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A Philadelphia Story - Part II

By the third city council hearing in December 2000, 91 percent of the 2701 cases had been reviewed. According to the Inquirer, more than 700 cases were found to be rapes, with over 500 determined other sexual crimes.

The Inquirer's detective work and the work of advocacy groups has resulted in a major corrective process that's still under way at the SVU. Timoney and Captain Joseph Mooney of the SVU have set up a command structure to make sure investigators are fully trained in how to treat victims. WOAR is helping to revise training at the police academy and unit levels. And the SVU has instituted follow-up protocol: a letter sent to every victim names the investigating officer for their case and lists four different advocacy groups they can contact. In what Timoney calls a "quality control survey," a victim's assistance officer contacts victims to make sure they feel their cases have been properly investigated. The Women's Law Project has also helped to revise the coding manual, and the unit now has 88 officers and detectives, over a third more than in 1998. "More important," says Timoney, "the people we're putting in there are trained investigators." When Timoney took over in 1998, the unit was mostly comprised of beat officers.

To "unfound" a case now requires the signatures of two officers; Philadelphia's unfounded rate is down to 7 percent from a high of 18 percent in 1998.

The women's groups involved intend to continue their work with the police. And Samantha Richards can now walk in her neighborhood without fear of running into her rapist. Jasper Washington was arrested in late 2000, when his DNA was discovered to match samples taken from Samantha's clothes. He was tried and convicted last December and at press time was awaiting sentencing.

The overhaul of the SVU has brought attention to the issue of rape in Philadelphia and some comfort to women who feel they're now being heard instead of screaming into a void. Advocates hope that other cities will take notice. "I doubt Philly's the only city that downgrades crimes," says Tracy. Carole Johnson, executive director of WOAR, agrees: "All we can do is work together to make sure this doesn't happen again. And maybe other cities will clean their own houses."

Check Up On Your City
by Mark Fazlollah

You can monitor your own city's handling of rape charges. The stats are available to any citizen or advocacy group. Here's what to look for:

Rape rates dramatically lower than national norms
The national norm is 33 rapes for every 100,000 people. In cities with dramatically lower rates, it may indicate a problem. For example, in 1999, New York City reported a rape rate below the national average, though all other violent crimes in the city were well above the national average. Uniform Crime Report statistics for the first half of 2000 showed that Minneapolis had five times more rapes per capita than New York. In Minneapolis, which has good rape counseling services, women may feel more comfortable reporting an assault. New York City's rates may indicate a lack of police follow-up and sensitivity or just bad police reporting practices.

Unfounded rates too high
In an "unfounded" rape case, police are supposed to have evidence that no rape actually occurred, such as a recantation. Nationally, the unfounded rate is 9%. So if your city reports a high unfounded rate (like the 41% rate that Milwaukee reported in 1998), you might want to ask whether its police department is prone to believing that women lie about rape.

Low Attempted Rape Rates
The FBI counts both attempted and "completed" rapes as rape. Nationally, one in every eight rapists does not "complete" the rape. But in San Antonio, the average was one attempt for every 36 actual rapes in 1999. The police may be counting attempted rapes as molestation, lowering their overall rape rates.


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