Study Suggests Police Systematically Undercount Rape Reports
Corey Rayburn Yung, an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, has published a startling study in the Iowa Law Review. Based on his investigations of Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis law enforcement and victim narratives from across the country, Yung believes that police officers are undercounting rape reports — and convincing the American people that we’re “winning the battle against sexual violence” when we’re simply failing more quietly than before. The professor writes:
During the last two decades, many police departments substantially undercounted reported rapes creating “paper” reductions in crime. Media investigations in Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis found that police eliminated rape complaints from official counts because of cultural hostility to rape complaints and to create the illusion of success in fighting violent crime. The undercounting cities used three difficult-to-detect methods to remove rape complaints from official records: designating a complaint as “unfounded” with little or no investigation; classifying an incident as a lesser offense; and, failing to create a written report that a victim made a rape complaint.
Yung’s study calls into doubt claims from the past few years that rates of sexual violence have steadily decreased in the U.S. I don’t have enough of a quant background to vouch for the methodology here and we can’t know if the entire decline claimed by law enforcement is due to police coverups - but Jung things it might be: the study period, 1995-2012, covers much of the era of supposed crime reduction (according to official records) but actually includes, by the paper’s account, 15 to 18 of the years that saw the highest rates of rape since 1930 (when data was first collected). “Instead of experiencing the widely reported “great decline” in rape,” Jung writes, “America is in the midst of a hidden rape crisis.”