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Supporters of a Texas law that restricts abortion after rape say it is enough to arrest more rapists.  It will work?


WASHINGTON – Gov. Greg Abbott and other supporters of a new Texas law banning abortion after about six weeks – even in cases of rape and incest – have pledged to crack down on sexual assault to reduce the need for abortions. Abbott said last month, shortly after the law known as SB 8 came into effect, that it would “eliminate all rapists.”

A review of state and FBI data by NBC News, however, indicates that the rape elimination rate in Texas has declined year on year, and the Texas elimination rate is now nearly behind schedule. one third of the national average.

In 2019, the most recent year for which national and state data are available, the national rate was 32.9%, while the rate in Texas had fallen to 23.3%. Just four years earlier, Texas had settled 38% of rape cases.

The lack of rape prosecutions in Texas has been such a concern that Abbott’s office has sponsored a study at the University of Texas at Austin to be released this fall that will examine why the vast majority of sexual assault cases do not. are never prosecuted.

“Eliminating” a case usually means making an arrest or definitively identifying a suspect.

Disposal and arrest rates vary from state to state for a number of reasons; crime statistics are notoriously difficult to compare due to differences in the quality, standards and style of record keeping from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The FBI warns that using its crime data to rank states based on their performance can be misleading, as can comparing state performance from year to year.

Historically, however, the national arrest and rape clearance rate has been declining since 1996, when it was 52%. Clearance and arrest rates for all violent crimes have been declining for years, and rape has always been difficult to prosecute and investigate.

Advocates for victims of sexual assault say the lack of arrests and incarceration undermines Abbott’s claim that he can “take all rapists off the streets of Texas by aggressively exiting, arresting and harming them. pursuing them “.

Supporters of a Texas law that restricts abortion after rape say it is enough to arrest more rapists.  It will work?

“When we say we’re going to arrest all rapists, that’s not even possible,” said Houston Police Detective Kamesha Baker, who works in the Special Victims Division and is a member of the task force of the governor on sexual assault. His department investigates 20,000 rapes a year, the largest number in the state.

The Biden administration has asked the Supreme Court to stop the imposition of Texas law. The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that SB 8 would remain in effect while it accelerates the response to the administration’s challenge.

Seven other states – Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee – have passed similar legislation banning abortion without exceptions for rape or incest. The courts blocked the entry into force of all laws.

Abortion rights advocates meet on October 2 at the Texas State Capitol in Austin.Stephen Spillman / AP

The Mississippi law challenge faces the Supreme Court in a case that could upend the Roe v. Wade of 1973, which legalized abortion nationwide.

Data on the elimination of rape is not available for the seven states. However, arrest rates for 2019 are available for six of them. Three are near or just above the national average of 14.2 percent, while three others are below.

Texas was also below the national average, with arrests 13.4% of the time.

Why is it so hard to move the needle?

The difficulties of arresting and charging suspects in rape cases are not unique to Texas or any of the other states that have restricted abortion.

Austin’s former police sergeant. Elizabeth Donegan, who led the department’s sex crimes unit for nine years, said low rape arrest rates are a problem across the country.

“I can’t say that there is something unique about Texas,” she said. “The problems lie in leadership, training and the truth about what is happening in our communities in response to sexual assault. “

Baker, who is studying for a doctorate in criminal justice with a focus on sexual assault, said, “This is a societal problem, not just a Texas problem. Looking at peer-reviewed studies and articles regarding d ‘other cities and states, it seems to me, at all levels, the question arises as to how to provide evidence when the case comes down to consent. “

Baker stressed that his views are his own and not those of the police department.

Supporters of a Texas law that restricts abortion after rape say it is enough to arrest more rapists.  It will work?

Unlike other crimes, there are often no witnesses of sexual assault. Most assaults occur in homes or residences where there are no surveillance cameras, Baker said. Some reports are made weeks after the incidents, making it difficult to collect forensic evidence.

According to a University of Texas study, only 9% of sexual assaults on women in Texas are committed by people the victims do not know. The numbers are similar across the country. Former New York City Police Officer Jillian Snider, a teacher at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, said: “Even though ‘Law and Order: SVU’ will make it look like it happens all the time , it’s very rare.”

When a victim knows the abuser, proving that there was no consent can be difficult. Less than 20% of rapes are even reported to the police, according to experts.

Sgt. Christopher Adams, who heads the Dallas Police Unit that deals with sex crimes, said his team of detectives is also often blocked by victims who change their minds about the prosecution. “It’s not to blame them – it’s a very traumatic event, and often they don’t want to think about it,” he said. “They talk to a patrol officer – and then they sort of disappear.”

Victim advocates and data analysts for the government of Wisconsin and Vermont, where rape arrest and clearance rates in 2019 were above the national average, said they were unaware their states had made arrests at a higher than average rate and had no definitive explanation.

Supporters of a Texas law that restricts abortion after rape say it is enough to arrest more rapists.  It will work?

In Vermont, where 36.7% of cases were cleared, a victim advocate noted that after the high-profile rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in 2008, the state passed legislation creating special investigative units for each county to focus on crimes – but said assigning a higher rate to these units would be speculative.

A lawyer from Wisconsin, which has a 48% clearance rate, also said he could only speculate on why the state’s rate would be above average, but noted that the latter years, the state Department of Justice has made considerable efforts to train officers. on how to interact with trauma victims during sexual assault investigations.

In the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, the police department’s special unit for victims, a rape center, shelter, and mental health counselors are all housed in the same building, the Sojourner Family Peace Center. Center manager Carmen Pitre said she believes “quality people and dedicated resources” contribute to the city’s high customs clearance rates.

Arrests vs authorization

FBI statistics show an increase in rape reports since the #MeToo movement began over the past decade. Despite the increase, the number of rapes “solved” by identifying suspects has remained the same or has decreased.

Twenty states are participating in a new Justice Department criminal data system that captures the number of rape cases that are resolved through arrests versus what are called “exceptional means,” a catch-all phrase. cases where the police “clarify” cases by identifying suspects but cannot make arrests for a wide range of reasons – from the deaths of suspects to the withdrawal of victims’ cooperation.

Texas law enforcement officials confirmed that the state’s rape clearance rate rose from 38% in 2015 to 23.3% in 2019. They declined to break down the number of rape cases. resolved by arrest in relation to exceptional means.

Donegan made headlines when she revealed in 2011 that she had been asked to “erase” rape cases to improve Austin Police Department statistics. Police have opened an investigation and announced reforms.

Supporters of a Texas law that restricts abortion after rape say it is enough to arrest more rapists.  It will work?

Donegan said the most important step in improving case outcomes is training detectives to believe victims. “If we were to invest in these cases, we would be much further ahead,” she said. “Most of the sex crimes units are doing the best they can, and they take inspiration from their supervisors.”

Shima Baradaran Baughman, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies rape elimination rates, said: “The problem of solving more crime isn’t just with prosecutors or more police, but with better police investigation.

The governor’s response

Texas lawmakers passed tough laws against sexual assault, such as one in 2019 that required the governor to set up a task force for sexual assault survivors and another that required all rape kits to be sent to criminal laboratories within 90 days of collection.

As a result, the turnaround time for rape kits has improved in Dallas, police said, but in Houston, Baker said, delays can still be up to 11 months. She said labs are sometimes so busy that the kits are contracted out to a private lab in Virginia, further delaying results.

Joe Pojman, founder of the Texas Alliance for Life, at Texas State House in Austin on May 20.Mary Kang / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Joe Pojman, the founder of the Texas Alliance for Life, which supports a ban on abortion in all cases, including rape, said he agreed with Abbott’s goal of cracking down on abortion. sexual assault. “I recommend that the governor do everything possible to ensure that a rapist is convicted – justice must be served on the rapist, and it must be very public, so it is a deterrent,” he said .

A spokesperson for Abbott said in a statement that “Governor Abbott has stood up for the safety and security of all Texans and has particularly focused on protecting and supporting women at risk of assault sexual “. The spokesperson said Abbott had blocked efforts to “fund the police” so that law enforcement had “the resources to fight such crimes and investigate rapes.”

But for Adams, the Dallas police sergeant, the improvement is elusive. “We would obviously like to have [the clearance rate] much higher, ”he said. “But do I think they’re doing the best job they can? One hundred percent yes. We are doing whatever we can do. “

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