Note to Biden: Cops Aren't Answer to Rape

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Joe Biden recently threw the rape card at opponents of Obama's failed jobs bill, saying they would prevent the hiring of cops needed at the crime scene. Wendy Murphy calls it a spurious argument unworthy of a leading advocate for women's safety.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Vice President Joe Biden recently criticized opponents of the president's failed jobs bill on the grounds that--among other things--rapes "will continue to rise" if the bill isn't passed.

His reason: the bill would have paid for more police officers who could get to the scene of the crime and prevent a rape.

This is nonsense.

Rape victims almost never call 911 because they rarely report the crime right away.

Even when then they do, the cop almost never shows up in time to prevent the crime; not because there aren't enough officers on duty, but because by the time the victim is free enough to call 911, the perpetrator is long gone.

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Biden further complicated the public perception of rape by describing the crime, from a victim's point of view, as having a "200 pound man standing over you telling you to submit."

Note to Joe: That's not how it happens. Ask most any victim.

Offenders Usually Known

Eighty five percent of the time, the offender is someone the victim knows and the victim isn't thinking about the emergency room so much as how harshly people will judge her for his actions. More cops won't change this.

Victim advocates, meanwhile, are often leery of police tactics when it comes to rape, particularly cases involving police officers as alleged perpetrators.

A far more effective option would cost taxpayers nothing: The definition of rape could be modified in every state to eliminate force as an element of the crime. Almost all states define rape as requiring proof of force as well as non-consent. This enables offenders to violate victims against their will, with impunity, so long as they don't use force.

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I beg to disagree with Wendy Murphy’s analysis that more cops won’t make a difference in rape arrests and prosecutions or that changing the FBI’s definition will have little impact. The Women’s Law Project has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the chronic and systemic failure of police in many major cities to adequately investigate sex crimes. We have also testified about the inadequacies of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report’s outdated definition of rape because it does not reflect states’ criminal codes, which categorizes as felonies those sexual assaults that people view as rape, and misleads the public about the number of felonious sex crimes handled by police. The UCR is also used to allocate federal dollars. The understatement of the statistics has huge public safety and financial implications. We’ve led the effort to bring about this change, which, Wendy Murphy’s assertion to the contrary, has not yet occurred.

We’ve worked in Philadelphia to reform police practice dealing with sex crimes and have consulted with journalists throughout the country who have uncovered scandals regarding sex crime investigation. We know that with strong leadership, collaboration with advocacy organizations, and appropriate resources, police can improve their response to sex crimes. We’ve seen it in Philadelphia – we’re not done here but we’ve made significant progress – and we’re seeing it in other cities as well.

The reality is that fewer police on the job means fewer police to respond to and investigate reported incidents of sexual violence, which means less accountability for perpetrators and therefore increased crime and decreased public safety. Rape crimes are uniquely resource-intensive – and of special interest to Vice President Biden – so they were singled out because these crimes would be particularly affected. Instead of criticizing the Vice President, Murphy should applaud him for keeping the issue of rape in the public eye.

More significantly, however, the Vice President has supported expanding the definition in the UCR because the current definition causes significant undercounting of sex crimes. So the fact that there are even more sex crimes than the public and policymakers have known about means that the need for police is even greater than we thought, which is exactly what the jobs bill will address.

Just because most women don’t report the crime to police does not mean that those who do come forward should not receive appropriate police response. In addition, more police and improved police response will, we hope, increase reporting by increasing public confidence in the police. It is clearly in the public interest to encourage increased reporting to law enforcement so that more rapists – whom current research shows tend to be serial predators – will be apprehended. The Vice President did not “throw the rape card.” He raised public awareness of the crime of rape - perhaps ineffectually - but nevertheless accurately described a major unmet need and a solution to it in the jobs bill. Additional police clearly are not the only answer, but their role in fighting violence against women cannot be overstated.

Submitted by Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director, Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center located in Pennsylvania.

Well spoken, timely article!