Friday, May 1, 2009

Kits Languish On Shelves For Years, Or "Hey, It's Only Rape"

Okay, I admit it. I have been procrastinating writing up this post. No, it isn't playing with the puppies (and I have found homes for at least one, if not two of them - yay!), though I have been enjoying their company. It's not even the rain, much needed, that is falling. It is the topic itself. I am so disgusted, revolted, furious, shocked, and outraged by it, I scarcely know where to start. Once I can stop throwing up, that is.

Well, here's a jumping off point - I got the heads up courtesy of fellow NQ writers, Ani, and artist extraordinaire, Pat Racimora, so thanks for this (I think).

Okay. I'll stop beating around the bush. This article was written by Nicholas Kristof, Is Rape Serious?. Now, one would think the immediate answer to that is a resounding, "YES!" One would be wrong:
When a woman reports a rape, her body is a crime scene. She is typically asked to undress over a large sheet of white paper to collect hairs or fibers, and then her body is examined with an ultraviolet light, photographed and thoroughly swabbed for the rapist’s DNA.

It’s a grueling and invasive process that can last four to six hours and produces a “rape kit” — which, it turns out, often sits around for months or years, unopened and untested (emphasis mine).

See what I mean? I cannot begin to tell you the number of close friends who have been raped or sexually assaulted. As someone who worked with a Rape Crisis agency, I cannot begin to tell you how FUCKING HARD it is for women to admit, acknowledge, accept, that they have been raped, and to try and do something about it. They FORCE themselves to go to the hospital, and subject themselves to the additional invasion in an effort to catch the assailant. And the damn things aren't even PROCESSED??? Apparently not, more often than you would think:
Stunningly often, the rape kit isn’t tested at all because it’s not deemed a priority. If it is tested, this happens at such a lackadaisical pace that it may be a year or more before there are results (if expedited, results are technically possible in a week).

So while we have breakthrough DNA technologies to find culprits and exculpate innocent suspects, we aren’t using them properly — and those who work in this field believe the reason is an underlying doubt about the seriousness of some rape cases. In short, this isn’t justice; it’s indifference.

Well, that is certainly putting it mildly. "Indifference"? "INDIFFERENCE"??? No, that is blatant misogyny and sexism right there, not something as innocuous as "indifference." This is a DECISION made by the people in those agencies who apparently don't give a DAMN about women, and about the assault of women, not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically. Kristof makes my point:
Solomon Moore, a colleague of mine at The Times, last year wrote about a 43-year-old legal secretary who was raped repeatedly in her home in Los Angeles as her son slept in another room. The attacker forced the woman to clean herself in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

Tim Marcia, the detective on the case, thought this meant that the perpetrator was a habitual offender who would strike again. Mr. Marcia rushed the rape kit to the crime lab but was told to expect a delay of more than one year.

So Mr. Marcia personally drove the kit 350 miles to deliver it to the state lab in Sacramento. Even there, the backlog resulted in a four-month delay — but then it produced a “cold hit,” a match in a database of the DNA of previous offenders.

Yet in the months while the rape kit sat on a shelf, the suspect had allegedly struck twice more. Police said he broke into the homes of a pregnant woman and a 17-year-old girl, sexually assaulting each of them.

And everyone of those - oh - I can barely even come up with names bad enough for them - who did NOTHING with that rape kit are culpable for those women, no, that woman and that GIRL, being sexually assaulted. Their decision to not even bother to process that kit directly led to the perpetrator being able to attack again. Clearly, these particular people are not the only ones, as Kristof noted. But, WHY?
“The criminal justice system is still ill equipped to deal with rape and not that good at moving rape cases forward,” notes Sarah Tofte, who just wrote a devastating report for Human Rights Watch about the rape-kit backlog. The report found that in Los Angeles County, there were at last count 12,669 rape kits sitting in police storage facilities. More than 450 of these kits had sat around for more than 10 years, and in many cases, the statute of limitations had expired.

TEN YEARS??????? Some of these rape kits are sitting around longer than TEN YEARS???
There are no good national figures, and one measure of the indifference is that no one even bothers to count the number of rape kits sitting around untested.

Why don’t police departments treat rape kits with urgency? One reason is probably expense — each kit can cost up to $1,500 to test — but there also seems to be a broad distaste for rape cases as murky, ambiguous and difficult to prosecute, particularly when they involve (as they often do) alcohol or acquaintance rape.

Oh, yes - it is the expense of it all. Apparently, it is no problem to use DNA testing, or other forensic science to catch criminals, but to catch a woman's rapist? Yeah, that $1,500 is just WAY too expensive. Maybe it's because they just don't think too much of what the victims' say:
“They talk about the victims’ credibility in a way that they don’t talk about the credibility of victims of other crimes,” Ms. Tofte said.

Charlie Beck, a deputy police chief of Los Angeles, said that there was no excuse for the failure to test rape kits, but he noted that integrating a new technology into police work is complex and involves a learning curve. Since Human Rights Watch began its investigation, he said, the department had resolved to test rape kits routinely — and as a result, cold hits have doubled.

New technology?? What in the hell is Beck TALKING about, "new technology"?? If rape test kits have languished for more than ten years, how freakin' new can this technology BE??

Moreover, if the results of these rape kits have actually DOUBLED the number of cold hits, it is CRIMINAL to NOT process them ASAP. The police departments are aiding and abetting these rapists because of whatever bullshit reason they want to offer up in their "defense." There IS no defense for this. None. They are treating women's lives as if they were dirt, plain and simple. If these were crimes of property, or murder (and many women would equate rape to murder), they'd be all over them, utilizing all kinds of resources. But, hey - it's just women, right? So, what's the hurry? And heaven knows, we can't possibly use any of our budget to find their assailants, who are, you know, men. **Insert any cuss word you feel appropriate at this time. **

Well, at least there is SOME good news:
While the backlog and desultory handling of rape kits are nationwide problems, there is one shining exception: New York City has made a concerted effort over the last decade to test every kit that comes in. The result has been at least 2,000 cold hits in rape cases, and the arrest rate for reported cases of rape in New York City rose from 40 percent to 70 percent, according to Human Rights Watch.

Yay! Good for New York City! Now, if we can only get the REST of the country onboard with this concept (and it is not a difficult one - you get a rape kit, you send it in for testing, the results come back, and, voila! Ammunition to catch the rapist!)

Kristof continues:
Some Americans used to argue that it was impossible to rape an unwilling woman. Few people say that today, or say publicly that a woman “asked for it” if she wore a short skirt. But the refusal to test rape kits seems a throwback to the same antediluvian skepticism about rape as a traumatic crime.

“If you’ve got stacks of physical evidence of a crime, and you’re not doing everything you can with the evidence, then you must be making a decision that this isn’t a very serious crime,” notes Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

It’s what we might expect in Afghanistan, not in the United States.

But it is precisely what is OCCURRING in the United States. I reckon, after this past election season, I really should not be too surprised by this complete and utter disregard for women, and what affects us at our deepest core. Not when we have "news" people like David Shuster calling Chelsea Clinton a whore, and her mother, a US Senator, a pimp. Keith Olbermann has made himself a laughing stock over his insane rants against Hillary Clinton. Oh, screw it - there is not enough time in the day to denote every single instance of sexism/misogyny in the past election. You can watch this for some reminders, if you wish:

That is but the tip of the iceberg of some of the blatant hostility toward women (Clinton in particular) we saw this past election year. What is evident is the pervasiveness of this disregard for women and the issues that affect us. So, yes, we are apparently more like Afghanistan, a country that recently passed a law giving husband the RIGHT to have sex at least once a week, i.e., RAPE his wife (along with child brides AND restricting a woman's right to leave the HOME*), than we would ever admit. Apparently, we just aren't as honest about our hatred and dismissal of women as they are. Make no mistake, that is exactly what this is. Hatred of women, and a callous disregard for our bodies, our lives.

Now you can see why I was dragging my feet. What this says about our country, about the very people who have sworn to protect us, is disturbing on so many levels it makes me want to throw up. I suspected that the treatment of Clinton (and Palin, for that matter) was just the tip of the iceberg, but I would GLADLY have been proven wrong. Gladly. But this, not even bothering to process rape kits for years is something I didn't see coming. The lack of action speaks volumes, and what it says is horrifying...

* The photo in this article shows women in burkas. While I was in Egypt, I saw a number of women in burkas. Our guide, a young woman, said that Egypt is fairly progressive when it comes to women, and that the ones we saw were from other countries, like Saudi Arabia. And, she added, some Egyptian women wear them as a fashion statement. A FASHION statement. If you have never seen a woman up close and personal in a burka, I can tell you, it is startling. I can barely put it into words, but what it does is render her a non-entity. ALL you can see are her eyes, and even then, many burkas have a line of cloth that runs down in-between the eyes, covering as much of the woman up as possible. Honestly, it was shocking. That a woman would CHOOSE to wear something like that as "fashion" boggles my mind.


SFIndie said...

This makes me sick, Rev. Absolutely, fucking sick to my stomach. Years ago, I taught a program affiliated with the District Attorney's Rape Crisis Unit, where we would visit kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade, and teach them about "good touch" and "bad touch". I remember telling them that if someone touched them in a way that gave them an "uh oh feeling in their tummies", that was a bad touch. I tell you, I have that uh-oh feeling magnified a thousand times in my stomach right now.

This country can spend billions to bail out losers on Wall Street, but we can't find a lousy $1500 to process a rape kit? What the fuck is that?

I can't even imagine being first a victim of a rapist, and then a victim our un-justice system as well.

MichelleO may be proud to be an American right now, but I'm sure not.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

SFIndie, I couldn't have said it better myself. Honestly, reading this article just made me cry. ALL of these women have already gone through so much - first being raped, then the damn rape kit, but to not even have the kit PROCESSED, often, NEVER? If women needed a clearer, "Fuck You" message from our law enforcement officials, all those people who make the decisions that this isn't important, our society at large, I cannot imagine what it would be.

Oh, yes I can - treating the woman who got the most votes of any person in a primary EVER like total shit, and pushing the man without the experience or qualifications ahead of her instead all the while treating her like she has no right to even be there.. Yeah, that might do it.

I am right there with you, friend, on what this feels like...