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Rape and the Police

It’s one of the first things most rape survivor hear when they talk about what happened.  “You have to report it to the police!” or “Why didn’t you go to the cops?”  Yet rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S.

There are a lot of reasons for this.  Shame is a big one.  So is fear.  Fear of being blamed, of not being believed.  In Baltimore, police have been hard at work turning those fears into reality.

The Baltimore Sun reviewed FBI statistics and found that in Baltimore, the number of people reporting rapes to the police has plunged, while the number of rapes thrown out as unfounded is now the highest in the nation: more than five times the national average.

“[W]omen continue to report that they are interrogated by detectives, sometimes questioned in the emergency room or threatened with being hooked up to lie detectors.”

Can you think of another crime where victims are routinely threatened with lie detector tests?  That’s assuming the reports even make it to the detectives.  40% of Baltimore’s 911 calls to report a rape are simply dismissed, often without documentation to explain why.

The response from one of the detectives in the department is a masterpiece of victim-blaming:

“Many reports of rape are made for ‘ill gain, in order to gain assistance or cover up not coming home,’ said one of the commanders of the unit, Lt. Thomas Uzarowski … ‘It’s not an opinion. It’s not anything other than where the facts fall.’”  (Emphasis added.)

Where the facts fall?  Here’s an interesting fact.  Of the 50 detectives who work sexual assault and child abuse cases, one detective by the name of Anthony Faulk Jr. was responsible for 20% of the department’s “unfounded” rape complaints.

To me, this sounds less like facts and more like some of these detectives decided women are liars, and they’re not going to let the bitches get away with it.

I’m not going to argue that false reports never happen.  They’re rare, but they happen.  They’re also the first thing people bring up when they want to silence rape survivors, twisting logic beyond the breaking point to portray rape as a weapon women use against men.

Do people occasionally recant their statements?  Yes … especially when the detective is in their face, treating them like the criminal.  What would you do if you reported a rape and the first words out of the detective’s mouth were that he could throw you in jail for filing a false report?

The police have a difficult, stressful job, and many of them do that job admirably. But this is a problem that exists on two levels.  At the core are people like Uzarowski and Faulk, who take a “Guilty until proven innocent” approach to rape victims.

Then you have the larger group who watch and do nothing.  You think nobody noticed Faulk’s record of dismissing rape complaints?  You think nobody overheard these detectives harassing victims?  Yet it took a report in the paper, and visits from the mayor and the president of the city council to get the police department to admit maybe they should look into their practices.

Baltimore is an extreme example of a problem that exists everywhere.  People attack and harass and blame rape survivors, and most everyone else just ignores them.

And you wonder why rape victims are hesitant to talk about their attack, let alone report it to the police?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 152 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 1st, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
Would you mind if I posted a link to this on my LJ, for my friends list?
Jul. 1st, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
Not at all, thank you.
Jul. 1st, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
taking the hard-line, for discussion's sake...
Which raises the question, of course, of "and what can be done about it?" When there is a society in place that discounts -- and does nothing to prevent said discounting -- then how do you change that society when they have no interest in being changed?

Talking isn't doing it, apparently.

I have a friend who said she would rather pick up a gun and go after her assailant herself, than deal with the law and courts who will do nothing. I don't agree with her...but I can't blame her, either. Maybe if rapists knew that their violence would be greeted with violence, they'd learn how to "control themselves" (disgusted emphasis mine).

Jul. 1st, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
Re: taking the hard-line, for discussion's sake...
Looking specifically at Baltimore, getting the report out into the paper seems to have had some impact. "Break the silence" has been a catch phrase for rape activism for a long time, because it helps. Not enough, but it's a good start. I would love to see more reporters like the one at the Sun who actually dig into these issues and publicize them.

I'm also a strong believer in working with boys, preferably at a young age, talking about consent and rape and trying to undo some of the programming they're learning elsewhere. We're still putting almost all of our time and energy into teaching women how to avoid getting raped. How about a little effort to teach men what is and isn't acceptable?

More education for law enforcement regarding rape would be a good thing, too.

"I don't agree with her...but I can't blame her, either."

Yes to both parts of this.
(no subject) - nathreee - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: taking the hard-line, for discussion's sake... - (Anonymous) - Jul. 1st, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
Ah, the good ol' boy network. In Baltimore it seems to just be "women are liars". In other places, it's "well, he's a good guy! Of course he didn't do this. You're just misinterpreting it*." Or, even worse, "just because you like it a bit rough, doesn't make it rape."

I wish, honestly, that more rape survivors would get into law enforcement. Why? Because maybe they'd listen more and rape would stop being swept aside so firmly.

*This is basically what I was told. Save it was "Oh, that's G's boy. He'd never do that. Why are you lying?" Tried to get me to point the finger at ANYONE else, even though I had bruises and defensive wounds from the bastard. SIGH. Hate on for small towns, oh yes.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Ah, the good ol' boy network. In Baltimore it seems to just be "women are liars". In other places, it's "well, he's a good guy! Of course he didn't do this. You're just misinterpreting it*." Or, even worse, "just because you like it a bit rough, doesn't make it rape."

This. You don't even have to be from a small town for this to be trotted out, only small minds use it.

This is also the same thing that protected the predator priests in our region. Even now, when a teacher is removed from the job and has his teaching license removed because of a complaint by a student, a lot of the comments in the newspaper's website is "he's a good guy, she's lying to cover something up." (The students' reaction? Who told, because everyone knew it was going on.) Or, when another teacher is arrested for molesting kids, the kids are interviewed saying that they tried to bring it to the attention of parents or other adults but weren't believed.
(no subject) - cat_mcdougall - Jul. 1st, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - merinnan - Jul. 1st, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
Those are some truly frightening statistics.

Is blaming the victim an American cultural phenomenon or is it world wide?
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
I would say definitely world wide.
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jul. 1st, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
There was a case on a two-part episode of 48 Hours: Mystery a few years ago that illustrated this very well. A woman was raped by a masked man who broke into her home, threatened to kill her two young children, and cut the phone line. After he left, she ran down the hill in the dark to get help from a relative who lived nearby, sent him back to her house to guard the kids, and called the police. They said she was lying and threatened to arrest her for filing a false report. The reasons they gave for it were vague and strange and basically amounted to the fact that one of the policemen, who was related to the chief, had just decided not to believe her.

The guy was eventually caught, but it took years, and him attacking another woman, before they got him.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
It's disgusting. And I do believe that a lot of police officers are doing a good job, but there are others who either buy in to the rape myths or simply don't want to believe it.

If your job is to enforce the law, then it's also your job to learn about and understand the crimes you're dealing with, dammit. That means learning things like yes, "nice guys" do rape, that someone who's been raped is probably going to be upset and possibly confused like any other crime victim, and so on. It's your job to understand that, and to stop the crime from happening; not to ignore the crime and stop people from reporting it.

I do wish we saw more reports like the one in the Sun and the one on 48 Hours. Not that I want this to keep happening, but I think we need to talk about it. So many people want to just pretend rape doesn't happen. To show them that it does, and this is how law enforcement often responds to it, might make a few people open their damn eyes.
(no subject) - marthawells - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the link to that story - it was an enlightening and disturbing read, especially given that I have female family in the Baltimore area.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC)
Me too. My aunt and uncle live out there.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
That's appalling. Poor women. I hope that the media spotlight on this causes a major improvement in police practice and that those colluding in the victimisation are properly dealt with.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
I hope so too. The follow-up to the article gives me hope that at least other people are recognizing this is not acceptable. A newspaper report is one thing, but when you have the mayor and the city council both getting involved, that's got to lead to *some* sort of changes. I hope.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jul. 1st, 2010 02:17 pm (UTC)
I’m not going to argue that false reports never happen. They’re rare, but they happen.

I can't remember where I came across the statistics, but apparently the commonality of false rape accusations is the same as false ANYTHING accusations. So there really isn't any good reason for the big flip.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC)
That's a hard one to get accurate statistics for. I've seen numbers to suggest false reports of rape are the same as other false reports, and I've seen numbers that suggest false rape reports are even rarer. I've not seen any reliable stats to suggest that they're more common (though there are certain "men's rights" groups that try to make you believe otherwise).
(no subject) - starwatcher307 - Jul. 1st, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jul. 1st, 2010 02:20 pm (UTC)
Not much to say, except that I find it interesting to see these links the day after a friend linked about a "TV advert to tackle rape 'myths'". It's Scottish, and the accents a bit heavy, but it makes me wonder how people in the US would respond to an ad meant to demonstrate that no woman ever asks to be raped.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
apricot_tree gave me a link to that ad yesterday.

"...it makes me wonder how people in the US would respond to an ad meant to demonstrate that no woman ever asks to be raped."

I don't know, but I would love to see an ad campaign get started so we could find out.
(no subject) - bewarethespork - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Jul. 1st, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)
Jim, I've been meaning to ask you about this since I came across the article a little over a month ago. What do you think of the anti-rape devices such as the rape axe?

Jul. 1st, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
First and foremost, I think it's a symptom of just how bad the rape epidemic has gotten in certain regions.

The article talks about women begging for the device, and using other homemade devices to try to protect themselves.

This dodges your question a little, but I think the discussion should be less about the rape axe and more about how and why things have gotten so bad that women are inserting razor blades into their own vaginas to protect themselves from rape, and why there hasn't been more done to punish rapists and cut down on the epidemic.
(no subject) - allthelivesofme - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jul. 1st, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
God, the part about him making a girl vomit by threatening to make her watch a crime scene tape with him, which would make her relive it? WTF? Seriously? He actually wrote this in his report and no one thought hey, let's move this guy the hell away from this department because at best, he has the communication skills of an electric chair, at worst, he has a vendetta?
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
I know. I just ... what the hell is wrong with this guy? I'm praying he gets yanked off of this unit and put somewhere he can't do any more damage.
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
I think it says something really sad that I'm grateful to see this instead of the usual "I don't get why you wouldn't report right away! Let the law take its course!" crud that I am so used to hearing. I mean, stuff like this, statements like "it is not ever your fault if someone rapes you, period" should be the baseline, should be what's common. And yet I know when I hear it it's a pleasant surprise.

Also, those cops should be turned over to rabid squirrels.

((mind if I link to this?))
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
One of the things we were taught as counselors (all volunteer) was to let the person know we believed them. It was mind-boggling to me. "I believe you?" Really? That's so ... simple and small. "It wasn't your fault" was another. Yet almost every time, those two simple phrases were so powerful, because they were things the survivor hadn't heard before.

WTF is wrong with our society???

And no, I don't mind at all. Thank you.
Jul. 1st, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
St. Louis did the same thing for decades.
Jul. 1st, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Baltimore is definitely not alone, sadly. They just seem to be the worst offender at this particular moment here in the U.S. Or at least the worst that's been caught.
Jul. 1st, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
Then, of course, there is the evidence that never even gets processed if you do take the risk of reporting the crime: MSU will study time needed to clear backlog of unprocessed rape test kits
Jul. 1st, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I heard about that one a while back as well. I just ... ugh.
Jul. 1st, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
Last time I saw a study, false reports were around 8%. When people complain about false allegations now, I tell them to roll a d100 and if it's not above 92 they have to STFU.

The nerds I interact with understand dice better than humanity.
Jul. 1st, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
Right, wanted to make clear that I am a huge nerd too, and these guys' (because they all happen to be men) obliviousness is because they're oblivious and not because they are nerds. Their understanding of dice, on the other hand, is clearly nerd-related.
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Jul. 1st, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Nobody needs to be reminded of this, I promise. Not when we're fighting for the ~92% of true reports to get even equal air time with the idea of false reporting. Any time someone brings up that the justice system and media and culture completely blow off a huge number of the ~92% of true rape reports, some Helpful Harry comes along to say, "Yeah, but false reports really do suck!"

We get it. Don't be a Helpful Harry.
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Jul. 1st, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
Keeping in mind that I have no data on how female officers taking rape reports treat female victims... The myth that most rape reports are false is so strong and big, and I know for some guy's it's a scary myth. Does a male officer feel subconsciously threatened by a victim who says they were raped by a man? Do they subconsciouly put themselves in the criminal's position? If yes, it might be easy for someone to jump to the conclusion that it couldn't have been rape than to dive into that uncomfortable mental space. All this leads me to wonder if the person who takes the rape report should not be the same sex as the criminal who raped the victim.
Jul. 1st, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
Very possible, though I have no data either way. But if an officer or detective sees an accused rapist they identify with -- possibly someone who seems nice enough, has their act together, and comes off as a decent guy -- it wouldn't surprise me at all if that led to some uncomfortable mental places.
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Jul. 1st, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
random commenter
thanks for this post.
Jul. 1st, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Here through meallanmouse - wonderful post. I've lived in Baltimore for two years (grad school), and frankly the city's entire approach to crime enforcement seems to be pretty flawed, but the way they treat women is basically criminal, as far as I'm concerned. There is a lot more emphasis on protecting the police than on protecting the public, and during the celebrations when Obama was elected, I personally saw police officers assaulting someone who was standing quietly in the street. So the police atmosphere in the city is extremely sketchy to begin with, though I realize anecdotes are not the best way to build an argument.

The wider discussion is definitely just as (and probably more) important as the local one, though; it's not a localized Baltimore phenomenon that the whole burden of rape, from the crime to the report to the prosectution, falls on women's shoulders, even when the system is supposed to be there to protect them from the excess trauma. Alice Sebold wrote in her memoir (which is an excellent book and describes the fear and difficulty inherent in an 'easy' prosecution - she was a virgin, she wasn't wearing provocative clothing, she was white, she was upper-middle-class, etc) that even identifying the perpetrator was difficult because the defense was allowed to bring in someone who looked like him, and who intimidated her even in the relatively 'safe' environment of a lineup. I can think of very few other crimes where the system allows a person to be put through so much, and often presumed to be a liar; when someone reports a break-in, or a non-sexual assault, the emphasis is put on finding the criminal, not examining the accuser for evidence of malicious reporting. One of the solutions has to be educating both men and women - well, girls and boys - about the issue of consent, early and often.

Anyway, thanks for posting this! Do you mind if I link it on my own journal?
Jul. 1st, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
"...the whole burden of rape, from the crime to the report to the prosectution, falls on women's shoulders."

That's one of the things that's most frustrating to me. This is a problem which is primarily caused by men who choose to rape. (Yes, there are female rapists, but the men are the vast majority.) So it's a problem *we* create, but then we expect women to be responsible for fixing it. WTF? And then the way rape is often handled as it passes through the legal system... ugh.

"One of the solutions has to be educating both men and women - well, girls and boys - about the issue of consent, early and often."

Yes! Hell yes!

"Do you mind if I link it on my own journal?"

Not at all, thank you.
Jul. 2nd, 2010 02:52 am (UTC)
I'll tell you exactly why I didn't go to the cops when I was raped. It was because I lived in a small town, and I absolutely believed the rumors that at least one of the few cops in town was a rapist himself.

Two other cops in the very small department were later fired over sexual harassment charges, one against a female dispatcher and one against a member of the public.
Jul. 2nd, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)
Hell, I tried to report a regular old plain assault in a large metrosplat when a speeding car full of loud, jeering men hit me in the kidney with an egg while I was walking down the street, hugely pregnant. The dispatcher blew me off -- it never even got to a cop.

I completely understand your decision not to report, and I'm sorry that someone raped you and that you didn't have law enforcement you could trust to help.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 2nd, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
Apparently the NYPD has been doing something similar. As reported by the Village voice: NYPD Tapes series, there's pressure on the police to show an improvement of crime statistics in each precinct. One way to improve the stats is to down-play reported incidents ... if necessary threatening victims who report a crime to go along with a lesser description of what happened.

Jul. 2nd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thank you for that link. That's ... intense.

I watched what happened to our I.T. department when we shifted over to an approach that relied only on numbers and statistics to measure success. It was not pretty, but at least the only thing getting hurt were the computers.

That article scares me.
Jul. 2nd, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
This is a GREAT post.

Thank you.
Jul. 2nd, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
Here via rm.

This is really shocking stuff. I don't live in the US, but when I was assaulted a few months ago, the law required me to wait a day before reporting it, and then also state why I thought it was a crime, when a random guy had grabbed me inappropriately. My point is that reporting sex crimes is tough enough without all the bullshit and special rigmarole that law enforcement departments and/or government rules put victims through. This just sounds horrific.

ETA: Thank you for writing this, btw!

Edited at 2010-07-02 03:12 pm (UTC)
Jul. 2nd, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Wait, what? What's the logic (and I use that term loosely) behind forcing you to wait a day to report? Is that requirement in place for any other kind of reporting?
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Jul. 2nd, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
Apparently Scotland is having similar issues with blaming women for being raped and have decided to attack it with tv commercials.


Maybe we should try the same thing here.
Jul. 2nd, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
I would love to see any sort of serious ad campaign here in the States that addressed rape. I think RAINN is the only organization that comes close to having the budget for that sort of thing, and even their ads are rare.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
I live in Baltimore. I know many women who have been raped or sexually assaulted, and who have refused to report it for fear of many of the pressures reported in this article.

Thanks for the post. I linked to it in my journal. Also, thank you SO MUCH for your responses in the "but what about false claims of rape?" derailing subthread. I pretty much want to fistbump you for all eternity for being so articulate and right on.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks. There are just so many barriers in place already when it comes to reporting rape, and to have the police actively working to enforce those barriers ... ugh.

And "Eternal Fist Bump" could be a fun name for a band or maybe a short story :-)
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