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by Julia

An investigation by The Baltimore Sun reports disturbing news about the Baltimore City Police Department and its handling of rape cases at every point in the investigation. As a proud Baltimore native and a staunch advocate for women’s rights, this upsets me greatly.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 4 in 10 emergency calls alleging rape end in on-scene officers dismissing the case, concluding no further investigation is needed. These cases never make it to detectives or prosecutors.
  • More than 30 percent of the cases investigated by detectives each year are deemed unfounded, five times the national average.
  • The number of rapes reported in Baltimore has dropped by 80% over the last 15 years. The FBI reports the national rape rate over the same period of time has dropped by only 8%.

“Of the 194 reports of rape or attempted rape last year,” 62 (32%) were determined to be unfounded. In the vast majority of these cases, police say the victim recanted her story after initially seeking police involvement. If 40% of rape allegations are called “unfounded” in the field, and then 32% 0f those cases that do make it to investigators are delegitimized, the number of women who are suffering in silence from the emotional and physical toll of sexual assault is inexcusably high.

The Baltimore Sun, June 27 2010

A common response to rape allegations – whether in large cities or on college campuses – is that the women are lying, either to punish the alleged rapist, or to detract attention from infidelity, etc. But the facts surrounding rape allegations tell a different story. “Studies suggest the percentage of rape claims that are false is between 2 percent and 8 percent.” In an editorial in Sunday’s paper, The Sun puts it this way:

It is often too difficult for rape victims to come forward, to report their crimes and to see to it that their attackers are brought to justice. The problem is not that women routinely make up rape allegations — who would willingly submit themselves to such unjust public humiliation?

Rape victims often feel ashamed to report their allegations to others in large part because they may have been partaking in activities that are either illegal or embarrassing at the time of the assault. Most experts on sexual assault agree that when victims recant their previous allegations, it is to avoid further emotional turmoil, especially in cases in which police investigators are questioning them in a way which makes the victims feel their stories are not being taken seriously. Victims report being interrogated by detectives while in the ER just after receiving rape kits – some women are even threatened with lie detector tests or cell phone record and video footage investigations. After undergoing such intense questioning, is it any wonder that some women would choose to recant their stories and attempt recovery on their own, rather than having to undergo scrutiny?

Rape is different from other crimes. Not only does it involve a violation more profound than any other crime but it also comes with a social stigma that forces victims to relive the pain again and again. No one suggests that a victim of a carjacking was really asking for it. No one asks whether an assault might really have been consensual. When a robbery victim is on the witness stand, the most private details of her life are not dissected under cross examination.”

The issue of determined a rape as “unfounded” in Baltimore is further complicated by high rates of prostitution and drug usage. One woman reportedly recanted an account of rape because she was “tired of people thinking they can do what they want to people because of her situation being a prostitute.” The message to police should be crystal clear: a victim’s activities at the time of an alleged sexual assault have no bearing on whether or not a crime occurred. Every case should be treated seriously, regardless of whether a woman was high, drunk, disabled, involved in prostitution, wearing a short skirt, walking in a bad area…etc. As to consent, the absence of ‘no’ is not ‘yes.’

Baltimore and Other Cities

There is an egregious disconnect between the reported number of sexual assaults in the city, and, in all likelihood, the number of actual rapes per year. Baltimore is one of only two cities in the nation in which homicide rates are significantly higher than reported rapes (the other is New Orleans, where a similar investigation is being conducted). Baltimore’s reported rape rates match up with relatively low-crime cities like Toledo and San Francisco, while our homicide rates more closely match Detroit and Philadelphia. [see graph]

A group of 50 detectives is responsible for all of the rape and child abuse cases in the city. (The Sun’s investigation uncovered that Detective Anthony Faulk Jr. is responsible for one-fifth of the unfounded reports, shelving 14 cases last year (the next highest “unfounded” case rate among the detectives is six) I would love to sit down and talk to this guy…) According to city procedure, officers in this unit must file chargers before the Baltimore state’s attorney office gets involved with the investigation. This recent rape statistic story has unearthed a longstanding conflict between the Police Department and the prosecutor’s office about who has “charging rights” in sexual abuse cases. Sometimes, there isn’t physical evidence of sexual assault (non-consensual, non-violent sex between a couple could be an example in some cases), and the only thing the police can go on – the only “proof” – is the woman’s word. This shows how vitally important the initial interaction between the victim and the police is in fully prosecuting a rape case.

Other cities (such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) have dealt with the changing nature of investigating sexual assault, as departments become more educated on the ideas of affirmative consent. Departments with relatively good sexual assault response programs often dispatch specialized units to respond to 911 calls. These departments also have specific classifications for sexual assault allegations which are later recanted by the victim – these reports are filed away and can be reopened if/when the victim decides to prosecute. These departments have it right – the focus should be on prosecuting the rapist – not on blaming the victim or making her feel uncomfortable for not having “evidence.”

The Next Step

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has ordered an audit of police procedure and statistics following The Sun’s investigation. As I’ve written previously, Rawlings-Blake has been a solid advocate for women’s rights in the past. Last year as City Council President, Ms. Rawlings-Blake ordered all Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in Baltimore City to clearly display that they do not offer referrals or services for abortion or contraception. Baltimore was the first major city in the US to enact such a policy. Just last month at a Take Back the Night event in Baltimore, the Mayor spoke out about the importance of recognizing and reducing sexual assault, stating, “The number of women living with the long-term affects of sexual assault is much higher than reported.”

The Sun also reports that a task force has been created to further investigate the procedures of the department as well as look into the cases that have been deemed “unfounded” in the past. On Tuesday, it was announced that a rape hotline would be implemented to encourage victims to come forward with rape allegations by reducing the anxiety surrounding a police interrogation. Until police are adequately trained in dealing with rape reports, outsourcing sexual assault cases to experts is the right call.

Baltimore needs to utilize every possible avenue towards protecting rape victims moving forward. 911 response teams need to be trained to respect every victim and treat each allegation seriously. Investigators need to learn how to tactfully question victims to gain information about the situation, and when to it is time to stop questioning. If rape victims cannot trust their government to take them seriously in their allegations, how can we even begin to think about ways to reduce rape occurrences in our city? Rape victims are violated in the most extreme way. It is now the city’s job to convince residents that they “won’t be victimized again by a callous, cynical police department” and to take action to treat rape victims with the respect that should be afforded to citizens who turn to the law for protection.

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by Julia

Elizabeth and I have a lot of things in common, and our mutual affinity for lyrical analysis is chief among them. The vast majority of music is written about romance and relationships, and we certainly appreciate love-related lyrics. But  lately, I’ve been drawn to music that speaks to the greater issues in society.

This evening, I went to Busboys & Poets in DC with some fellow members of the UMD Women’s Collective to attend a lecture on CIA drone attacks in Pakistan. Cindy Sheehan and Ray McGovern were the speakers, and my expectations for a stimulating discussion (and some conspiracy theories) were more than met. What I wasn’t expecting was the musical introduction from David Rovics. Rovics has been called “the musical version of Democracy Now!” and Sheehan introduced him by saying that we would “laugh, cry, and be moved towards direct action” by his lyrics and delivery. We all were.

His folky song style reminded me of The Mountain Goats‘s John Darnielle, but his lyrics could only be compared to the empassioned speeches and political theory I study in (and out of) school. And Rovics’s subject matter is comprehensive: he performed about seven poems and songs and covered: Katrina/New Orleans, activist stereotypes, kid power, the commons, Gaza, Somali pirates, The Eureka Rebellion, Lebanon, and government corruption. A sampling of some song titles:

“who would jesus bomb?” “halliburton boardroom massacre” “after the revolution” “whoever wins in november” “pirates of somalia”

His song about New Orleans and the incredibly racist betrayal of human beings at the hands of an inept government moved me to tears. The next minute, Rovics’s performance of I’m a Better Anarchist Than You had all of us laughing hysterically and exchanging knowing looks. His somber poem, Lebanon 2006, was received by the audience with nods and serious reflection.

I think I was so moved by Rovics because of his combination of musical talent, brilliant lyrics, and praxis. Rovics’s songs are all available for free download on his site (“music is the commons“). He regularly plays house parties and participates in direct action. He says what many are afraid to admit: politicians are all the same. He has a kid’s CD!!! (I recommend “Bullies”) And his lyrics are neatly archived — something Elizabeth and I greatly appreciate.

I came away from the lecture tonight with a profound reminder of what we’re working towards: the universal realization that each human being – regardless of national origin – is equal, that each human life is equal. (7 CIA agents were killed in Afghanistan in late December by a suicide bomber who was enraged by “tyrant America’s [murder] of civilians.” The US solution to the deaths of several Americans is to launch more attacks on “terrorists,” resulting in civilian deaths far outnumbering the 7 lives lost.)

I also left with a new favorite musician.

Here are some lyrics (and download links):

I’m a Better Anarchist Than You [download]

i don’t drive a car
’cause they run on gas
but if i did
it’d run on biomass
i ride a bike
or sometimes a skateboard
so fuck off all you drivers
and your yuppie hordes
sitting all day
in the traffic queues
i’m a better anarchist than you

i don’t eat meat
i just live on moldy chives
or the donuts that i found
in last week’s dumpster dives
look at you people in that restaurant
i think you are so sad
when you coulda been eating bagels
like the ones that i just had
i think it is a shame
all the bourgeois things you do
i’m a better anarchist than you

i don’t wear leather
and i like my clothes in black
and i made a really cool hammock
from a moldy coffee sack
i like to hop on freight trains
i think that is so cool
it’s so much funner doing this
than being stuck in school
i can’t believe you’re wearing
those brand new shiny shoes
i’m a better anarchist than you

i don’t have sex
and there will be no sequel
because heterosexual relationships
are inherently unequal
i’ll just keep moshing
to rancid and the clash
until there are no differences
in gender, race or class
all you brainwashed breeders
you just haven’t got a clue
i’m a better anarchist than you

i am not a pacifist
i like throwing bricks
and when the cops have caught me
and i’ve taken a few licks
i always feel lucky
if i get a bloody nose
’cause i feel so militant
and everybody knows
by the time
the riot is all through
i’m a better anarchist than you

i don’t believe in leaders
i think consensus is the key
i don’t believe is stupid notions
like representative democracy
whether or not it works
i know it is the case
that only direct action
can save the human race
so when i see you in your voting booths
then i know it’s true
i’m a better anarchist than you

New Orleans [download]

Everybody knew that it could happen
The likelihood was clear
The future was coming
And now it’s here
They had to fix the levees
Because otherwise they’d break
On one side was the city
Above it was the lake
It was in the daily papers
In bold letters was the writ
What would happen
When the Big One hit
But every year they cut the funding
Just a little more
So they could give it to the Army
To fight their oil war

In National Geographic
And the Times-Picayune
They forecast the apocalypse
Said it was coming soon
Preparations must be made, they said
Now is the time
It was years ago they shouted
Inaction was a crime
They said the dikes must be improved
And the wetlands must be saved
But Washington decided
Instead they should be paved
Because malls were more important
Than peoples’ lives
So put some gold dust in your eyes
And hope no storm arrives

New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans

Years and years of warning
No evacuation plan
It was just if the waters rose
Just get out if you can
There were no buses
No one chartered any trains
There was no plan to rescue
All of those who would remain
All the people with no money
All the people with no wheels
All of those who didn’t hotwire
One that they could steal
Thousands and thousands of people
Abandoned by the state
Abandoned by their country
Just left to meet their fate

New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans

And the people died
And then they died some more
They drowned inside their attics
An army of the poor
An army of the destitute
Who couldn’t get away
And the world will remember
These sad and awful days
When people shouted from their houses
Dying on their roofs
When people came to find them
They were turned back by the troops
They died there with no water
They died there in the heat
They were shot down by the soldiers
For trying to find some food to eat

New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans

And now the city is in ruins
A massive toxic sea
Scattered through the nation
Half a million refugees
Here we are
In the richest country on the earth
Where the color of your skin
Determines what your life is worth
Where oil is the king
Where global warming is ignored
Where the very end of life
Is the place we’re heading toward
Where it’s more than just a metaphor
The flooding of the dike
And if we don’t stop this madness
The whole planet will be like

New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans

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