What Testing 5,000 Backlogged Rape Kits Just Told Us About Rapists

The testing of almost 5,000 backlogged rape kits in Cuyahoga County, Ohio is shedding light on important differences between one-time and serial rapists — and has led to 250 convictions so far.

Funded by a grant from Ohio's Department of Justice, researchers from Case Western Reserve University teamed up with the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force in 2014 to begin testing 4,800 backlogged rape kits from sexual assaults committed between 1993 and 2010. The researchers sought justice for forgotten and ignored survivors, as well as insight into how sexual assault is committed and prosecuted.

"The experience of collecting a rape kit is invasive and especially so right after a victim has been traumatically assaulted," Rachel Lovell, co-leader of the research project, said in a statement. "These victims did what they have been asked to do to preserve evidence — but that evidence just sat, untested. The new processes we hope will emerge from our effort will better honor victims." Already, the project has led to the indictment of 462 defendants implicated in over 500 sexual assaults. Of cases that have been completed, 92% have led to convictions, with an average sentence of 10 years.

The team is making substantial progress on the research side as well. A few key discoveries from the early findings it released yesterday:
Serial rapists make up a large group of all rapists. Of the 243 sexual assaults the research project studied, 51% were committed by serial sexual assaulters.

The majority of both serial and one-time rapists committed a felony-level crime before committing sexual assault — and then committed another afterward. Of serial rapists studied, 74% had at least one prior felony arrest (26% had a prior arrest specifically for sexual assault) and 95% had a subsequent felony arrest (60% had a subsequent arrest specifically for sexual assault). Of one-time rapists, 51% had a prior felony arrest and 78% had a subsequent one.

Serial and one-time rapists behave differently during their attacks. While serial rapists were more likely than one-time rapists to kidnap and verbally and physically threaten victims, they were less likely to restrain or injure victims during their attacks. Serial rapists commit more rapes outdoors or in cars, while one-time rapists attack in homes: their own, the homes of their victims, or the homes of third parties.

One-time offenders are more likely to be acquaintances of their victims than are serial offenders — but a third of serial rapists assaulted both strangers and acquaintances. "This underscores the need to thoroughly investigate acquaintance rapes, because of the possibility those offenders have or will engage in assaults against strangers, too," the report states.
Sexual assault is one of the least-reported crimes: According to RAINN, 68% of sexual assaults go unreported, and 97 out of 100 rapists never see a day in jail. It's vital that when survivors do come forward, it's not in vain, and the evidence they provide is taken seriously — not only in Cuyahoga County but everywhere.

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