Sylvester J. Schieber
Sylvester J. SchieberFmr. chair of the Social Security Advisory Board
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Ignoring Sexual Assaults Can Be Deadly
Posted: 12/10/2013 12:38 pm
Inside DC, Metropolitan Police Department, Dc Council, Rape, DC News
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On May 7, 1998, my daughter, Shannon, a 23-year-old student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was raped and killed by a man who broke into her apartment at 2 a.m. Her killer previously had raped at least four other women before Shannon, all students living alone within a six-block radius of Shannon’s apartment, and all in early morning attacks.
However, the police failed to realize they had a serial rapist on their hands because detectives had classified two of the cases as “non-criminal offenses” and failed to investigate. According to the police statements, they did not believe the victims or found the victim’s memory of events unclear.
A report about the Metropolitan Police Department’s response to sexual assault cases in the District of Columbia identified similar issues. On December 12, the public will have its first chance to voice its opinions on proposed legislation to improve the MPD’s response to sexual assaults at a hearing of the DC Council.
The proposed DC legislation was prompted by a January Human Rights Watch investigation that concluded that the MPD failed to properly investigate scores of sexual abuse cases between 2008 and 2011 and often mistreated survivors who sought police assistance. A June report, conducted at the Council’s request by attorneys at Crowell & Moring, disputed Human Rights Watch’s methodology but echoed their recommendations for transparency and external oversight.
Initially, the Police Commissioner, John Timoney, downplayed the misclassification of cases, chalking the lapses up to bad training or occasional “sloppiness.” Fortunately, the Philadelphia City Council, rather than letting the matter drop, pressured Timoney to review cases going back five years. Ultimately, 2,000 sexual assault cases classified as non-crimes were audited. As a result, 700 of the cases were reclassified as rapes and another 500 as alternative forms of felony assault. In other words, there was sufficient evidence in the police files to suggest a serious crime had been committed in fully 60 percent of the cases.