A few days ago, President Donald Trump tweeted: “People’s’ lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.” He said there’s no recovery for someone falsely accused and then questioned “due process” in rape cases.
But Trump is ignoring the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits that lie abandoned in police and crime lab storage facilities across the nation. In 2015, the Department of Justice estimated 400,000 untested kits in the U.S.
Even though DNA evidence in rape kits can identify suspects and serial offenders, affirm a survivor’s account of the attack and exonerate the innocent, many law enforcers do not prioritize funds to testing these kits.
These backlogged kits – many of which were dumped in crumbling, decrepit warehouses – represent the way our society devalues and distrusts women by treating them as unworthy of the due process of law.
Only eight states have laws requiring the testing of all rape kits and Mississippi is not one of them. Mississippi does not even require law enforcement agencies to count, track or test rape kits so the extent of the state backlog is unknown.
Police officers do not consider rape cases important because of the pervasive cultural notion that victims are lying and responsible for their attacks. Distrust in half the population stems from nationally institutionalized sexism throughout history.
Women were not trusted to vote until 1920. Women were diagnosed with the now-discredited “hysteria” disorder and locked away in insane asylums.
Mississippi’s archaic rape law states that “the testimony of the female seduced, alone, shall not be sufficient to warrant a conviction” and identifies a rape victim as a woman “of previous chaste character” – establishing that promiscuous women are less than human in the eyes of the law.
The misogynistic “purity myth” is further reflected in law enforcers’ biases – in 2016, a Baltimore prosecutor wrote in an email to a BPD officer that the rape victim seemed “like a conniving little whore.”
This prosecutor is perpetrating the same ideas taught in abstinence-only school programs: that a woman’s only value is her sexuality. In the words of author and educator Darren Washington, after a man unwraps and sucks on a female’s “lollipop”, all she has left is a “saliva-fouled sucker”.
But ignoring allegations allows serial rapists to commit habitual assaults. In 1996, while at a car-wash, Helena Lazaro was forced into a truck at knife point and repeatedly raped.
She immediately went to the hospital and had evidence collected from her body.
But for 13 years, law enforcement ignored Lazaro’s calls and her rape kit was left untested and forgotten. During that time, her attacker assaulted his wife and an Ohio woman at gunpoint. Who knows how many other women he abused along his cross-country trucking route.
At the Film Festival panel following the 2017 documentary “I Am Evidence,” Oxford Police Major Jeff McCutchen said law enforcers need to be better trained on how to evaluate rape allegations.
While better police training is a good start, sexual assault injustice will only end when we, as citizens who actively shape our culture, stop valuing women solely on their sexuality and start trusting them.
Everyone contributes to the mishandling of rape kits: Those who look the other way at a party when a guy grabs a girl’s butt, those who laugh at jokes about a woman being “easy” and those who sing along to lyrics like “I hate these blurred lines – I know you want it” all play a role in propagating rape culture.
Jacqueline Knirnschild is a sophomore anthropology and Chinese double major from Brunswick, Ohio.