Barb Bradley Hagerty spent almost a year researching why it’s so easy for rapists to get away with rape, and her findings are upsetting. She shared what she learned in this article in the Atlantic. It’s a stunning article. And so important. Please, please read it — because statistically, it’s very likely that at some point in your life, you’ll need to advocate for someone who has been raped (and that someone might be you).
Here are a few basic numbers Hagerty shares:
– 125,000 — the rough number of rapes reported each year
– 49 — the number of cases out of 50 where the suspect goes free
– 200,000 — the number of untested sexual-assault kits (estimated by the federal government — private groups estimate it’s a much higher number, like 150,000 higher)
She also explains that based on the research, our assumptions about rapists are very wrong. Three examples:
1) The calculating, choosy predator (always blondes, or always in the early morning) is a myth. Rapists don’t profile victims. They attack anyone available.
2) Most rapists are generalists — meaning they’re not just rapists. They also steal and assault and commit a variety of crimes. This means there are more chances of them leaving DNA behind and getting tracked in a database — which is good news. But also maddening, because it means these guys are not very bright; these guys are not criminal masterminds. So if they haven’t been caught, it’s because we don’t take rape seriously, and don’t investigate appropriately. Here’s a quote from prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, Ohio:
“These are not the Napoleons of crime,” Tim McGinty told me. He paused, reflecting on those 7,000 rape kits sitting in storage in Cleveland while the perpetrators were free on the streets. “They’re morons. We were letting morons beat us.”
3) The scariest finding in Hagerty’s report? The number of serial rapists. A much higher number than I think any of us imagined! Researchers found that almost one in five rapes in Cleveland was committed by a serial predator. So for Cleveland, that means 480 serial rapists in one midsize city. (Can you imagine what that number might be in Los Angeles or New York?)
Is there any good news? Yes:
In 2015, the Obama administration launched the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) to encourage cities and states to send untested kits to labs, open new investigations, and prosecute the assailants who had slipped under the radar for years or decades. So far, the Justice Department has awarded $154 million to 54 jurisdictions.
And it’s been successful! At least in Cleveland and Detroit. Cleveland launched a task force and found 7,000 untested rape kits. All 7000 were tested them for DNA. The kits identified hundreds of rapists who had eluded detection for years. So far, approximately 750 men have been indicted and 400 convicted.
But… other cities have received millions in funding and don’t have anything to show for it yet.
So what’s the deal? When the evidence is so clear cut, and DNA can help us confidently track and arrest rapists, why are so many rapists walking free? Why aren’t rapes kits being tested?
Well, the answer is pretty awful. Research is clear on this: Police don’t believe women who report rape. If the victim is considered “ideal” then they might listen to her. But if the victim knows the rapist, or was drinking, or has a checkered past, the woman (or teen) is automatically disbelieved. Their rape kits aren’t tested and their reports aren’t investigated. Which is why there are so many serial rapists who haven’t been caught.
“Historically, investigators had assumed that someone who assaults a stranger by the railroad tracks is nothing like the man who assaults his co-worker or his girlfriend. But it turns out that the space between acquaintance rape and stranger rape is not a wall, but a plaza. When Cleveland investigators uploaded the DNA from the acquaintance-rape kits, they were surprised by how often the results also matched DNA from unsolved stranger rapes. The task force identified dozens of mystery rapists this way.”
So. If police decide to believe women, if they assume that every reported rapist is a serial rapist, if they test the rape kits, they can stop a rapist earlier, before he assaults again. In Cleveland, when they finally tested the kits, one man’s DNA was found in 22 of them!!! Just imagine if they had listened to the first woman who reported this man. Just imagine all of the trauma that could have been avoided for 21 other women.
So much of the information in this article was new to me, and I feel like it offers really helpful data that can help change cultural attitudes. Rape is not taken seriously enough in our country (neither are other forms of violence against women), and that needs to change. I really do hope you get a chance to read Hagerty’s article. I’d love to discuss it with you. If you get to read it, let me know if any part in particular stood out to you.