COLUMN: A rape of justice for victims

Leslie Arntz

In a list of ultimate worst crimes, most would consider rape to be in the top five, resting somewhere near murder and arson. Or so I would like to think. There are some out there who treat this crime flippantly. Some who are responsible for investigating occurrences of this crime, who are responsible for enacting justice.

This is disheartening to the incredible minority of victims who have the courage to file a report. The 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey indicated only 39 percent of victims step forward. The statistics get worse. There is a 50.8 percent chance an arrest will be made, an 80 percent chance those arrested will be prosecuted and the list continues. When all the numbers are crunched, only 6 percent of rapists will ever spend a day behind cold steel bars. Fifteen out of 16 criminals walk free.

Even when rape is reported, it can be discounted by police. From 1995 to 1997, Philadelphia detectives did not write out full reports when they believed a victim to be lying, uncooperative or when what they claimed seemed implausible. The report would be placed into an obscure folder to collect dust.

This disturbing information was brought to light when a serial rapist murdered one of his victims. The man had previously attacked four other women in the neighborhood, but the first two complaints had been discounted. Prodding from the Philadelphia Inquirer helped police finally make the connection.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch decided to investigate how its own city handled such “insubstantial” cases. Its policies were even worse. Reports were never made. Instead, informal memos were written and kept in the Sex Crimes Section – invisible to computerized record searching and to FBI crime statistics. On top of that, they were periodically shredded.

The embarrassment and shame suffered by these two police departments brought about change in the way they handle rape cases. But those are only two cities out of millions. Who in your community is deciding which rape report sounds worthy enough to pursue? Which police chief wants more appealing crime rates for his city?

Pressure to lower published crime rates is high for any police department. Apparently, it is not uncommon for reports to be lost or even altered. There is no outside assessment or monitoring. How would the public know if crimes are being downgraded or hidden if not for a tragedy and the ensuing scandal?

Turning a blind eye is unacceptable. Absolutely, overwhelmingly unacceptable.

The justice system cannot begin moving if a case never makes it out of a dark storage room. If prosecuted, there is only a 58 percent chance of a felony conviction. Sixty-nine percent of rapists with felony convictions will face jail time. And when they are released, 5.3 percent will commit another sex offense within three years. It may seem like a small percentage, but it equates to hundreds of individuals.

I’m of the opinion that opportunity for second-time offenders should not be an option any- more, but most would disagree with that view. I ask this: Has anything really worked? Prison sentences, community service and even psychiatric help fail to curb the evil of some individuals. Courts and judges can’t touch those who are never pointed out. Something must be done.

Whether the rapist uses physical force or mental and emotional abuse, he or she has done something vile and should face the utmost punishment. The courts and police have become more victim-oriented in the past 30 years, but justice still has a long way to go.

Leslie Arntz is a sophomore magazine journalism major and a point/counterpoint columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].