increased funding.
Recommendations for the Uniform Crime Reports: They omit rapes facilitated by drugs and alcohol. They omit rapes where the victim is unconscious. They don't include rapes of men, or homosexual rapes. Smeal calls it "almost absurd what it's omitting"
The National Crime Victimization Survey doesn't include "children under the age of 12," a group that makes up almost 25 percent of rape victims.
"Unfounding" of rape reports makes serial rapists harder to prosecute. When a police department marks a case as "unfounded," it "actually compounds the problem" when a suspect rapes again.
UPDATE 3:55 p.m.
Comments from Scott Berkowitz, President & Founder of the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network
Berkowitz says that in the "U.S. today, rape is a crime without consequence, except for the victim."
On reporting: More victims may not be reporting their rapes, but the reasoning has changed over the past few decades. "A generation ago," the reasons were things like, "fear of not being believed; fear of being interrogated about and blamed for their own behavior, and what they were wearing. In short, they feared that they would be the one on trial."
Today, "the perception of many victims has evolved." Now they don't report for these reasons: "they don't want their loved ones to know what happened; they're ashamed themselves; they just want to put it all behind them." Today, "fear and shame of how the police wil treat them" has moved down on the list of reasons victims provide for not officially reporting the crime.
As much as we need to educate police to take reports seriously, Berkowitz says, we also must "educate victims on the importance of reporting."
Another Berkowitz tidbit: Victims of acquaintance rapes often assume that DNA doesn't matter, unless it's a stranger who assaulted them. So, they may not think it's necessary to receive a rape kit. But according to prosecutors, juries expect it. It helps to corroborate a victim's story. And DNA can also be used to identify patterns of serial rapists, even serial acquaintance rapists.
UPDATE: 3:50 p.m.
Comments from Dr. Dean G. Kilpatrick, Director of the National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center.
Kilpatrick sarts his testimony, on stats: "Statistics are important because it provides policy makers with information on whether things are changing, whether it's getting better or worse, and where the problems lie, so we can document what needs to be done."
Kilpatrick laments the lack of progress in the Uniform Crime Reports' definition of rapes; then, he launches into his own work. Two victimization studies, taken 15 years apart. The prevalence of rape, "to make a long story very short," has not decreased over the past 15 years. The number of adult women who will become victims of forcible rape has actually increased 25 percent. Wow.
Kilpatrick adds that he's seen no increase in the number of rape cases that are reported to police. In the past 15 years, no improvement on this front. Wow.
"The concerns of the women who have been raped are the same now as they were 15 years ago," Kilpatrick says of social factors discouraging victims from reporting. "There's been no improvement on that."
UPDATE: 3:45 p.m.
Just Detention International asks, via Twitter, whether the hearing today will touch on reporting of sexual assault within the prison system. So far, no word on that.
UPDATE: 3:40 p.m.
Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey talks about the importance of an internal auditing system to ensure cases are investigative to the fullest extent: Once a year, "3 to 400 cases are chosen at random: they're gone over, especially if they're unclear or unfounded, if there are investigative leads that aren't completed. We go out and finish the investigation." He continues: "Our job is to take the report. Whatever you may feel about the victim, take the report. Let the investigation figure it out."
UPDATE: 3:25 p.m.
Julie Weil of Jupiter, Fla. was picking her children up at day care when a stranger carjacked her car. He bashed her over the head, took the wheel, held a knife to her, and asked Weil if she believed in God. She said she did. "Good, then you're going to forgive me for what I'm going to you and your children," he told her.
He drove her and her two children to a remote area of the Everglades and raped her four times in front of her two children. He drove them back to the day care center, forced Weil to wipe down the crime scene with her underwear, held a knife to her neck, then casually walked away.
Weil was at first reluctant to report the attack to the police. She was afraid he would retaliate against her or her family. But she did call, and with the help of a rape advocacy organization, local detectives and prosecutors, she underwent a rape kit and began an investigation into the assault. They found nothing—no fingerprints, no DNA—but then, a little speck of DNA turned up. They picked up Weil's rapist beating up his pregnant girlfriend in a parking lot.
Weil presents her testimony today as a to the victim's advocates, police, prosecutors, medical personnel, and judges who helped sentence the man to seven consecutive life sentences. "The justice system can work when victims have the support we need," Weil says. "Seven years ago I was lying on the floor of my van," Weil told the committee. "I never thought I'd be speaking to you as a survivor/activist."
UPDATE: 3:20 p.m.
Next up is Sara Reedy of Butler, Pa. At 10:40 p.m. one night, she was working at a golf shop, alone. A man came to the counter, pulled a gun out, and pointed it at her. He came to the register. He removed the cash. He held the gun to her head and demanded oral sex, saying, "If you don't swallow I'll shoot you."
After he left, she went next door to another shop and reported the crime. She stayed in the shop, met police, and told her story to the cops. She was taken to an interrogation room, where she told her story again. The detective assigned to the case asked her "how many times a day do you use heroine?" He accused her of stealing the money herself, and told her that everything would go a lot easier if she just confessed.
Reedy came back the next day to give a written statement. The detective continued to accuse her of stealing and lying. She said she "wanted it to all be over," but she didn't confess.
Two months later, another woman was assaulted under the exact same circumstances as Reedy. The detective did not realize that the circumstances were so similar, or did not care. He went to her house to attempt to get her to change her statement and confess to the theft. Reedy was later charged with the crime. She turned herself in, and she was jailed.
Over a year later, the serial rapist was arrested and admitted to assaulting Reedy. The charges against Reedy were dropped.
UPDATE: 3:15 p.m.
Comments from Philly Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Ramsey came to Philly from D.C., where he served as the District's police chief from 1998 to 2006. He thanks the Philadelphia Enquirer for its reports on the "comprehensive and systemic failure" of rape response within the Philadelphia police (before Ramsey arrived, of course).
He talks about Philly's strengths: A reliable director for the city's Special Victims Unit; a well-staffed unit with officers trained in sexual assault issues; constant communication of other units with the SVU; "compassion"; "transparency." He "urges others to focus on this aspect" of Philly's approach: "Don't do it alone." Foster partnerships with the community, medical and mental health providers, prosecutors, and victim advocacy organizations.
UPDATE: 3:10 p.m.
Comments from Carol E. Tracy of the Women's Law Project
Tracy gives a brief run-down on how bad the picture is: Patrol officers refusing to respond to a rape call; threats of lie detector tests for victims; the extremely unreliable statistics in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports; the "exceedingly narrow" definition of rape in the UCR, which erases some victims based on gender or mode of penetration; lack of police response to rape report turns to a murder case after the victim is later killed.
At the end of her statement she thanks the press for reporting on these issues. YOU'RE WELCOME.
UPDATE: 3:05 p.m.
Carbon is asked about rural jurisdictions. She says that many are a "desperate state of affairs," but that her office funds programs in rural areas, including the "Rural Sexual Assault Program." She notes Vermont's dedicated sexual assault unit, and suggests that rural areas adopt specialized police units as well as campus-based programs.
On rape at the high school and college level: "Assault is happening at earlier and earlier ages," she says. "When the first Violence Against Women Act was passed, we didn't even conceive of teen sexual assault."
Combating that: thatsnotcool.com, an online campaign to educate teens about assault. But do kids these days think "That's not cool" is cool?
UPDATE: 3 p.m.
Sen. Al Franken asks Carbon about rape kits. He's wondering about the problem of victims having to pay for their own kits (hello, Sarah Palin). He mentions a potential complication: If rape kits appear on insurance forms, family members may learn of the assault without the patient's consent.
Carbon says victims should never have to pay for the procedure, and she says we must look for better ways to protect a victim's privacy.
Franken counters that there is sometimes confusion over who should pay—police departments or insurance companies.He tells a story of a woman who was denied insurance coverage of her kit, as her company told her the police should have paid. Carbon says she'll look into it.
UPDATE: 2:55 p.m.
Carbon is asked if there's any intel on whether "certain jurisdictions are dismissing out of hand" cases, in the wake of Baltimore's case.
"There is research to suggest that the number of truly unfounded cases is between" 2 and 7 percent, Carbon says. She suggests two proposed rules for police departments to make sure all are being investigated. Number one: "Document that there's a report of every incident, instead of just closing a case and not documenting anything." Number two: Have supervisor "review the report to see if there is any evidence to continue forward."
UPDATE: 2:50 p.m.
Subcommittee member notes that the "number of rape cases has gone up dramatically in Baltimore" since the Baltimore Sun revealed the under-investigation of rape cases. Not because more rapes are being perpetrated---because reports are being taken seriously.
UPDATE: 2:45 p.m.
Comments from The Honorable Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office of Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice:
Carbon begins with the difficulty of meeting "the needs of an incredibly diverse population of victims": girls and boys "molested by family members," college students who are "date raped," and "elderly people attacked in their homes." Also diverse: The resources at the victims' hands. Carbon testifies that police departments some cities have "highly trained coordinated teams of primary and secondary responders," while others subject victims to "humiliating" treatment or leave rape kits for "months, even years without being analyzed." Some places have "no services."
Carbon attributes the under-reporting of rape to a "reluctance to talk about it." U.S. society "is uncomfortable talking about incist, or thinking that our grandmothers could be raped." She lists myths that contribute to the silence: The idea that "real rape" is committed "only by strangers in dark alleys," when in reality, most victims "know their attackers, no weapons are used, and alcohol and drugs are frequently involved." She calls on the U.S. to "move the national conscience through meaningful dialogue."
Carbon cites statistics: 18 percent of women will report being raped in their lifetimes. The rate is higher among Native American women. And the "majority of rapes and sexual assaults between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to law enforcement." Carbon attributes the final stat to a "fear of not being believed, lack of trust in criminal justice system, fear of embarrassment, self-blame, and guilt."
"We cannot simply focus on one element of the criminal justice system," Carbon says. "Instead we must examine what about our system it is that keeps women from reporting these crimes." She calls for training of SANE nurses, tribal communities, advocates, prosecutors, judges, and police officers.
When asked why women are afraid to report in many aspects, she says we "condone violence." She tells a story from the Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison, where a student "accused a man of raping her, and the judge accused the woman of 'inviting' the rape because at that time she was wearing a short skirt." The judge was recalled by the Wisconsin electorate. "That story has resonated with me ever since . . . we tend to look at victims and hold them responsible. Did they walk somewhere they shouldn't have walked. Did they have a drink at the bar. Did they go home with someone they shouldn't have gone home with. We don't look at what the perpetrator did."
In July, the Baltimore Sun reported that the city's police force regularly refused to take police reports of reported rapes, then dismissed more than 3-in-10 of recorded rape reports as "unfounded." D.C. police sparked a law suit for refusing to authorize a rape kit to a woman who reported being drugged and assaulted. Today, a subcomittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled "Rape in the United States: The chronic failure to report and investigate rape cases." Former D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey, RAINN founder Scott Berkowitz, and Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal are scheduled to speak. I'll be live-blogging the hearing here.