Today’s Top Story
(Paul Spella / Katie Martin)
An Epidemic of Disbelief
Across the country, as many as 200,000 rape kits sit unopened in police storage while assailants—the people whose genetic fingerprints are decisively coded within such kits—are able to dodge prosecution and, in some cases, strike again. Our latest magazine cover story is an investigation by Barbara Bradley Hagerty into the national backlog of untested rape kits—and its frightening consequences. Amid an ongoing national conversation about serial sexual abusers and how to deal with them, it’s an in-depth look at some of the ways the system fails to catch repeat offenders. Read the full story here.
When kits go untested, sexual predators can flourish. In one Detroit case, an assailant struck 11 times over 11 years, all while his DNA sat with police. And it took a serial killer, one who had been previously convicted of rape, for Cleveland’s police department to begin testing its backlog. (Officers even tested the kit of a victim who managed to escape, but not for DNA evidence: Instead, they checked for drugs in her system.)
Why has such valuable evidence sat for so long? Police culture is a big factor. When officers don’t take rape allegations seriously, investigations lag and promising leads go cold. And police prefer a “righteous” victim (one with no criminal history, who didn’t know her assailant, was sober during the attack, and fought back), approaching other kinds of victims with skepticism.
Research is also beginning to upend what we know about repeat offenders. Previously, officers didn’t bother to test rape kits in so-called acquaintance-rape cases, instances in which the victim knew the assailant. But some of these men are likely repeat offenders; testing their DNA can help solve other cases.
What’s being done about the backlog? Several initiatives to get kits tested are under way. Some are promising: Since Cuyahoga County, Ohio, started testing these kits, prosecutors have indicted nearly 750 rapists, more than 400 of whom went on to be convicted.
One national program saw mixed results. A Justice Department program called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) allocated $154 million in funding to local jurisdictions. But the results vary regionally: The Detroit and Cleveland programs have been particularly successful, while Connecticut’s $3 million in funding produced no reported charges or convictions.
Get Caught Up
Over the weekend, the president attacked minority congresswomen on Twitter, telling them to “go back” to their countries.
Many jumped in to fact-check Trump, pointing out that three of the four lawmakers the president appeared to be referencing were born in the United States. That’s beside the point, Adam Serwer argues, because Trump wasn’t making a factual argument: He was reiterating his belief in white nationalism.
A lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act appears to be gaining momentum.
The Fifth Circuit hasn’t issued opinions just yet, but the Republican-majority bench looks poised to accept a “ridiculous” argument against the law, writes the legal scholar Nicholas Bagley. Bagley blames it on Know-Nothingism—“a cancerous outgrowth of textualism.”
Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. This week, she advises a heartbroken reader:
Nearly two months ago, my girlfriend broke up with me. It was quite shocking at the moment, especially considering that we had just spent a lovely weekend out of town visiting her sister and brother-in-law. She explained that something about their relationship reminded her of “what she wants,” and that being with me would compromise her pursuit of this. …
How am I supposed to overcome hopes of reconciliation and move on when, up until the moment she broke up with me, there was no concrete deterioration in the relationship?
Looking for our daily mini crossword, which gets more challenging as the week goes on? Try your hand at it here.