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You’ve probably seen the rape kit “backlog” in the news. But the “backlog” doesn’t tell the whole story. Police undercount reported rapes using difficult-to-detect methods. This leads to “paper” reductions in crime, creating the illusion of success in fighting violent crime. But when police departments undercount rapes, they budget less and less resources to fight sex crimes. These police departments under-investigate rapes as a matter of course, leaving dangerous offenders free to harm more people.

Here are three of the most common ways police bury rape cases.

1. Labeling the complaint “unfounded” after little or no investigation

Where police do not believe a crime occurred, they will mark the incident as “unfounded.”  These cases are not counted in national crime statistics.  FBI guidelines suggest that police only use this designation after conducting an investigation and proving that the crime did not occur. But police often label cases “unfounded” without investigating. This is the most prevalent way police bury rape cases.

2. Classifying the complaint as a lesser offense

In order to reduce rape numbers, police will record the incident as something other than a rape. For instance, if a victim reports being raped in their home by a stranger, the police may write up a report, but classify the incident as trespassing, leaving out the actual attack on the victim.

3. Failing to create a written report of the complaint

Instead, police will record informal notes as a memo, which does not get counted in the national crime statistics. Memos are not filed among active cases.  Recording crimes as memos eliminates the paper trail from the beginning.

SOURCE: How to Lie with Rape Statistics: America’s Hidden Rape Crisis by Corey Rayburn Yung, Associate Professor, University of Kansas School of Law

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.  Our goal is to end the law enforcement and political practices that effectively decriminalize sexual violence.   To this end, we connect victims with information about their rights and equip individuals with tools to advocate for themselves and others and advocate for fair criminal justice policies.  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.  

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