Later On

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How an Ohio reporter helped convict more than 100 rapists

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Very interesting story by Chava Gourarie in the Columbia Journalism Review: a reporter found that there were 4,000 untested rape kits in Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland). Instead of stonewalling, the DA and other public officials leapt into action to test the kits before the 20-year statute of limitations ran out. As a result, 100 rapists have been sent to prison. One interesting finding: one-third of rapes reported turn out to be the work of serials rapists.

The entire article is worth reading. It shows what a responsive government (and good journalism) can accomplish. It begins:

On a recent Tuesday morning, members of the DNA Cold Case task force in Cleveland, Ohio, gathered for their weekly meeting. The conference room filled with detectives, prosecutors, a crime analyst, several victim advocates—and one journalist. Rachel Dissell is a reporter for The Plain Dealer, one of two who first uncovered and wrote about neglected rape kits at the Cleveland Police Department in 2010. Dissell has been covering the ongoing story ever since.

The meeting started as it usually does with “all hands on deck” cases—the ones running up against the statute of limitations—then moved to other open investigations. Cleveland is not the first city to tackle a rape kit backlog, but it is one of the only municipalities to investigate every case so doggedly. Since 2011, when the city began sending rape kits to the state’s crime lab, almost all of its 4,000 kits have been tested; of these, over 1,600 contained usable DNA. Three hundred and fifty cases have led to grand jury indictments, and as of this month, over 100 rapists have been convicted, some of multiple rapes.

Timothy McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor who created and oversees the rape kit task force, attributed its existence to Dissell and her former reporting partner, Leila Atassi. “Rachel and her partner started this,” McGinty told CJR. “They are really the reason we are where we are.”

It’s an exemplary instance of local reporting, responsive government officials, and public support coming together to make a community safer. Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, calls Dissell’s work an “unusually positive use of investigative reporting.”

The story has reverberated beyond Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Ohio passed a law in March requiring every police department in the state to submit untested rape kits to the lab by next spring. Going forward, all kits must be tested within 30 days. Cleveland’s story is also contributing to burgeoning national awareness of how many rape kits remain unexamined, and the potential gold mine they represent; once tested, they can solve old and ongoing cases while providing a wealth of data on sexual assault.

One stunning finding that emerged from Cleveland’s investigations is that as many as a third of reported rapes were perpetrated by a serial offender, a much higher proportion than officials anticipated. “I’ve been in this business for 43 years and I thought I knew I something about it,” says McGinty, who guessed about 15% would be attributable to serial offenders. “I was astonished.”

The implications are tremendous. It means that every unsolved case is even more likely to be another rape waiting to happen, and that removing even a single rapist from the street eliminates an ongoing threat.

Shapiro says that one of the most enlightening things about Dissell and Atassi’s reporting was the way it focused attention on the pattern of repeat offenders. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2015 at 10:35 am

Posted in Law Enforcement, Media

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