In the U.S. Senate, A Hearing on Downgrading Rape Complaints; In Our City Council, Crickets (Update)

While elected officials here in the city are reticent to hold public hearings on allegations published in the Village Voice on the downgrading of criminal complaints by the NYPD, the United States Senate has no such qualms about looking at the practice across the country.

Senator Arlen Specter, a democrat from Pennsylvania , says he will hold a judiciary committee hearing Sept. 14 on "the chronic failure to report and investigate rape cases," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

In addition to reporting in the Village Voice and the New York Times about the practice, news stories on the downgrading of rape cases have appeared in newspapers in Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Cleveland, the Inquirer says.

In Baltimore, the Sun newspaper found that while the number of reported rapes declined, the number of purported "false" complaints tripled. The Sun concluded that Baltimore Police Department led the nation in declaring rape claims "unfounded."

In Philly, meanwhile, the Inquirer reported back in 2000 that cops there had rejected thousands of sex abuse complaints with "little or no investigation."

Here in New York, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has appointed a panel to look into whether more training is needed for cops. But the City Council hasn't done much on the matter. The Council even cut funding to an umbrella organization for rape crisis centers.

Update:

The spate of news reports in major cities strongly suggests that downgrading of sex crimes is hardly isolated to one metropolitan police department.

"This is not something that is idiosyncratic," says Carol Tracy, of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia. "This is a chronic failure. That's why I asked Sen. Specter to hold hearings."

Tracy described New York City's rape statistics as "dreadful." "They just don't report anything accurately," she says, meaning that most felony sex attacks aren't reflected in the numbers that the city reports to the FBI for its annual crime report. Another problem, she says, is that the FBI's definition of rape hasn't been changed for 80 years, and is too narrow to accurately reflect the current legal understanding of rape.

Told that despite all that has been written about the New York City crime stats, the New York City Council won't hold hearings, Tracy said, "That's terrible. I got them to hold hearings in Philadelphia, and it was the easiest thing I ever did. And they did, and it really held the Police Department's feet to the fire."

"There's nothing like a little sunshine to improve public accountability and City council is the appropriate forum to do so," she added. "The lack of reliable and verifiable data on the incidence of violent sexual assault and the disposition of such cases is a compelling problem. You cannot manage - or improve - what you cannot measure. And the lack of solid data about sexual assaults and how they are handled by police means we--as a society--do not really know how prevalent this violent crime is, how safe our citizens are, nor how effective are the methods used to investigate and punish perpetrators."



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