How Does Your State Handle Rape Crime and Reform?
Working alongside the American judicial system is not what most budding health professionals think of when they imagine their future careers. However, medical professionals across the country may soon have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in overhauling an under-resourced facet of our legal system over the coming years and, in the process, helping restore justice and dignity for countless individuals.
The legislative landscape surrounding rape crime prosecution in the United States is one of confusion, diffusion, and ineffective practice. For every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. Only 310 will be reported to the police, 5 reports will lead to arrests, 11 cases will get referred to prosecutors, 7 cases will lead to felony conviction, and 6 rapists will be incarcerated, according to estimates from RAINN (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system).
Few rapists are ultimately incarcerated, and the factors that cause the lack of convictions are tangled and traumatic. Many rape survivors, for instance, choose not to press charges or report the crime, often because the proceedings are long, difficult, and often ultimately futile. A host of systemic problems and blind spots in our public institutions, as well as an all-too-common lack of evidence, also makes it difficult to successfully convict rapists.
The map below reveals the frequency of rape crimes for every one thousand individuals by state—though is important to note that these figures only take into account reported crimes, not the actual number of rapes that occur in each state.
If the only hopes of improving the system and increasing the likelihood of incarcerating rape perpetrators had already been exhausted, the story would be a dismal one. However, a resource that has been thus far under-utilized could drastically improve the rate of successful convictions. It is possible to significantly increase the likelihood of a rape prosecution by obtaining forensic evidence with the help of a rape kit. Rape kits include combs, containers for blood samples, swabs, and other materials that medical personnel use to gather DNA and other physical evidence following an allegation of rape.
RAINN stresses that gathering forensic evidence after a rape can not only increase the likelihood of identifying and persecuting a perpetrator, but can also help prevent future sexual assaults. When a perpetrator’s DNA profile is determined using a rape kit and is added to a database, chances of persecuting the offender after he commits another crime dramatically increase.
Unfortunately, the current system too often breaks down and valuable evidence remains unanalyzed. Hundreds of thousands of kits remain untested, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation. Over 175,000 untested rape kits have been discovered, but the real scale of the problem remains shrouded because few state governments and no federal agencies require that police departments track rape kit evidence. The huge numbers of untested rape kits and the lack of sufficient medical resources are only made public through the efforts of nonprofit organizations, journalists, and concerned citizens.
The Accountability Project alone has discovered nearly 34,000 untested rape kits. A large number of untested rape kits have not been unveiled, however. The map below highlights the number of states that have not yet revealed their untested kits. As more states reveal their numbers, the amount of medical personnel necessary to process the kits could exponentially increase.
The past decade has seen new legislative reforms enacted through efforts of non-profit organizations such as the Joyful Heart Foundation. These reforms include passing state laws mandating tracking systems to follow the paths of rape kit testing; passing laws that institute deadlines for testing all untested rape kits; allocating the necessary funding for these activities; and legally decreeing that survivors have the right to information about the status of rape kit testing and the information they contain. Though some states are making more progress than others, the map below reveals the advancements in progress.
Now that legislative mandates are in place requiring states to more judiciously process rape kits, the need for forensically trained medical personnel will climb steadily. Measures are already in motion to facilitate this need. For instance, in 2013, The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 offered funding via Department of Justice grants to be used by states to train and fund Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE).
Other organizations are taking action as well. The Service Training Officers Prosecutors’ Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program (STOP) is designed to help states and local governments develop law enforcement and prosecution strategies to combat violent crimes against women and to develop female victim services.
The maps below highlights the number of SANEs trained using the STOP program in each state. The data is from a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Now that legislative cogs are beginning to turn and action is being taken to address this issue, the number of medical professionals needed to combat race crimes may increase over the coming years. Receiving training in forensic nursing (such as completing the online MSN in Forensic Nursing offered by Duquesne University) could open a host of new opportunities within a growing job market and begin a fulfilling career restoring justice and serving survivors of rape crimes.