Timeline: Buried Rape Cases
— The city of Harvey, Illinois agrees to pay over $1.2 million to settle lawsuits brought by rape victims whose cases were mishandled by police.
— In Detroit, the Wayne County District Attorney’s office seeks $10 million in private donations to prosecute rapists identified through previously neglected rape cases. The nonprofit Michigan Women’s Foundation spearheads this public-private effort.
— In a written report, the New Orleans Inspector General’s office details problems in the way NOPD polices sex crimes. Five New Orleans police officers are placed on desk duty due to their inappropriate handling of child abuse and rape cases.
— In response to public concerns, Memphis officials blame untested rape kits on lack of money. However, documents from federal grant programs suggest that Memphis law enforcement agencies failed to pursue available funding.
— Cleveland hires the Police Executive Research Forum to evaluate the sex crimes unit of the Cleveland Police Department. The PERF investigation finds that Cleveland police routinely clear sexual assault cases without performing thorough investigations. PERF issues a report that recommends policy changes.
— A second lawsuit is filed against Memphis by rape victims.
— Fourteen years after the crime, former Memphis police officer Bridges Randle is arrested for aggravated rape. Testing a previously neglected rape kit led officials to Randle. After being accused of rape in Memphis., Randle moved to Atlanta, where he worked as an administrator at the Boys and Girls Club. He worked at the children’s center until being arrested for the Memphis rape. In court, Randle asserts that Memphis law enforcement violated his due process rights by failing to utilize forensic evidence in a timely manner.
— Memphis government self-imposes a gag order on the topic of rape kits.
— Rape victims sue Memphis in federal court, alleging civil rights violations. This lawsuit is similar to the one filed a year earlier against Harvey, Illinois.
— Memphis publicly admits to having over 12,000 untested rape kits in police storage.
— Serial rapist Anthony Alliano pleads guilty to numerous counts of aggravated rape, burglary, and other offenses in connection with attacks on seven women over a decade in suburban Memphis.
— Sara Reedy is awarded $1.5 million in damages, resolving her lawsuit against Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania police. In 2004, Reedy called police after being raped at gunpoint. Instead of investigating her complaint, police arrested her and charged her with false reporting and other crimes.
— Anthony Alliano is arrested as a suspect in a 2010 home invasion rape of a woman in the suburban Cordova area of Memphis. He is suspected in several additional attacks in the same area over the previous decade.
— The city of New Orleans, the NOPD, and USDOJ the enter into a Consent Decree. The Consent Decree resolves a federal investigation into unconstitutional policing practices, including gender bias in failing to adequately respond to sexual assault complaints.
— The Police Executive Research Forum issues a comprehensive report on improving the police response to sexual assault.
— USDOJ issues a written report alleging unconstitutional conduct by NOPD.
— Anthony Sowell is convicted of murdering 11 women in Cleveland. Women who survived being raped by Sowell reported the attack to police in 2009. She consented to a forensic rape examination, but her rape kit was not tested until after Sowell’s arrest for the murders. Five of Sowell’s murder victims were killed after this rape kit was collected. Testing finally done on the kit revealed Sowell’s DNA.
— After the FBI takes control of the Detroit Police Department property room, Detroit officials reveal over 11,000 untested rape kits in police storage.
— USDOJ begins investigating the New Orleans Police Department for patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct including discriminatory policing of crimes against women.
— WREG reporters Keli Rabon and Jim O’Donnell investigate untested rape kits in Memphis.
— Sara Reedy testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee urging the FBI to update its definition of “rape.”
— Women’s Law Project files an amicus brief in Reedy v. Evanson urging the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to “reject the district court’s and police reliance on myths about how sexual assault victims should behave.”
— Rape victim Abigail Brown publicly accuses the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office of mishandling her case.
— A Human Rights Watch report exposes over 12,000 untested rape kits in law enforcement storage throughout Los Angeles County.
— Inquiries by the Cleveland Plain Dealer spur Cleveland Police Department to announce plans to process over 4,000 untested rape kits.
— Anthony Sowell is arrested as the suspect in the murders of eleven women whose bodies were discovered decaying in his Cleveland duplex. Cleveland police later admit that they did not process a 2009 rape kit with connection to Sowell.
— Danielle Hicks-Best, an 11-year old girl in Washington, D.C., reports being raped repeatedly by two men. Police conduct little investigation into her attack. Instead, they interview her in a way that violates guidelines for childhood sexual assault cases, delay DNA analysis, mislead her into giving contradictory accounts of the attacks, and have her charged with false reporting.
Police documents say Danielle was charged with filing a false report because her recounting of the rapes shifted and she acknowledged lying about the identity of one of the abductors, who claimed the sex was consensual. Danielle said she cannot recall exactly what she told the police about the alleged abductor; experts say inconsistent accounts by rape victims are not uncommon but do not mean that rape did not occur.
Furthermore, Danielle’s age at the time of the assaults raises the question of why, when there were two medical reports detailing the sexual injuries she suffered, the police did not at least look into statutory rape charges.
— Jessica Gonzalez appears before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She had exhausted all judicial avenues in her lawsuit against the United States government.
— A federal audit report examines Tennessee’s use of federal money earmarked for DNA testing. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) entered into a cooperative agreement with NIJ in 2003 under the “No Suspect Casework DNA Backlog Reduction Program.”
— Memphis law enforcement officials partner with the University of Memphis to create Operation Blue C.R.U.S.H. (Crime Reduction Using Statistical History), a “data-driven policing” model similar to NYPD’s CompStat system.
— Sara Reedy, 19, is raped at gunpoint during a robbery at the gas station where she was working in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. Reedy promptly reports the attack to police and submits to a forensic rape examination. Instead of investigating her complaint, police arrest her, charging her with filing a false report and with the robbery itself. Reedy files suit against Cranberry Township police.
— Trial begins in a lawsuit against Philadelphia filed by the parents of UPenn student Shannon Schieber, who was raped and murdered by a serial rapist.
— The Memphis Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI) Project: A Case Study is published. Researchers present findings on “data-driven interventions” to reducing and preventing rape in Memphis.
— Philadelphia authorities indict the DNA profile of the still unknown Center City rapist in 6 attacks.
— Phoenix police begin submitting previously untested rape kits.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer releases a jarring three-part investigative series, Rape Squad Files: How police failed the victims. Part I, “A 7 year-old ‘knew who did it'” includes the police report labeling the incident as “lost child.” In Part II, “Jogger took initiative to seek attacker,” victim Grace Roman recounts inept investigators and dehumanizing treatment at the hands of police. Part III, “Police doubted teen was groped,” includes part of the incident report in which police judge the victim’s complaint to be “unfounded.”
— Memphis receives a federal grant to participate in Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI), a research project aimed at reducing rapes and sexual assaults in Memphis through inter-agency collaborations. Participants include the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), city administration, the Memphis Police Department, the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western DIstrict of Tennessee, the Shelby County juvenile court, researchers from the University of Memphis, and the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center (MSARC).
Veronica Coleman, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, called the initial group together to brainstorm about crimes that most needed to be addressed in the Memphis area. “The consensus was clearly that sexual assault was a problem,” Coleman said. “We went around the table and talked about it. “It was unanimously decided that, as complex a problem as it appeared to be, we felt if we had the opportunity to take on a different type of initiative, this was the problem we wanted to tackle.”
— DNA evidence links the same unknown man — now called the Center City rapist — to the Schieber murder and numerous prior sexual assaults that police had not seriously investigated. Subsequent DNA testing, completed because the Philadelphia Inquirer questions the handling of a 1997 rape complaint, reveals the DNA of the Center City rapist.
The police rape squad initially classified the attack on the Center City woman, then 25, as “investigation of person,” a noncriminal code. Police have frequently used that code to keep sexual assaults and other offenses out of the department’s official crime tally. Later, the Central Detective Division coded it as a burglary.
— Sylvester and Vicki Schieber file a lawsuit against Philadelphia, alleging that police inaction allowed their daughter to die.
— University of Pennsylvania student Shannon Schieber is murdered during a home invasion rape.
— Numerous young women report home invasion rapes by an unknown man, all in the Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia. Police downgrade complaints to less serious crimes and perform minimal investigations.
— A Georgia Bureau of Investigation audit of the Atlanta Police Department’s reporting of crime statistics finds police pressured officers to “unfound” sex crimes reports. This way, the cases will not appear in the FBI’s crime statistics.
People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws is a program of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center to monitor law enforcement responses to sexual violence, develop peer advocacy, and organize for criminal justice reform. We urge you to learn more about America’s hidden rape crisis, where it has been exposed, and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support our efforts to make sure law enforcement takes rape seriously.