“Just for once I would like to see an end to committee meetings and research. Just get it done.”
That statement was written by a survivor whose rapist was caught through a cold case project focused on processing untested sexual assault kits. She was asked her opinion about the best way to address the country’s untested sexual assault kit problem.
Cleveland has an untested sexual assault kit problem. But now Cleveland is “getting it done.”
There are many reasons why Cleveland’s kits may have been shelved. Regardless of how Cleveland got to this point, it’s time to move forward. Thankfully, local law enforcement professionals, prosecutors and advocates have formed a task force, and with the support of Attorney General Mike DeWine, have been sending untested sexual assault cheap jerseys kits to state’s crime labs for analysis.
To date, the results are remarkable, but not surprising: they mirror what we have seen in cities such as Detroit and New York City. Of the more than 1300 kits that Cleveland submitted for testing, there have been 232 “cold hits,” or matches, on the DNA database and more than 48 rapists have been indicted for rapes of 61 victims. There is no doubt that through these cases Cleveland will gain knowledge about sexual predators that can be applied to sexual assault investigations today.
We have learned three very important lessons from past and current sexual assault kit backlog reduction efforts. First, analyzing sexual assault kits solves crime. Second, rapists are often serial offenders and they are not specialists. They rape people they know and people they don’t know. Many of the Cleveland cases prove this point. The third, and perhaps most important, lesson: it’s never too late to bring justice to sexual assault survivors.
As Cleveland’s untested kits are processed and old cases are being solved, how can we ensure a victim-centered response to the survivors? What does justice mean to the victims of these crimes?
Many communities are asking these questions. To ensure that backlog reduction efforts are developed around victims’ needs, the National Center for Victims of Crime nhl jersey cheap has been interviewing victims whose sexual assault kits remained untested for years. Most of the women had been notified after many years that an offender was identified by a hit on the DNA database.
Victims’ emotions and responses to the news of a DNA match run the gamut. Survivors described the shock, anger, disbelief, fear, happiness, and relief they experienced when they were notified about the cold hit. While most welcomed the knowledge that their case was not forgotten, some victims told us that they have carried on with their lives and fear that engaging in the criminal justice process may upset the careful life balance they have created since the crime occurred. Approaching victims with sensitivity and patience can help them cope with the shock of hearing about renewed activity on their case. Most victims will need time to fully comprehend what reopening the criminal investigation means for their lives. Cleveland survivors are likely no different.
There are many issues to consider when working with these survivors. First and foremost, victims’ lives have likely changed significantly in the years since the assault occurred. Many have husbands, kids, and extended families who do not know about the assault.
Here is one example that gives us pause. In one jurisdiction, a cold case investigator and an advocate arrived at a victim’s house to inform her that her rapist had been identified and was in police custody. The woman answered the door and listened to the news. She stepped outside and closed her front door behind her, and said “Don’t ever contact me again. My son, in there, was born around that time and he doesn’t know.”
We must prioritize victims’ need for privacy. This is especially true in cases where the victimization occurred under circumstances that may now be embarrassing or otherwise uncomfortable to the victim. Some women in the newly-reactivated Cleveland cases, we are cheap jerseys nfl told, were working as prostitutes or were involved in drugs at the time of their assault. Many of these women have improved their life conditions since the assault. They may not have ever informed loved ones about the rape—or their previous lifestyle–because of shame or fear of blame.
Complicating matters further, many survivors recount being discredited, humiliated, and/or ignored by police after reporting their assaults. These experiences compounded trauma upon trauma for the survivors. For some of the survivors, being contacted by law enforcement much later brought back pain and anger related not just to the assault, but also from the mistreatment by people who were supposed to help them.
Fortunately, we learned from many survivors that the treatment they received in their recent interaction (after a DNA cold hit) with law enforcement and the criminal justice system was significantly better than at the time when they were assaulted. Several survivors said it was very meaningful when the detective who notified her of the hit seemed “truly sorry” that it had taken so long.
From the first notification through the close of the trial, and on to parole hearings, we must ensure the most victim-centered response possible to mitigate the potential for revictimization. Law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, and victim advocates must make sure that survivors are treated with compassion and afforded all the legal rights available to them.
The cheap jerseys nfl Ohio constitution includes the right of victims of criminal discount nfl jerseys offenses to be accorded “fairness, dignity and respect” and “a meaningful role in the criminal justice process.” In addition, state law grants victims the right to be heard at many points during the criminal justice process as well as apply for victim compensation. A criminal justice system that supports victim participation, provides formal opportunities for victims to be heard, and assists victims to obtain the help they need demonstrates to victims that they deserve to be treated china wholesale nfl jerseys with fairness, dignity, and respect.
Yet even when the criminal justice system is working at its best to afford victims their rights, justice is often difficult.
Many Cleveland victims will likely feel justice is served wholesale football jerseys China when their assailant is tried and convicted. But what about those kits in storage that are already past the 20-year statute of limitations and cannot be prosecuted? How do we achieve justice for those survivors?
Survivors whose offenders were unable to be prosecuted cheap custom jerseys because the statute of limitations had expired tell us that there are many versions of justice. Dallas, Texas, for example, created a cold case program that specifically selected SAKs past the statute of limitations for analysis. A team worked to solve these cases, knowing that these victims deserved answers, and they found many ways to help victims find a sense of justice. One survivor gave a victim impact statement in another case against her rapist. One survivor gave an impact statement to the parole board so the offender could be considered for stricter parole parameters. A few of the women worked on a law that allows DNA cold hit information to be put on a person’s criminal record even if the case is not prosecutable.
We cannot entirely protect victims from their feelings about this situation. Parts of the process are difficult to bear, but the victims we have met are strong and determined to find justice and to keep these predators from harming others. These victims have done everything we have asked them to do─ they have reported the crime to police and they have endured a sexual assault forensic exam that is uncomfortable and invasive even with the best trained examiners. They have waited years and years for answers. We owe it to these victims to ensure that the process is victim-sensitive and victim-centered.
Ilse Knecht is the deputy director of public policy for the National Center for Victims of Crime.