I came across a shocking story a few days ago, and I just can’t stop thinking about it. The story is about a young college student who was raped at a party, after apparently being drugged. How many times have we heard this story? Well, it happened to “Hannah” in December of 2006. Here’s Hannah’s story, magnificently told by Amanda Hess at the Washington City Paper.
The story is long, but I hope you can take the time to read the whole thing.
The gist of it is that Hannah was dancing with Bilal, another Howard University student whom she knew slightly. This is her last memory of that night:
“He was getting a little rough, and I remember trying to kind of just get away from him,” she recalled in the deposition. “I remember I tried to stop dancing with him.…[There was] a little too much of sexual suggestion.…just touching me too much.” She started to feel blurry, woozy, dizzy, “and then nothing.”
The young men who threw the party supposedly had a rule that no one was allowed upstairs. They even had a furniture barricade and a bouncer guarding the staircase. But somehow Hannah ended up in the upstairs bathroom anyway. The next morning, Hannah
woke up in her Howard University dorm room with a piece of her life missing. Hannah, a 19-year-old sophomore, had unexplained pain in her rectum and hip. Her panty liner, which she had worn the night before, was missing. Vomit dotted her gloves and coat. Her friend Kerston lay beside her in the skinny dorm room bed. Kerston told Hannah not to shower—they had to go back to the hospital to secure a rape kit.
Hannah had been fortunate in that her girlfriends stuck by her. They demanded to be allowed upstairs to look for her and kept insisting they wouldn’t leave with out her even when the bouncer and the young men who lived in the house tried to make them leave. Hannah was finally allowed to come downstairs, and one of her friends stayed with her all night to make sure she didn’t shower or do anything else to prevent evidence from being collected.
Hannah was so ill that she couldn’t stop vomiting, even the next morning. She was in pain in her rectum and her hip and leg hurt so much she was limping. When her friends got her to the hospital, she was terribly sick and incoherent from whatever drug she had been given.
You’d think a doctor or nurse would realize that this young woman had been hurt and probably given a date rape drug, and would at least treat her injuries. But that isn’t what happened to Hannah, because in Washington D.C., only the police can determine whether someone was raped. The hospital refused to give Hannah a rape kit because the police determined that, since she couldn’t remember the last name of the young man she was dancing with and since she had been drinking and “must have blacked out,” she couldn’t be given official rape victim status.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about the LAPD’s shameful backlog on analyzing rape kits. But until now, I had no idea that hospitals didn’t routinely collect rape kits–evidence that could be used in a prosecution of the crime.
Hannah was drugged and raped, and the next day she was re-traumatized by having to deal with two misogynistic bureaucracies–the DC police and the Howard University Hospital. According to Amanda Hess, a program called SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) was in effect in DC area hospitals at the time of Hannah’s rape. This program was supposed to prevent rape victims from having to sit in emergency rooms for 12 hours waiting to be seen. But it wasn’t easy to find a hospital that would participate in the program.
“One hospital’s response literally was, ‘We don’t want to be the rape hospital,’” [a sane spokewoman said]. Finally, Howard University Hospital agreed to host the program, providing local rape victims a greater chance of seeking justice from their attackers. But once the program was established at Howard, rape victims encountered another problem: All victims would have to receive police authorization before receiving an examination.
That was the Catch-22. The police had to authorize a rape kit, and the police decided Hannah couldn’t have one. Therefore, no police report was taken, no charges were filed, and no one went to the scene of the crime to collect evidence!
Howard University has now terminated the SANE program and it wasn’t easy to find another hospital to take it on. But now, because of the Violence Against Women Act of 2009, women can now get rape kits at one Washington DC hospital, even if they don’t want to talk to the police. And police no long make the decision about who will get a rape kit.
But does that mean rapes will be investigated and prosecuted? No, because the police still get to decide which rape kits will be analyzed, and they don’t like to spend money on this particular type of investigation. Hence the shameful nationwide backlog of rape kits.
We often talk about how if women can’t control their own bodies, we really have no rights. Well, Hannah was not only drugged against her will and raped but also had no control over whether her rape would be investigated or prosecuted. Are women citizens of the country with rights or not?! I say we aren’t if our bodies can be violated against our will and we have no recourse, then no! Our so-called citizenship is fake and meaningless.
It has nothing to do with morals, Stupak’s, mine, or the man in the moon’s. Rights. The right to control our own medical procedures. The right to control our bodies. Rights. Get it?
So, no, “different people, acting in good faith” may not judge a law about rights in different ways. Not even when it’s a law about women’s medical rights.
The upshot of Hannah’s experience is that she has sued:
the District of Columbia, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, both universities, and several doctors she says denied or interfered with her medical care. She seeks damages for medical malpractice and negligence from the medical defendants and the D.C. police, which she says resulted in “the probable loss of the opportunity to see her assailant brought to justice.”
I hope she wins and collects big bucks. And I congratulate Amanda Hess for telling Hannah’s story in such a clear and understandable way. Of course Hess is getting plenty of trollish responses to her story. Here’s one outrageous comment.
But about that backlog, here’s just one story from Illinois–but this is happening all over the country.
Fairview Heights police investigated 48 sexual assaults reported between 2002 and 2009.
But of those 48 cases, police collected nine rape kits — small packages of DNA evidence taken at the hospital where sexual assault victims are treated.
And only four of those nine rape kits were submitted for testing to the nearby Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory, police records show.
Police departments are acting as filters to determine which women will even get to provide evidence of their rapes and then again limiting which women will get to have the rape kits tested for DNA.
Last year CBS did an extensive study of the problem of untested rape kits.
The CBS News probe found a staggering number of rape kits — that could contain incriminating DNA evidence — have never been sent to crime labs for testing. CBS News found at least 20,000 untested kits: 5,600 in Detroit. 3,800 in Houston, 5,100 in San Antonio, and 1,100 in Albuquerque. Many of the kits found, Keteyian said, were untested for years.
He added that at least 12 major American cities, including Anchorage, Baltimore, Birmingham, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Oakland, Phoenix, and San Diego said they have no idea how many of rape kits in storage are untested.
CBS also talked to David Lisak, a psychologist from the University of Massachusetts who studies perpetrators of sexual assault. He focuses on non-stranger rapes. You can watch the video interview here.
“Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim. Take the statement from the alleged perpetrator and then throw up our hands because they are saying conflicting things,” he said. “That’s not how we investigate other crimes.”
“Predators look for vulnerable people and they prey on vulnerable people,” Lisak said. And if, as a criminal justice system, we’re going to essentially turn from any victim who was drinking or any victim who was in some way vulnerable – we’re essentially giving a free pass to sexual predators.”
So what now? Congress must act to force cities and police departments to test every rape kit as prosecutors do in New York City, according to CBS:
…even in cases of acquaintance rape – over 1,300 last year alone.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” said Mecki Prinz of the NY Medical Examiners Office.
The results are stunning. Today New York City’s arrest rate for rape is 70 percent – triple the national average.
Prinz says testing kits in acquaintance cases can tie suspects to other attacks, “We have lots of situations where a domestic situation or an acquaintance situation is actually an indication of the male involved responsible for other rapes,”
In the Washington Times of all places, Penny Nance called on our Democratic Congress to strengthen the Debbie Smith Law (originally written by New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney),
a bill that provided federal dollars for states to clear up the backlog of rape kits, became law under President George W. Bush in 2004 and was renewed in 2008. Debbie Smith was a woman raped in Virginia whose kit took 10 years to process. In those 10 years, the DNA was successfully matched in her case, but her rapist already had committed other rapes….
Since then, we have learned that funds for rape-kit analysis are going to other uses not intended by the law’s authors. The states are not required to use the federal funds specifically for rape kits, only for DNA backlog, thus allowing for a huge loophole.
Nance says that Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah
“has repeatedly asked the chairman [of the House Judiciary Committee], Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, to take steps to address the issue, but Mr. Conyers has yet to show any interest in fixing the law.”
I don’t know whether this is a valid criticism or not, but I have learned that in 2009, Reps Al Franken (D-MN), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act in the Senate. The proposed bill was referred to the
Senate Judiciary Committee on November 5, 2009. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the same bill in the House in November 2009.
I also found this blog, written by Valerie Neumann, whose story was highlighted in CBS report last year. She recently posted a piece by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch about her recent meetings about this issue at the White House and on Capital Hill. She was accompanied by Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order SVU.
So what’s the holdup, Congress? Do you really care more about the banksters than about rape prosecutions? Never mind, don’t answer that.