Keeping track of rape cases

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A yearlong review of rape reports by reporter Bridget DiCosmo, published in last Sunday's Southeast Missourian, noted some anomalies, particularly the high percentage -- more than half in the last three years -- of reported rapes that were later classified by police as unfounded.

An examination of other Missouri cities and statewide totals, along with some national data, indicated that Cape Girardeau's statistical average was well off the norm for such cases.

Investigating rape reports is no easy task for police, who are dealing not just with a violent crime, but also the emotional impact of so personal an assault. There is nothing that indicates the police did anything but seriously investigate each report. One indication of the study by reporter DiCosmo, however, was that victims who recanted their stories or changed their minds out of anxiety and fear frequently resulted in those rapes being classified as unfounded with little follow-up investigation.

Experts who deal with rape victims say it's not uncommon for a woman who has been raped to want to avoid the mental anguish of a prolonged investigation, prosecution and appearances in court. However, those cases are still rapes. And if police officers and prosecutors are to have good information, the statistics should reflect that.

As the result of an audit by the Uniform Crime Reporting Program of 25 rape reports in 2008, the Cape Girardeau Police Department has changed its policy to keep cases open even when the victim recants, unless there is strong evidence to suggest no rape occurred. This is a positive step in the right direction.

One purpose of keeping crime statistics is to help law enforcement measure both crimes and how they are handled. Another purpose is to inform the public of the kinds of crimes occurring and the effectiveness of police in bringing criminals to justice. In the case of rapes, every effort to accurately determine if a rapist is at large is a big step toward protecting other potential victims.

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