Sex crime response remains flawed
Police neglect evidence, leave cases open despite reform efforts, report says
Six years after Baltimore established a review team to oversee reforms to sexual assault investigations, the Department of Justice reported evidence of continuing bias and failure to look into cases properly.
Justice Department investigators said in the report that the Baltimore police “persistently neglect” to test rape kits or gather forensic evidence, were quick to disregard claims from sex workers, and failed to follow up on indications of serial suspects.
In general, the investigators said, detectives made “minimal to no effort to locate, identify, interrogate, or investigate suspects.”
“We found this to be true even in cases where the suspects had been identified or were easily identifiable on the basis of the victim's testimony,” they said.
In one case, investigators reported, a woman said she was intoxicated when a taxi driver took her to his home and raped her. The taxi driver admitted taking the woman to his home, and a rape kit tested positive for semen. But police made no attempt to get a DNA sample from the driver, they said.
Investigators reported advocates and victims told them police had a dismissive attitude. They found an email exchange in which a city prosecutor wrote to a police officer that an alleged victim “seems like a conniving little whore.”
“Lmao!” the officer responded, using an internet abbreviation for laughter. “I feel the same.”
Jacqueline Robarge, founder of the anti-violence nonprofit Power Inside, called the exchange “particularly heartbreaking.”
“Those are deeply troubling remarks that demonstrate an attitude about certain survivors of rape that those survivors have long known exist,” she said, “and create a situation where they're re-traumatized again and again, even as they have the courage to step forward and identify an assailant.”
A spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said officials do not know who the prosecutor is, or whether the prosecutor worked in Mosby's administration. The Justice Department investigation covers the years 2010 through 2015. Mosby took office in 2015.
“Unfortunately, we were not made aware of these assertions and we do not know the author of this email,” spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said.
In 2010, The Baltimore Sun reported that city police were discarding rape complaints at the highest rate in the nation, five times the national average.
The city created a Sexual Assault Response Team composed of victim advocates, police and prosecutors to oversee how cases were being investigated and classified. In the years that followed, the rate of cases classified as “unfounded” plummeted.
But the Justice Department expressed concern that the department might simply be letting cases linger as “open” rather than marking them “unfounded,” to limit the number of cases it officially believes have no merit.